Getting What You Need for Christmas
Text: John 1:1-18
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
A blessed Christmas to all who have gathered here this morning! And may I say from the bottom of my heart, I truly hope that you do not get what you want for Christmas.
It’s true. I mean it. I don’t mean it in a miserly, scrooge, bah-humbug way. I certainly don’t mean it in spiteful or cruel way. I mean it as simply as it was said: I hope you do not get what you want for Christmas.
Why would I say such a thing on such a morning? It doesn’t sound very Christmas-y. There aren’t any songs playing on the airwaves right now that would reflect that sentiment. Most crooners would want that your every Christmas wish come true. I, however, as your pastor, do not.
Why do I say this? Because we fallen humans have a terrible track record of wanting. We want the wrong things all the time. Our first ancestors, Adam and Eve, set us on that course. It was under a tree—not a Christmas tree, mind you, but a tree beautifully decorated with vibrant fruit and verdant leaves—it was under a tree that they made their wish list known. They saw that the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was desired to make one wise in its dangerous ways of good and evil, so they followed their wish. Sadly, what they wanted as a present was not theirs to take. But they took it anyway. And ever since that first tree, humans have wanted what is not good for us. At the foot of Mount Sinai, the Israelites, who had just been led into freedom out of bondage in Egypt, wanted a shiny new present—an image of a god to worship. And when they got what they wanted, the golden calf, it only meant disaster for them. Later, God’s people longed for God to give them the gift of a king so that they could be like all the other nations. It was a bad wish, but that didn’t matter to them. So it continued. Humans sent their wish lists to God, God told them what they wanted wasn’t the best thing for them. In most cases, it wasn’t good at all. But no matter—they wanted what they wanted, even if what they wanted would mean heartbreak.
So it continues today. We want what is not good for us. Oh, it may seem good: money, power, influence, a better car, a more impressive home, any number of things that make us feel good for a moment. But how often do those things become harmful for us? They all too often, all to easily, deflect our attention away from the Giver. We talk more about the things than the One who through whom all things were made. We become fixated on the reflections of these glittery items rather than the Light who is the life of mankind.
The light shines in the darkness, St. John tells us this morning, and the darkness has not overcome it. Some of our older English translations say that the darkness has not comprehended it. That’s a good way to understand this verse too. Because the Light of light was in the world, and the world and all its goods and trinkets and presents were made through Him, yet the world did not know Him. He came to His own, but His own did not receive Him.
So it happened that under another tree—not the tree of Eden, nor a lighted Christmas tree—but under the tree of the cross, that mankind again wanted something other than what God was giving. As that barren tree of the cross had the Light of Life stretched out across it, they looked for other presents, more impressively wrapped, shinier, more expensive. “He saved others; let Him save Himself, if He is God’s gift to the world!” “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us! Give us what we want!”
Yes, we humans aren’t very good at wanting what is good for us, what makes for our peace. So again, I hope you don’t get what you want for Christmas. But I do hope you get what you need.
The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. Nothing was going to stop Him. Not Adam and Eve’s misplaced wants, not His own people’s stubbornness, not even our sins. He was coming into the world and He was bringing all that we needed. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. It wasn’t the most impressive wrapping—an infant wrapped in swaddling cloths—but it was what we needed Him to be. We needed Him to join our lowly human nature, to become flesh and blood, to share our humanity with us, so that we would be saved. He would appear as a helpless infant, a tottering toddler, an awkward adolescent, and an unimpressive human man, a rabbi-carpenter who looked like His mother. It wouldn’t be what the world wanted Him to be. But it would be exactly what we needed Him to be. For it is only by faith that we can see Him for who He is, God of God, Light of light, very God of very God; true God, begotten from His Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the virgin Mary. Only faith could comprehend this. Only faith can unwrap this gift to see what’s within.
And what is within this humble appearance? To all who did receive Him, who receive Him still, through faith, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God. God’s Son shares the gift of His sonship with us, so that now we have God’s favor, His love from before the world began to be, every good gift that He desires to give, whether it’s the things we need in this life or the things we need forever.
The Word has become flesh, even though we would have never even thought to ask for it, and He has made His home with us. And it’s in this lowly hiddenness that we have seen His glory—not the glory we wished for, the glory that impresses the world and our mortal eyes, glory that fades so quickly—but in Him, in His hiddenness, in His humility, we have seen glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
So I hope you don’t get what you want for Christmas, but I do hope you get what you need: grace and truth. And I pray that you get it in abundance, overflowing, filling every stocking and wrapped box to bursting. I hope it covers every meal you enjoy with loved ones, spread like that special once-a-year tablecloth, but extending out through the next twelve months. I hope that His grace and truth shines through every tiny light on your tree and echoes in your head on repeat in every hymn and carol. And most of all, I hope that you hold grace and truth, forgiveness and light and life, in your hands, in your hearts, on your lips, as you receive the Word made flesh and blood here in His holy Supper. I hope it fills your ears with joy as you hear it proclaimed here and in the readings that adorn this day, the prayers and songs and praises.
I hope you get what you need this Christmas. May you receive every good gift of grace, every beautiful word of truth, every ray of forgiveness, every right of the children of God this Christmas. In the name of Jesus, the Word made flesh. Amen.