Ask someone what Christmas is all about. Most will answer: it is the day that Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus, the son of God.
Then ask: why was he born? The answers will start to vary widely. Many will say he came to save us from sin. He was born to suffer and die in our place. Others will answer that Jesus was born to bring God’s kingdom to earth. Others say he came to show us God’s love.
All these answers are true, of course. As is in so much of faith, there is not a single simple answer. The answer that the gospel writer wants us to know this morning is that Jesus was born so we can claim our identity as children of God.
John writes that Jesus’ birth – the incarnation – had to because of who God is, a God who is entirely present in the world. The word that was God and is God became flesh and dwelt among us. That’s John’s Christmas story.
After a few short but glorious sentences, John moves on to answer the why of Jesus birth. His focus is on another birth. Or many births. John believes that the significance of the Christmas story is that it offers us – you and I – new life and our true identities.
…to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
I know too many Christians for whom this is part of the truth of Christmas. Too many non-Christians and people who used to be Christians but are no longer have never heard this message. Too many have never received into their inward being the proclamation that they are – as the person they are – of inherent worth and value as a child of God.
The gospel writer John recognizes the power of sin of course. He would agree with another John, John Calvin, that human beings can produce a staggering menagerie of false deities, ideologies, sports personalities, celebrities, securities, politicians and positions which we worship as divine. And what wisdom we possess can be easily squandered or put to scandalous use that breaks our bodies, squashes our spirits, impinges on the rights of others and leaves them wounded and weary.
Yet God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that that world might be saved through him. God dwelt among us because we are God’s own and we are worth it to God. You and I matter, ultimately, in the eyes of God. The Word that is God risks and receives hurt and rejection and suffering and even death because we are the object of God’s love.
Jesus came so that we might become children of God. Children who are not dominated by the circumstances in which we find ourselves, or the roles that we have taken on or that were thrust upon us. We are not defined as our failed marriage or job, the disappointment we are to our parents or our children. Who we are is not limited to the mistakes we’ve made, the missteps, the injuries we’ve inflicted and received. These realities matter. But they do not define us. They are not our life. They are not our ultimate identity.
A child was born into a pastor’s family this past Advent. Shannon Schaefer wrote about the transformation of her family because of “a tiny girl with elfin ears.” She says that during the Christmas celebrations the family gathered in a line around the crib, all comparing ears, the arch of lips, the contours fo hairlines and noes. Schaeffer writes: “We search her again and again for some sign of us, searching one another for sign os her. Before her, how long had it been since we studied one another so closely with tender attention, honoring the bodied particularities of each of us? Perhaps the Messiah is not unlike this tiny girl, the stranger like us and unlike us, the mirror we search for signs of ourselves.”
Here is a gift of Christmas that we can keep searching for the whole year long. It is the gift of looking at one another to look for the resemblance of the God who dwelt in human flesh. It is the gift of studying each other carefully to see the familiar trace of divinity, the common arch of goodness, the shared line of love, that connects us to that baby born at Christmas and every baby born before or since. And we have to do the same for ourselves. We have to look into the mirror and search our visage to see the signs – however faint they seem to us -that reflect the truth that Jesus and you and – you and I – are children born of the same maker, possessors of the same holy heritage.
The Word became flesh and dwelt among us so that we might be born again as children of God.