The Word Made Flesh

Sunday, December 25, 2016

A homily preached by Rev. Ginger E. Gaines-Cirelli at Foundry UMC on Christmas Day 2016.

Text:  John 1:1-14


Today we gather to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, the very Word of God made flesh as John poetically writes in our Gospel for today.  And I must say that it seems a bit superfluous to spend too much time on words today…The story is about the Word made flesh, not the Word made…more words.  And so I’ll just tell a story about one person who shows us how to truly celebrate Jesus birth—someone who knows how to make the Word fleshly, to embody the Word.  And who might this person be?  Santa Claus! 


I love Santa Claus.  I’ll admit it unabashedly.  One of my favorite memories as a child—and even a teenager—was listening to my mother read that wonderful poem:  “On the night before Christmas when all through the house not a creature was stirring not even a mouse…”  OK…so I was uncertain about what a kerchief was or sugar plums…but I got the point.  The story was about Santa.  And Santa is magical and jolly and altogether wondrous and good.  Another favorite Christmas memory is of my grandfather, my Pa, reading aloud the Christmas story from the Gospel according to Luke.  This story, too, is wondrous and filled with a warmth and love that—even as a child—I “got.”  Even if I couldn’t understand all the details, I got the point.  The story is about a good God and God’s love for me.  It’s about God’s being with me in a new way.


Throughout my life these two stories (Santa and Jesus) have lived together in harmony—two narratives of a magical time of the year.  I suspect that this is true for many of us.  However, I understand the concerns of some that the Santa story sometimes overshadows the God story, the Jesus story.  Certainly, the business interests—which are powerful in our day—count on our devotion to the jolly man in the red suit for their year-end profits.  And even I—a great devotee of Santa—worry sometimes that Jesus gets eclipsed by the glitz and glitter and excess that has become dominant for so many at this time of year.


But in order to remain faithful as Christians it’s not necessary to shun Santa Claus.  Many of you may know that the name “Santa Claus” comes from the dutch nickname for a Christian saint, Saint Nicholas.  The dutch name was “Sinter Klaas” (a shortened version of Sinter Nikolaas).  Saint Nicholas was a Christian bishop who served back in the 4th century in a seaside town in Turkey called Demre.  After his death, Nicholas became the patron saint of sailors, barrel-makers, small children, and Russians. 


Sinter Klaas, Saint Nicholas attempted to follow the Christ child by serving others in whatever way he could.  He was born to wealthy parents, and was in line to enjoy the glory of earthly prosperity and achievement.  But he heard the challenge of Jesus to “Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor” (Lk. 18:22), so he used his whole inheritance to assist the needy, the sick and the suffering.  He was made a bishop of the church while still a young man, and became known for his love of children and his generosity to those in need.  On three different occasions, he gave bags of gold to poor girls needing dowries, and by doing this he saved them from being sold into slavery.  He became well known for his goodness, his compassion and his generosity, and was famous for doing whatever he could to protect people who were in danger—especially children and sailors.  He did many of these things in secret—the truth being told only by those who’d been recipients of his kindness.  THIS is who St. Nick, Santa Claus, really is.  One who offers gifts of love and generosity in secret—bringing joy and hope into the world. 


The witness of Saint Nicholas is that the glory of God that John writes about, the glory spoken about by the angels in Luke, was not the “glory” we speak of so crassly these days—the “glory” of winning, “glorious” accomplishments, vacations, dreamhomes…  Rather, Nicholas knew that the greatest honor, praise and distinction of all time goes to a child who will never achieve material prosperity, a life of leisure, or any of the marks of worldly accomplishment.  Instead, Jesus is given glory because he bears the perfect love of God into the world, a love that leads him to serve, to give himself fully even to those who rejected him.  //  Sinter Klaas lived his life as a servant in the image of the Christ child and because of his love and servant leadership, he is revered through the ages. 


On this day when the Christian and secular worlds overlap, we would do well to remember who Santa Claus really is—and that we can follow his example.  We are invited to participate in the real glory of God which is service, generosity, and love.  We don’t have to give up Santa.  We just have to live like him—to make the Word flesh in our own lives.  Not just on this day, but all the days of the year. 


By the grace of God we will do it.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.