Christmas Day / December 25, 2019 / Richard E. Holmer
First Reading Isaiah 62:6-12 / Second Reading Titus 3:4-7 / Gospel John 1:1-14
To All Who Receive Him
Christmas is often called the Giving Season, and so it is. This time of year features a veritable blizzard of gift giving. Retailers count on December to turn a profit for the year. UPS, FedEx and Amazon put in long hours to deliver all the gifts that are ordered. Charities experience a large influx of year end gifts. Here at church we have had an outpouring of gifts for those in need: The Family Care Closet, boots for the kids that LSSI looks after, food and clothing for our friends at PADS. At home the presents are piled around the Christmas tree. When it comes to giving, there’s no time like Christmas.
At the heart of this season is God’s great gift to us: the gift of a Savior. Unto us a child is born. Unto us a Son is given. All our gifts pale in comparison to what God gives.
So, it might be more appropriate to call this the season for Receiving. Unless we can somehow manage to receive, we miss what God is giving. That can happen. It has happened. God sent his Son, full of grace and truth, to be our Savior. St. John describes what happened: “He came to his own home, and his own people received him not.” They received him NOT! Can a gift be given if it is not received?
Of course some did receive God’s gracious gift – and gladly. We can learn from them what it means to receive the gift of a Savior. There is no better example than the mother of our Lord. The whole story begins with Mary’s gracious and humble words of acceptance: “let it be with me according to your word.” Let it be. Let this wondrous blessing come to pass – and let it happen in me and through me. What amazing faith Mary shows us by embracing a promise that seems far-fetched at best – and more likely just plain impossible. Mary took Gabriel’s word as God’s word to her – and she trusted that nothing will be impossible with God. Mary recognized the miracle – and she received it humbly and gratefully.
The shepherds also enjoyed the experience of receiving. There they were out in the boonies, not expecting much of anything to happen, when they were amazed by the sudden appearance of an angelic host. They heard the news that something tremendous had arrived in the world – and that it was for THEM: The angels said: “to YOU is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign FOR YOU: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” A gift-wrapped Savior was waiting for them in Bethlehem. So what did they do? They went with haste, of course. And they saw that it was all true. And they received this blessing with praising and rejoicing. I doubt they slept even a wink the rest of that night.
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Still, John reminds us that not everyone gladly received Jesus as their Savior. We know there were many who resented and rejected Jesus. There were those who saw his coming not as a blessing, but as a threat. As it was then, so it is today. There are many in the world who do not welcome Jesus as Lord and Savior. Most of us have friends and relatives who do not embrace faith in Christ. Some of them once did – but no longer do. And let’s be honest, most of us have our days when we are not very receptive to Christ – we pay attention to other worldly things.
I remember a painting that hung on the wall in the church of my childhood. It was a picture of Jesus standing on a doorstep and knocking on the door. The painting is based on the verse where Jesus says: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to eat with him, and he with me.” (Rev 3:21)
Jesus longs to be welcomed in, to break bread together, to experience true communion. Too often Jesus is left standing on the doorstep. These days people worry about packages left at their door. What about leaving Jesus on your doorstep? Are there days when you overlook Jesus – or times when you’re not inclined to let him in? How then can we manage to consistently receive the gift of a Savior? Like Mary and the shepherds, we can begin by acknowledging our humble condition, our needs that are beyond our capacity to fulfill.
A good place to start is the way we start most worship services: with receiving forgiveness. It is a gift that can only be received. You can’t take forgiveness. You can’t buy it. You can’t borrow it. John tells us that Jesus is full of grace and truth. His truth reveals our sinfulness. His grace redeems and cleanses us. By receiving the blessing of forgiveness we welcome Christ into the humble, broken habitation of our hearts.
We can welcome our Savior by paying attention. St. John presents Jesus as the Word of God made flesh. God speaks in many and various ways – yet he speaks most clearly, most powerfully, most wonderfully through his Son. Since Jesus is God’s living Word – what we can do is listen to him. The good news of Christ is not news for us until we actually pause to receiving it, to take it to heart, and listen to God’s word. You and I receive by paying attention.
We receive Christ directly and personally at Holy Communion. We cannot take communion. We receive Christ’s body and blood as a gracious gift: undeserved and free. We come to the Lord’s Table with empty hands, hoping to be filled. Placing our empty hands together, we form a manger cradle to receive Christ our Lord. God faithfully fills our hungry souls with good things, the very best.
Out in the wider world, we receive Christ when we welcome the stranger, when we care for those in need, when we embrace the lonely and despairing. Jesus assures us that when we do so, we do it unto him. When the love that has come to us in our Savior flows through us to bless others, God’s living word takes on human flesh, and is born again.
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Christmas is a good time to be reminded to receive what God is eager to give to us each day: abundant life in Christ, life that really is life.
To all who receive Christ, who believe in him, who welcome his grace and truth, he gives power to become children of God. Light and life to all he gives!