Fr. Bill Carroll – Christmas Day, December 24, 2023
The Word became flesh and lived among us. And we have seen his glory.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
In his Christmas message this year, after thanking us for our prayers during his recent illness, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry reminded us of the power of God’s love to change the world.
The message of the angel (he said) is as scandalous and striking now as it was then. For in it is embedded God’s message in the death and resurrection of Jesus: to trust and believe in the invincibility of the good in spite of the titanic reality of evil…To trust and believe in the enduring power of love, justice, kindness, and compassion, all because God is love…
That’s why we come to Christmas services: to hear the angel’s message, to see the newborn king, and to be renewed in God’s great love for us all.
For most of my childhood, Christmas was the only time we were ever in church. Even if we are not very religious (my family wasn’t very religious), something about this story touches our hearts. The love we find in Jesus, who is born for us as a poor and humble child, gets through our defenses, as nothing else can.
If you want to know what God is like–if you want to know who God is–just look at Jesus. He is the Son who is “forever in the Father’s heart,” and he has come to us to “make God known.” Jesus not only tells us about God–he shows us. According to the Catechism, Jesus is “the only perfect image of the Father, and shows us the nature of God.” It goes on to say that Jesus reveals that “God is love.”
That’s what’s happening in our lesson from Hebrews. For generations, God has been revealing himself to us “in many and various ways” through the prophets. Now, at last, God has spoken to us through his own Son. God is no longer sending messengers to speak for him. At Christmas, God is showing up in person. And so, the author continues, “He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being.” If you want to know who God is, look at Jesus.
St. Irenaeus says that the “glory of God is the human being fully alive.” That is what Jesus is: a fully alive human being. He shows us what we will look like, when God sets us free. God will set us free from all forms of sin–all forms of injury and brokenness and human bondage. And then, we will act like Jesus. For we will be fully in love–with God and with every last creature.
Love is possible in our flesh. We have seen it. We have “beheld God’s glory,” because Jesus was born in our flesh. He must also be born in us. That’s why the Gospel says that “to all who received him, who believed in his Name, he gave power to become children of God.”
We want to believe this story. We need for it to be true. Because if it is true, then God is real and God loves us. God gives us a hope that the world can’t take away. If God is real (and God is alive and in love with us in our flesh) we can face struggles, disappointments, and failures–even death.
But it is not enough to catch glimpses of God’s love now and then. That’s just the beginning. Jesus is the reason not just for this season–but for every season. We need him to take root in our lives. We need him to come to life in our flesh. We need him to change our basic direction. We need him to change the ways we see, the choices we make, and how we live.
We need Jesus to heal our vision–to give us a vision of the Kingdom. Preaching about today’s Gospel, where it says that “The Word became flesh and lived among us,” St. Augustine says that “No one could see [Christ’s] glory without being healed by the lowliness of his flesh.” Jesus heals our vision, by bringing us down to earth.
Archbishop William Temple once said that Christianity is the most materialistic of all the great world religions. Its meaning is found in the flesh. It’s all about loving our neighbors in the flesh and serving their needs. Its sacraments use common materials of water, oil, bread, and wine. We believe in the resurrection of the body. We believe in a new heaven and a new earth, where neighbors live together with our neighbors in peace.
Martin Luther once said that the task of a preacher is to rub our noses in the flesh of Jesus. By his humble birth, Jesus trains us to seek him and serve him in low places–out among the least of these, who have God alone for their helper. He calls us to a fleshy and this-worldly discipleship–to love the neighbors God has given us, the neighbors he lived and died for. And so, we come to his stable. We come to his crib. We come to behold him. We come to worship and adore. We come to be changed by what we see. We see Jesus alive in our flesh. And we recommit ourselves to his love.
For the Word became flesh and lived among us, full of grace and truth.