Welcome to the Society of Saint John the Evangelist

Who Took the Baby? – Br. James Koester

John 1:1-14

If you have paid close attention yesterday and today you may have noticed, as Brother David told us in his homily yesterday, that something is missing, or perhaps I should say, someone is missing, and you would be right. We have all been waiting a long time, and suddenly the day has come and gone, and now there is no sign of him. At least there is no sign of him in the way we might expect. In a flash, the stable and manger have disappeared, and with them the donkey and cow and sheep. Everything has been swept clean and there is no sign of star or shepherds or angels or even of Mary and Joseph. Except for passing references in the hymns this morning, and the shrine at the back of the chapel, the baby is gone. By tomorrow, shops will begin to strip the Christmas decorations away, after Christmas sales will begin, and you may even notice a few tinsel bedraggled Christmas trees by the curb with the rest of the garbage. It all seems to be over sooner than it began.

So here we find ourselves on the day after Christmas and the very thing we have all come to see, a baby in a manger, is missing. Only the vague memory of his birth lingers like those baby pictures we have seen of our parents and grandparents. Like them, we know he must have been a baby at one time, but even when we celebrate his birth the memory of the baby is fleeting at best.

For many, Christmas, if it is not just about Santa Claus, is only about a baby. To try to imagine Christmas without a baby is like trying to imagine it without Santa Claus. And yet here we are with certainly no sign of the jolly old elf himself, and only a hint of the baby. So why on earth are we here?

We are here, I hope, for the same reasons that John wrote his gospel and the author of the Epistle to the Galatians wrote the epistle. Neither of them make mention of the baby (and certainly neither of the make mention of Santa!) Unlike Matthew and Luke, John begins his gospel, not with the story of a baby, but with his great prologue which roots this Christmas festival in the very act of God’s self revelation to humanity:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. … And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

It is this that we celebrate today. Not so much the birth of a baby but rather God’s very self-revelation to humanity in the person of the Word Made Flesh, Jesus Christ: and the Word was made flesh and lived among us! We gather here today, not as children at a birthday party but as people to whom God has been made known, in the person of Jesus Christ.

It is this, as Christians, that is our claim: not that God exists, for many others also believe that; but rather that when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children.

Like many others we are not alone in our belief in God. Nor are we alone in our belief in a personal God who acts, and even interacts, in personal lives and human history. What sets us apart is our belief that in Jesus, we see not simply a prophet or admirable teacher or healer or miracle worker, but the reflection of God and the exact imprint of God’s very being. What sets us apart is our belief that the person of Jesus reveals to us the very nature and purpose of God; indeed that Jesus reflects and manifests to us God’s glory. And we have seen his glory, the glory as a father’s only son.

When we were children there was always a birthday party to look forward to, and they were wonderful events, especially if they were our own. We received all sorts of presents and ate too much (mostly things with sugar!) and often got too wound up. At the end of the day we were tired and probably cranky and maybe even sick. (Now isn’t that an apt description of Christmases past?)

If Christmas is not a birthday party, but a celebration of God’s revelation to us whereby we can come to know, and see God’s glory, then our focus needs to be less on the birthday cake and more on the gift of God that comes to us in the person of Jesus. Indeed the focus of our celebration, as both our readings from the Epistle to the Galatians and the Gospel According to John would point out, needs to be less on the baby and more on this act of God showing himself to us in the person of Jesus.

If this is true, what then are we celebrating?

What we are celebrating is what we have seen! As the First Letter of John puts it:

We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands concerning the word of life – this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us – we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and his Son Jesus Christ.

Christmas is not so much about the birth of a baby as it is hearing and seeing and looking at and touching God! Christmas is about our ability to see and sense and hear and touch. It is about our ability to come to know God the maker and redeemer of all, in the person of Jesus Christ for it is Jesus who makes visible to us the One who is invisible. As the Epistle to the Colossians tells us, Jesus is the icon, the image, of the invisible God, who makes known to us the character and nature of God. And it is this that we have seen and heard and touched: the very character and nature and being of God. For in Jesus we have come to know and see and taste and touch God with our hearts and minds and eyes and mouths and hands.

