The Christmas story that we are most familiar with is the one that we heard last night about a woman named Mary and a man named Joseph and shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night and the sudden appearance of a multitude of angels with their GOOD NEWS to announce. And of course, we almost forgot, the baby, wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger who is Christ the Lord.
We usually throw in a donkey or two, and add our own little bit of adventure that every hotel in Bethlehem was sold out and poor Mary had to give birth in a cold, dark barn because the all the people in Bethlehem were very selfish and rude people. (Even though none of that is in the text and probably didn’t happen like that at all).
That’s the Christmas story that we’re most familiar with and the one that we could each recite to someone if they were from another planet and wanted know us what all the fuss is about.
But this morning, we hear the very same Christmas story, told very, very differently than the one we heard last night. No Mary and Joseph, no angels or shepherds, no little town of Bethlehem, no swaddling clothes or manger.
This morning, it’s Christmas with St. John who always sees things differently than the others. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him and without him was not anything made that has been made… And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
When was the last time you sat your children or grandchildren on your knee, cracked open a few chestnuts to roast on the open fire, and told them about Christmas like that?
And yet, we can almost picture the writer to the Hebrews doing just that. “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by His Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.” If that doesn’t cure you of ever again wanting to hear “I saw mommy kissing Santa Claus,” then nothing will.
Of course, the Christmas story that we heard last night and the one that we are hearing this morning is all one and the same story. It’s just that the one is told from the perspective of those eyewitnesses who reported what happened when Caesar Augustus was Emperor and Quirinius was governor of Syria. Interviews were conducted with the shepherds and the people whom Mary and Joseph stayed with in Bethlehem and no doubt, with Joseph and Mary themselves.
And the story that has been passed down from generation to generation informs us of the things that happened on that day we have come to call ‘Christmas.’
But the other Christmas story is told from a perspective that is so far removed from anything that ‘eye has seen… or the heart of man has imagined.” (1 Cor. 2:9) Here’s a story that is so far removed from our human experience that it’s hard for us to relate to it.
This is the Christmas story, told from the perspective of the only eyewitness there could possibly be – God Himself. This is the COSMIC STORY of Christmas that no one who lives in time and space and human history could ever begin to imagine unless God Himself were take him on His knee and tell it to him.
Only God Himself, who was in the beginning, can tell us that the baby born of Mary in the little town of Bethlehem is the eternal Word, through Whom matter and time and space and human history was created at the beginning of the world.
If God had not told us THIS Christmas story, we would still have THAT Christmas story. But we would never know about its cosmic significance.
And the sad truth of the matter is, when this COSMIC Christmas story is not heard and remains unknown, the meaning of the HISTORICAL Christmas story becomes confused and misunderstood – of which we are all eyewitnesses.
Every year at this time we raise the SAME important question. “How do we keep CHRIST IN CHRISTMAS? “How do we keep the REAL meaning of Christmas alive?” And the answer is: be familiar with BOTH of the Christmas stories – the historical AND the cosmic.
The COSMIC Christmas story tells us the true meaning of the HISTORICAL Christmas story. And the HISTORICAL Christmas story tells us that the COSMIC Christmas story actually happened – in real time, at a real place, in the course of actual human history. “For unto you THIS DAY, in the CITY OF DAVID, is born to you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:11).
Don’t get me wrong, the HISTORICAL Christmas story is just as essential as the ETERNAL one. If it only happened IN ETERNITY and not also on THIS DAY, if it only happened in the COSMIC REALM and not in the CITY OF DAVID – then it doesn’t have much connection to us and can’t really touch us and change us who live in this world of time and space.
And if it only happened IN TIME AND SPACE and had no ETERNAL SIGNIFICANCE, then it is only good news for THAT TIME and THAT PLACE but not for you and me, who live here and not there, and who live now and not 2000 years ago.
