A Christmas Day sermon preached in 2011 at Grace Lutheran Church in Saint Paul, MN. The reading for the day was John 1:1-14.
Grace to you and peace, from the one who is, who was, and who is to come. Amen.
In this sacred season we celebrate God’s presence among us,
and we become particularly enamored of the image of the baby Jesus
being held in his mother’s arms while surrounded by farm animals
and shepherds and angels and kings.
It is quite an image, and something that brings us comfort.
Yes, the angel proclaimed to Joseph that the child shall be called
“Emmanuel,” which means “God is with us.”
In a world where we can feel distant from God and from each other,
where phones become a lifeline and friendships are virtual,
the news that God is with us is meant to comfort us,
to close the aching gap of distant relationships
and to surround us with love rather than loneliness.
But what if … but what if there is a side to the incarnation,
an aspect to God being with us that is less-than-comforting?
What if, like a teenager’s relationship with her parent,
we are comforted by knowing that God our parent is near to us,
we rely on the protection and care that God our parent gives to us,
we are grateful that God our parent is there for us when we need, but …
but we also like our distance,
we like to close our bedroom door to keep God our parent out,
so we can have our privacy, our own space,
some distance from God our parent.
What if we are like the teenager, who completely depends on her parent,
but isn’t entirely sure that she wants her parent around all the time?
In today’s Gospel, we read that the Word became flesh and lived among us.
Literally translated, this passage says that God’s Word took on flesh
and pitched a tent with us, took up camp alongside us, moved into our lives.
So, teenager, your heavenly parent is moving into your room.
Bringing in a pillow and taking over half the bed,
probably steeling the sheets in the process, and likely snoring at night.
All parents of teenagers snore, I think.
This heavenly parent of yours has moved into your room and is taking over your space,
putting totally uncool clothing in your jam-packed closet,
hanging up ABBA and BeeGees posters on your walls,
blasting cheesy disco music from your stereo,
and putting their underwear in your underwear drawer – gross!
“This is too close!” you protest. “Eww! Get out of my room. Don’t be so close.”
“You’re supposed to be a parent, like, over there, in your own room.
And do, you know, old people things, and well, stay away.
Go away. Keep your distance. I want my space.”
The Word of God, the heavenly Word, the divine presence,
the Word that spoke creation into being and which was spoken by holy prophets,
was always at some distance –
up in the heavens, or on the lips of a prophet easily ignored ….
But now this Word, this once-easy-to-keep-at-a-distance Word
has become flesh and lives among us,
has come really close, frighteningly close, in-your-face close,
Ultimately, this is Good News,
that God is so intimately close to us and with us
that we cannot get away from God’s saving, loving, and compassionate presence.
God has pitched a tent and moved into our rooms,
God has gotten in our face and isn’t going away.
It’s not all sweet and comforting, folks. At times it’s annoying as all get out.
We want our space.
But God’s not going to give it to us. Instead, God fills that space with love and grace,
a love and grace that is at times unnerving,
a love and grace that is at times overwhelming,
a love and grace that is at all times surrounding us and holding us,
leading us from death to life,
from sin to grace,
from darkness to light,
from despair to hope,
from weeping to joy,
from a manger to a cross to an empty grave …
to a new kingdom of everlasting life.