We have come to know God through the kindness of strangers and the concern of friends, for Jesus has taught us that the very act of friendship is a sacrament of God’s love! We have come to see God in moments of loss and weakness and even death and not to despair, for in Jesus we have come to now that hope does not die but comes to life again when all else seems lost! We have come to taste God in bread and wine as we are fed with Christ’s very body and blood and nourished with God’s love, for in the Eucharistic bread and wine we have come to know the power of God’s love for us. We have come to touch God in the act of an embrace between two lovers and in the words: “I am sorry” and “I forgive you” and “peace be with you” for in Jesus we have learnt the grace-filled power of reconciliation, forgiveness and peace.

Christmas is a feast of the senses! It is a celebration of our ability to see and know and taste and touch the power and glory and revelation of God. It is not just about a birth that happened long, long ago and far, far away. It is not just about a baby. It is about the way in which God manifests the divine life to us in the person of Jesus as friend and food and hope and love. It is a celebration of our ability to grasp God and to sense him with all our being for the God whom Jesus shows to us is not some ethereal god who vanishes like smoke, but is one who can be seen with our eyes and looked at and touched with our hands!

For the next Twelve Days, we celebrate Christmas, the Feast of the Incarnation, the Feast of the Word Made Flesh, the celebration that God can be seen and looked at and touched and tasted and known with our whole selves. This is the God to whom Jesus points. This is the God of whom Jesus is icon, and image, reflection and imprint. This is the God of Christmas. And this is what we celebrate today, that in Jesus you and I can see and know and touch and taste the very being and nature of God.

Now isn’t that something to celebrate? Isn’t that something to grab hold of? Isn’t that something worth proclaiming? That by Jesus, the Word of God made mortal flesh, we can come to see God and know that we are loved; we can come to taste God, and know that we are loved; we can come to touch God and know that we are loved.

Christmas is a feast of senses, a feast of sensing that God loves us in ways that we can see and taste and touch. So when we greet one another over the next twelve days with the words “Merry Christmas” we do so as a proclamation that God loves us, and all the world, and that love is worth celebrating.

Merry Christmas everyone, God loves you!

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17 Comments

  1. Ruth West on June 15, 2016 at 11:36

    What a great sermon! Alleluia that God the Father sent his Son in the flesh that we humans could know Him more than just a Spirit. He came.
    He dwelt among us. We could see Him, hear Him, touch Him, know Him, and love Him even as He loves us. I have a file of SSJE sermons. This is definitely one I shall keep and reread and share.
    Thank you.

  2. David Cranmer on January 20, 2016 at 23:10

    Thank you for the reminder about how God has revealed Himself in Jesus. You quote 1 John, but I would also add John 3:16. that God so loved the world that He sent His Son Jesus, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. And what sets us apart from others is the realization that we do not “earn” God’s favor but that God grants us favor as with Abraham that we trust in Him, and not in our own efforts. DavC

  3. Fred Adams on December 31, 2015 at 14:04

    Br. James,

    I sit here on the 31st, as part of my morning prayers, and I found sooo many answers to my inner-felt questions about the “Son of God”, about the icon through which we may “see” the invisible, about who taught us the Way, and “is Jesus God.” That may sound like blasphemy; it is not, but I am coming to understand so much more. Such a blessing! Your message is a major clearing away of the rocks in my path–in my spiritual journey. Thank you, and bless you and the brothers of SSJE.

  4. Alison Invlis on December 31, 2015 at 08:12

    I have so enjoyed the messages since I was put in contact with the Brothers. Thank you! I had a horrible fight with my husband, over an unresolved, old issue the day before yesterday. I could not give up the anger and hurt which had besieged me!! But last night I was instantly delivered and transformed in a flash! It was the hand and breath of God and a total miracle! He is alive and I am amazed and very thankful.

  5. Robert on January 5, 2015 at 22:56

    A lovely sermon, Thank You Br.James. When I was in Jerusalem many years ago I heard that the Abyssinian monks in The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, celebrated Christmas every month, except at Eastertide.

  6. Christopher Engle Barnhart on January 5, 2015 at 06:14

    It simple amazes me that the secular world in which we live is so missing out on the true meaning of Christmas, of it all. We are so caught up in the commercialiation of this holiday. If is now not about Merry Christmas but about Happy Holidays. Here it is, the 4th of January, our Christmas tree is still there and alive, or Advent wreath is still there with candles still lite at every meal, the decorations that we love and cherish have not been boxed up and put away. We saver these moments, listen to the favorite Christmas hymns and carols for twelve days . What a give that God has given us.