Today we are reminded that the baby born of Mary is not simply a really SPECIAL child. This baby is God with us. And Mary is not just the mother of Jesus, but she is also the mother of God. The One who created the world has entered into His creation as one of the creatures whom He created. The One who created time, made His appearance among us when the “time had fully come” and not a second early or late. The One who wrote the story of human history from the first man to the last, wrote Himself into the story as the hero upon Whom the fate of all mankind rests.
As we’ve said, John is not the only one who tells the Christmas story from the COSMIC perspective. Along with the writer to the Hebrews, so does Paul. Paul puts the whole congregation at Colossae on his knee and tells them that the baby born of Mary, “is the image of the invisible God, the first born of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible… all things were created through Him and for Him…. And in Him all things hold together.. For in Him the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things… making peace by the blood of His cross.” (Col. 1:15-20).
ONLY when we are told that the baby born of Mary was IN THE BEGINNING, THROUGH WHOM ALL THINGS WERE MADE, are we able to see that this child, wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger, is the One through Whom, God is making a NEW CREATION in which ALL THINGS are made NEW.
In the beginning, God created a perfect and glorious world FROM THE OUTSIDE IN, by speaking His Word DOWN on it. “Let there be light. And there was light. And it was so.” “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters. And it was so.” And so forth.
But on Christmas, God does His creation over again, not from the OUTSIDE IN, but from the INSIDE OUT; not by speaking His Word DOWN ON IT, but by speaking His Word FROM WITHIN IT.
The baby lying in the manger is THE WORD of GOD. He speaks His creating and transforming WORD from within His creation and MAKES ALL THINGS NEW.
This ‘new beginning’ that came to pass in the days of Caesar Augustus, is of course, not the SAME KIND of creation as God engineered “in the beginning.” In the beginning, God created the whole world out of nothing – ‘ex nihilo.’ And by His Word, He FORMED that which was WITHOUT FORM and FILLED that which was VOID. “And it was so,” and it was “very good.”
But after men and women began to collaborate with the devil to mutiny and seize control of the creation from God and write God out of the story, the work of making the NEW CREATION could not be done in the same way as He did it in the beginning. Unless of course, He were to destroy it all and start over again from NOTHING. But that is something which He promised Himself He would never do.
Now, He must redeem His creation and renew it and purify it and make what has become sinful and unclean, perfect and VERY GOOD again.
And for this, BLOOD must be shed; BLOOD that atones for the sin that men and women brought into the world; BLOOD that makes the old, new and pure and holy, and the spoiled, ‘very good’ again. And only divine BLOOD can do this, for only the blood of God is ‘VERY GOOD’ and holy, holy, holy.
And so this HAS TO BE an INSIDE JOB. God must enter into His own creation with flesh and blood, so that His blood may be shed – because a spirit does not have flesh and blood as you see that He has.
So, the swaddling clothes that He is wrapped are also a sign that points to the grave cloths that He will be wrapped in. The borrowed manger He is laid in, is also the sign of the tomb that He will be laid in. The new beginning that God brought to pass when the Holy Spirit overshadowed the virgin Mary will be accomplished when the baby she gives birth to cries from the cross, “It is finished,” and the same Holy Spirit OVERSHADOWS men and women, one at a time, in Holy Baptism.
• This is the Christmas story. The same ‘LIGHT’ that God spoke into the utter darkness in the beginning, is once again spoken into the darkness of this fallen world through the One who is the “light of the world.”
• The same ‘LIFE’ that God breathed into Adam’s lifeless body in the beginning is now breathed into us through the body of Him who is “the way and the truth and the life.”
• The same food and drink that God prepared for His people in the Garden, is now prepared for us in the Lord’s Supper where He feeds us with the very body and blood of the baby born in Bethlehem, wrapped in the swaddling clothes of bread and wine.
• And after we have eaten this holy food, we may truly say, “Of His fullness we have all received – grace upon grace.”
So, even if we cannot communicate all of this to those whom we meet and greet during this holiday season, at least let US be aware of what mean when we say, “Merry Christmas.”