Sermon Christmas Day 2023
Theme: Welcome to the Family of God
Readings: Is. 52. 7-10; Heb. 1. 1-4; Jn. 1. 1-14
First of all, let me wish you and all your family a happy Christmas! The feast of the birth of the Lord that we celebrate today is a wonderful moment in the calendar of the church that has become so popular that it has been adopted by the wider society as a period of festivities and holidays. It comes at the darkest time of the year in the northern hemisphere. The time closest to the Winter solstice of 21 or 22 December when the tilt of the earth is furthest from our source of light and heat in the sun. The birth of the messiah reminds us that “the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it”. But how should we understand this intervention of God into the world at this Christmas time?
Many theologians throughout the centuries have reflected on this question and it should come as little surprise that there have been many different answers given. I would like to focus on one aspect of the birth of the messiah and to explore what difference this makes. The aspect that I would like to single out this year is that of the birth of the messiah as God’s way of welcoming us into the family of God. As the Gospel of John puts it:
“to those who believed in his name he gave the right to become children of God”
The incarnation, the birth of the messiah, is the moment when God takes us into the very intimate life of the family of God. This is not by nature. We are not by nature children of God. Rather, we are adopted into the family of God by grace, through faith in his name. Yes, in becoming flesh, God invites us into realizing our true destiny as sons and daughters of God. In other words, the incarnation of Jesus reveals to us that we are creatures of God, adopted into the family of God. This adoption occurs through God’s own very self in Jesus adopting our human nature. In becoming flesh, Jesus, as the only Son of God by nature, adopts us in the flesh into the very heart of the family of the blessed Trinity. Through the grace of God, you and I are revealed to be sons and daughters of God. The very God who for our sake adopted human flesh did so, so that through his grace, we could share in the divine life of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
One might even say that the act of faith which permits us to be called sons and daughters of God is a making explicit of the relationship which all of creation shares in with its creator. As it says as the start of our reading from St John, “All things came into being through him”. In other words, our nature as flesh, as made up of the same matter as the stars in the sky and the grass in the fields is itself a gift of God who brought the creation into being out of nothing. As St John says, “without him not one things came into being”. The doctrine of creation out of nothing “creatio ex nihilo” makes clear that all life is ultimately dependent upon God for its being.
But the incarnation tells us something more about our particular form of life as human beings. It tells us that God, in taking human form, has chosen us to reveal his image in the creation (imago Dei). We share a certain likeness to God which is unique to human beings and it is so unique that God chose this form of life in which to incarnate himself as Jesus. Jesus is God’s way of showing us who God is.
And, one other aspect of our welcome into the family of God should be stressed. Namely, that this person of Jesus who becomes flesh in the incarnation, always was with God the Father and the Holy Spirit. As St John says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” In other words, this person Jesus, whom we shall see in the manger this Christmas, though born in the flesh at this Christmas time, always was. He does not come into existence as a person at Christmas, because Jesus, like the Father and the Holy Spirit always existed. So, when we celebrate Christmas, we are celebrating the incarnation of God for us in Jesus as the meeting of eternity and time. God’s eternity bows down, so to speak, and embraces us this Christmas. Such an embrace lifts us up into the family of God from whom all life came.
Knowing this, is made possible through the revelation of God in Jesus. It allows us to believe that we are by grace truly children of God. Our very nature as flesh has been embraced by the divine nature of God, which is united in a singular way in the God-man Jesus, so that you and I can enter into the eternal life of the one who gave us our being.
This is the message of salvation proclaimed to us by the angels on this Christmas Day, that we sung as our gradual hymn a moment ago:
“Veiled in flesh the Godhead see!
Hail, the incarnate Deity!
Pleased as man with man to dwell,
Jesus, our Immanuel”.
Yes, the message of our salvation revealed today is that God is no longer distant from us. God, through and in Jesus, has become one with us in the flesh. He has become our Emmanuel, our God-with-us.
So, let us remember whose family it is we belong to today on this special morn, it no less than the very family of God.
Welcome, dear brothers and sisters into the family of God.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.