First Sunday of Christmas


First Sunday of Christmas- Morning Prayer

 Sermon Text below:

Merry Christmas everyone.

When I lived in Syracuse for my first two years of college, I would go to a local Episcopal parish. This parish celebrated Advent and Christmas in their own quirky way. Every year, some family in the parish would wake up one Advent morning to a tacky, plastic, glowing nativity scene set up in the front yard. Almost always unexpected, it was a fun way to practice Advent expectation of the coming of Jesus. However, the Jesus they would be waiting for was plastic, had painted on eyes and lit up when plugged in. This nativity popped up and moved into the neighborhood, and there it would stay. I think the tradition is quite fun, and really brings the Christmas story to the ground.

In our Gospel reading this morning we hear of the Word of God. The Gospel of John uses dramatic poetic imagery to express Jesus’ deity or his “God-ness”. Eugene Peterson, in his poetic rendition of the Bible, interprets verse 14 as; “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood”. The Word of God, Jesus Christ didn’t just dwell or come among us but “moved into the neighborhood”. I like that image. Much like that tacky nativity set, the incarnation of God, the coming of the savior came stealthily in the night. The only thing announcing this birth was a single star overhead and the soft echoes of angelic tunes.

So, what does it look like when Jesus moves into the neighborhood? Who exactly is moving in? Our Gospel lesson sounds lofty and presents a high Christology or theology of who Jesus is. In the original Greek, “Word” is “Logos”, which means Word, statement, reckoning. This Word or reckoning speaks out of intimacy with God, and breaks into our human story. [1]  According to the beginning of John, it is God in Jesus who moves into the neighborhood. But only 3 verses prior to God moving in, the Gospel writer is sure to note that the Word only came into the world to be rejected by whom he came for. [2]

There are some clear examples from across the Gospels that show us exactly what happens when Jesus moves into the neighborhood. Jesus really couldn’t go anywhere without drawing a crowd. In Mark 5 we see Jesus when he is confronted by a man as soon as Jesus steps off the boat in a new town. The man was demon-possessed and lived among the tombs of the dead. The man-of-the-tombs knelt before Jesus and the demons cried out. Rebuking them, Jesus cast them into the nearby herd of pigs. The poor pigs ran down the hill and drowned themselves. Obviously, this frightened everyone, and really upset the guy whose livelihood depended on those pigs. The townspeople rushed out of their homes and demanded that Jesus leave at once! The guy who was liberated from what bound him, instead ran around the cities telling everyone what Jesus did in gratitude.

In Luke 4 we see Jesus coming back to his hometown. Nazareth was a small rural village, not unlike Brockport. As is custom Jesus stands up in the synagogue to read from the scroll of scripture. If you remember this story, this is the reading from Isaiah that proclaims release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, liberation of the oppressed and good news to the poor. Then Jesus gives a quick little sermon about how he is the fulfillment of that passage, in his home congregation. The people in his home congregation balked at his teaching, and they reacted in such a rage, that they tried to throw him off a cliff! There are no cliffs in Brockport, so I think I am safe. Jesus returned to the neighborhood and they wanted him out!

One final example is quite sobering. The message and teaching Jesus brought for the reconciliation and healing of the world was so offensive to how the world seemed to be that we killed the very one who came to save us. God became one of us, so very ordinary yet extra-ordinary that we couldn’t handle it. But, we know the rest of the story. That the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus furthers the incarnation’s aim to liberate all creation, from the power of death, decay, and brokenness.

How many of us would do the same if Jesus moved into our neighborhood? How many of us would try to return that tacky plastic nativity set? Would we throw him out? Would we be threatened by the alternative way of living we call Love? Would we kill him before he got too personal? Do we push out love when all it wants to do is share the same mailing address?

Here’s the good news: The central Christian belief in the incarnation and the whole of the Christmas story is expressed clearly in our reading from John this morning. The God of the universe moved in as a human being. That is good news because the incarnation means that Jesus wasn’t just fully God, but fully human. So human, in fact that Jesus probably had favorite foods, sweat in the scorching heat of the sun, belly laughed at his friends jokes, his body probably even ached after a long day working as a tradesman. He breathed out air, drank our water (and wine), played games in the dirt, smiled when happy, cried at the funerals of his friends, and listened to old stories on moonlit summer nights. This is the incarnation. This is the meaning Christmas; that the God of the universe became human in order that all of life would be redeemed, and humanity would be restored to its original flourishing. Christmas shows us that the direction God moves is always towards us. Always. But, the Holy Family doesn’t stay in the manger, or in the temple, or even his hometown. The life lived there and experienced beyond it, is what animates ours today.

Howard Thurman’s Christmas poem poignantly articulates what we do to move forward from Christmas, and into the new year:

“When the song of the angels is stilled,

when the star in the sky is gone,

when the kings and princes are home,

when the shepherds are back with their flocks,

the work of Christmas begins:

to find the lost,

to heal the broken,

to feed the hungry,

to release the prisoner,

to rebuild the nations,

to bring peace among the people,

to make music in the heart.”


Just like that plastic glowing nativity set, Jesus shows up every Christmas. Sometimes, unexpectedly and other times just when we need him to. The traveling tacky nativity set is a good reminder for us this Christmas season. Jesus indeed come among us undercover in the quiet of night. But he also very clearly, lit up his neighborhood. May he light up ours too.




[1] [1] Sacra Pagnia (36)

[2] Sacra Pagnia (37)


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