  7. David Hollingsworth on December 30, 2013 at 15:13

    I’m one of those who says “I hate Christmas” until the day it comes. Going to church, reading the Christmas story and getting the message of what it’s all about. The whole thing’s a mystery but it has lasted all thru the ages. Don’t know where I’m going with this, but I’ll say – yeah! A guy came out of the florist’s humming Jingle Bells and I sang a little of the text. He made a comment about it’s over and I said “You can still sing it” his comment was “How long am I aloud to sing it?” My reply: Until 6 January, Three Kings Day. He was amazed at that and was somehow happy about it. No big deal but still———

  8. Margaret Dungan on May 15, 2013 at 13:26

    Dear Br.James.

    Chrismas is now six months away and for the second time I want to respond. This is such a wonderful aspect to the full meaning of Christmas. It is also such a great answer to the Christian who says “I hate Christmas”. This is often said by someone who is deprived of family or has other unhappy associatians with Christmas. It is not all about a baby or family but I have found this difficult to express when faced with this comment which I find so upsetting. Thank you very much.

    • Christina on January 5, 2015 at 10:22

      I have read over this sermon several times.
      Christmas is a love-hate celebration. I love the Christmas music and the Christmas message. I hate the commercialism and the forced jollity of the thronging shopping malls.
      But. I wonder. Do so many people ‘hate’ Christmas because they have not found the reality of the birth of Christ and the Way that his life opens up for us. The Way to God, the Eternal, Holy Spirit.
      It can be a very sad time: Christmas. We may remember earlier years, and we mourn again the loss of those we held dear. Some of my earliest, happy memories of Christmas are when I was a child in war torn, London. Strange you might think. But people used to drop by on the 25th, and perhaps bring a little box with six mince pies for us. One Christmas,I was about six or seven, when I woke up, there was one little present on my bedside chair. I couldn’t believe that Santa had only brought me one gift. I recall that year – I don’t remember the other years when I received more presents. However, over time I have received the greatest gift of all: Jesus in my life, and His revelation of our Eternal God.
      Blessings

  9. Martha Holden on February 1, 2013 at 05:11

    Thank you. I needed that

  10. Margo on December 25, 2012 at 17:14

    Thank you Br. James Merry Christsmas to you all.

    I had the amazing gift of a tramp at my door last night at 5:15pm and 20′. There was food in the refrigerator to feed him, the descretionary fund had the year’s final $60.00 that bought him a bed at the local motel. Within his parting whiskey smelling embrace there was the encarnate hug of God and our service started on time at 7:00pm – just!

  11. Margaret Dungan on December 25, 2012 at 16:58

    Thank you Br. James

    Your message was just what I needed to hear to day
    Margaret.

  12. Pam on December 25, 2012 at 09:36

    Every Christmas I hope for a powerful sermon on the Incarnation, and I am always disappointed. Last night I heard a sermon about love and coming home, which any nonbeliever could have given. Thank you for this. It’s right on.

  13. Diane Barnhill on December 25, 2012 at 09:09

    Christmas blessing to all of you from Chestertown, Maryland.

  14. DLa Rue on January 22, 2012 at 09:13

    Having studied medieval liturgical history, I am struck especially by how consistent this is with the themes of St. Stephen’s Day, the 26th of December, even though that is not cited.

    The first responsory for the day in the 13th c. books I work from points out that “yesterday our Lord was born on earth so that today Stephen might be born in heaven,” (‘Hesterna die dominus natus est in terris ut Stehpanus nasceretur in coelis’). Both the contrast of life with death, and the dynamic connection of the one to the other, are affirmed.

    The simple joy for the glad news of the day before must stand up in strength and resilience to support us in the daily deaths and sacrifices, small and large, before us–and that very life, brought forth, brings forth that death.

    Thanks for revivifying in new terms this equilibrated sense of hope for the persistence of faith and this reminder of the steadiness of God’s love within our lives’ quotidien messiness.

  15. Patrick Smith on December 25, 2011 at 07:16

    Fantastic! Thank you and bless you all at SSJE!

  16. Carl Riedy on December 25, 2011 at 06:18

    May God come in Grace and awaken the Spirit and your senses.
    May God come in Grace so that Christ might use you as an instrument of his peace and reveal His presence to others.
    Thank you for these daily reflections.
    Merry Christmas
    Carl

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