Foundry United Methodist Church

Rev. Dean Snyder, Senior Minister

 

 

 

 “Until Christ Comes…Welcome”
Christmas Eve

Monday, December 24, 2007

 

 

John 1: 1-14


Dean

Rev. Dean Snyder

 

Every Christmas I ask myself…what is it about Jesus that causes us 2,000 years later to be gathered here to celebrate his birth?

 

It is even more remarkable than that. We are actually gathered here on the eve of a birth date we had to invent because we have no real idea when his birthday actually was. We read and retell stories about his birth that are frankly more myth than fact but that have a strange power to touch us in ways beyond our comprehension.

 

To celebrate his birth, we listen to and sing some of the most beautiful music ever written, some of it is written by composers inspired by the stories of his birth even though they themselves were not believers and, in some cases, not necessarily very agreeable people. (Handel had a reputation for being able to swear a blue streak in multiple languages, usually at his choirs.)[i]

 

Churches are full tonight around the world, even in places where it is not comfortable to be a Christian. This Christmas Christians gather at St. George’s Church in Baghdad, Iraq. One of our members who served recently in Iraq shared with me a letter from Canon Andrew White, pastor of St. George’s. He said in his letter that he expects this Christmas that his church will be filled with the 150 children and their mothers who worship there every Sunday, but, he says, there will probably be only six men. Visitors ask him why there are so few men, and he answers, “Oh, most of them have been killed.” In the last three years, he says, 11 of his staff and all his original church leaders have been murdered. Still, St. George’s in Baghdad will be full of children and women and a few men this Christmas singing “Joy to the World, the Lord has Come.”

 

What is it about Jesus that has the power to do this? I guess I am supposed to know. I am a pastor, after all – how embarrassing! But I don’t think I myself fully understand Jesus’ claim on my life and loyalty. Do you?

 

It may be good to remember that, from the very beginning, Christians have not fully understood Jesus and his attraction. They tended to be a bit defensive about the fact that so many couldn’t see it during Jesus’ lifetime. One of the questions that the Gospel writers subtly try to address in their Gospels is the question – if Jesus were the Messiah, why were there so many who did not receive him in his lifetime? Why were so many so blind to who he was?

 

I mean, it must not have been all that obvious at the time he walked on earth if so many people missed it. The Gospels are, in part, apologetics for the fact that Jesus was not recognized as the Messiah of God during his lifetime. It was a very unsettling thing for the early Christians that Jesus was not more widely received during his time on earth.

 

John in his Gospel says it straight out. “He [Jesus] was in the world, and the world came into being through him, yet the world did not know him.” (John 1: 10)

 

John says: “He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.” (John 1: 11) How unsettling is that? How unnerving?

 

“But,” John says, “to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God…” (John 1: 12)

 

And that’s it, isn’t it. John got it.

 

We gather here on the eve of what isn’t his birth date to celebrate his birth and we tell stories that are more made-up than factual and we sing beautiful songs as likely written by sinners as saints, and we do it – not because we understand Jesus, not because we’ve got our christologies and theologies all in order and nailed down and wrapped up in neat packages, but because those of us who have received Jesus and believed Jesus have found  power to believe that we – even we – are children of God.

 

Doesn’t matter who we are or what we’ve done or haven’t done…our accomplishments or failures don’t matter, our success or failures don’t matter, our elegance or our brokenness doesn’t matter…through Jesus we have received the power to become part of the family of God. Jesus includes us.

 

Whether we are rich or poor; degreed or self-taught or mentally-challenged Jesus includes us. Whether we are L, G, B, T, or Q, or straight; single or partnered; male or female, Jesus includes us. Whether we are healthy or ailing; sober or alcoholic; living in a northwest mansion or homeless, Jesus includes us.  

 

Canon White, in his letter from Baghdad, says that this year the Muslim festival of Eid-ul-Adha fell on December 19th, unusually close to Christmas. Eid-ul-Adha is a festival of good will which focuses on the Muslim vision for peace. So Canon White is spending much of his time this Christmas season working with Islamic clerics who believe in the unity of all humanity that transcends all differences, including religious differences. He is celebrating Christmas by praying with Muslims for peace.

 

That’s Jesus for you. That’s what Jesus does. This is why we gather 2,000 years later to celebrate his birth. Not because we understand him, but because he gives us the power to become the children of God…the family of God. Because he includes us. Because he includes everybody. Because in him, nothing separates us from the love of God…from the love of God’s children. Nothing. Nothing at all.   

 

 

 

 

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[i] http://www.messiahcd.com/Information/about_The_Messiah/about_the_messiah.html