I stand before you in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Please God fill this sermon with your grace. Amen.
Merry Christmas. A popular phrase in America in our time. Happy Christmas is more popular in England. When the Queen gives her royal holiday message she says, “Happy Christmas.” As she’s been doing since she’s been carrying on the tradition from her late grandfather King George. The royals felt it was less vulgar than ‘Merry.’ However, Merry seems to be making a strong comeback over in Merry Olde England.
Happy is an inner emotion, a personal feeling. Merry is more of a behavior. Merry is cheerful and lively. An expression of rejoicing. Both fit but I prefer Merry. So, again, Merry Christmas.
We should all be merry, merry makers and merry making. We should celebrate and rejoice. We need to share our celebration with others. We should be excited about our God, excited about exchanging gifts, sharing and opening presents.
I appreciate this holiday for many reasons.
At 18, I spent Christmas away from home with my “new” family. My merry Marine Corps brothers and I sang Happy Birthday to baby Jesus while finishing boot camp. This taught me to celebrate with whoever is available. Love the ones you’re with.
Two years later I was away again, still serving in the Marines but I had headquarters guard duty. That holiday was away from home and all alone. Awww.
I learned the value of the phone and of calling my loved ones and truly appreciating them from afar as best I could. As well as getting deep in prayer and appreciating my alone time with God.
Lastly, on this particular day with this Gospel it reminds me of the greatest gifts I have received. Of course, the gift of a loving God, creation, my existence, love, my wife, my children, my family and friends. My Church and my Pastor for allowing me to give this sermon. But there’s specific gift that I wish to share.
Just to build up the suspense a little, let me give you a riddle.
What type of house weighs the least? A lighthouse.
A lighthouse stands strong in the face of dark and stormy seas. The light reaches out to lost souls in order to bring them safely home. The light defines the existence of the lighthouse.
Today I am sharing one of my greatest gifts. I cannot take any credit for this gift. All credit goes to the Holy Spirit. Today I share with you my Gospel Light. God keeps this light shining not me. And today I’m gonna let it shine.
And I can’t have a Gospel light without the Gospel. Today’s Gospel is from John Chapter 1. What’s so special about John’s Gospel?
Matthew, Mark and Luke all follow a particular pattern. These are the Synoptic Gospels. Meaning they contain a similar pattern, structure and overall view.
Mark was written for the Gentiles, Matthew for the Jews, Luke for everyone. Matthew, Mark and Luke speak of God’s connection to His people.
John’s Gospel was written last and at a time when the other three Gospels were already circulating through the churches. John was free to construct his Gospel outside of targeted demographics. John wasn’t written from the point of view of the people. John is written more from the point of view of Jesus Himself. Matthew, Mark and Luke send your leap of faith into free-fall but the center of gravity is Jesus, the Jesus we find in John.
I love looking at old photos and reliving beautiful memories. There is a photo on my dresser of my grandfather. I really loved and admired that man. He was my rock in this turbulent world and he was my light in the darkest times. I often wish he would step out of that photograph for one more visit. Just one more hug. Could you imagine that happening?
Well it did. And it happened for all of us. Jesus stepped out of heaven. A dimension we can’t comprehend and entered in the reality we know. He stepped out of heaven on a special mission for each of us. The Word became flesh.
John is the only Gospel that calls Jesus the Word. I believe John was originally written in Aramaic and translated to Greek. So from the Aramaic point of view, The Word translates to a special masculine title which is a clear reference to the Messiah, the Christ.
John 1 chapter 1 is also a clear reference to Genesis 1 chapter 1. And after looking back on 2020 it couldn’t be any more fitting for us. Especially verse 2 where the earth is described as dark and chaotic. And God hovered above it. This year has put many of us into a dark and chaotic state but God is no longer hovering above us. God is in it with us. The Word became flesh.
That flesh was wrapped in swaddling. The shepherds would recognize the sign of the swaddling and His being placed in the manger. These were Levitical shepherds raising sheep for the temple, familiar with scripture. Shepherds who take newborn lambs and wrap them in swaddling and place them in mangers away from even their own mothers to remain unblemished and safe. Shepherds who would have known this baby was born as a sacrifice for the blood of all. But to them specifically it illustrated justice for Abel, the brother of Cain. Abel, a fellow shepherd murdered by his own brother whose blood cried out to God from the earth for justice. These shepherds were one of the first to witness the greatest gift for all mankind.
I put together this sermon differently than I normally would. Normally I do a great deal of research and reading but I was especially prepared for this one as this is my Bible specialty. I have researched the birth of Christ and the Gospel of John like crazy and still do.
Speaking of research, some very popular Google searches this year, meaning millions of people in 2020 are using a search engine to find the answers to:
- How do you pray?
- What is Love?
- What is the Bible?
- Who is Jesus?
- What is church?
- Who is God?
The best way to find these answers is to go to church. If you can’t be here physically then join us virtually. This pandemic is making things difficult but not impossible. We may have a congregation that can’t congregate but we need to be the church and reach out to others and spread the Gospel. Spread the true news. The good news. The Gospels answer everyones questions.
As Christians we should merrily live Christmas each and every day.
Today’s life of constant bad news and constant fake news takes its toll on us. Many of us hide in our devices. We develop a lack of focus and get caught up in mind wandering. This kind of mind wandering can lead to negative moods and poor mental health. According to Harvard psychologists we need to rewire and refocus in the moment. Live for the positivity of the now. This leads to better management of our focus and more positive and healthy emotions. Google has a lot of answers but not as many as the Gospels. Be merry in the now! Focus on Christ! Rejoice in that greatest gift!
On an Amazon search looking for gift ideas I found a funny T-shirt. A plain black T-shirt with white writing on it and it read, For Sale: One Parachute, Only Used Once, Never Opened, Small Stain. OH CHUTE! C-H-U-T-E see what I did there.
I went skydiving once and you truly have to take a leap of faith. In the windy midst of free-fall you actually have time to think. It doesn’t make sense. It felt like I was floating. Gravity was doing it’s job. I was heading toward the earth at terminal velocity, well over 100 mph. But I’m also colliding with the air molecules filling the space between myself and the ground. This causes resistance and drag so that I don’t accelerate exponentially. And like I said it gives you that time to think. And if your first thought isn’t a prayer then it’s definitely that you will need that parachute! Don’t leave that gift unopened!
The gift of God came to us wrapped in the womb of a woman. He was born and was then wrapped again in swaddling cloth. The wise men left their comfort zone and physically sought out this great gift. When the wise men visited Him he was out of that swaddling and standing next to His earth mother Mary. Nothing to unwrap. God in the flesh! The gift was dwelling among us and these truly wise men reciprocated with gifts of their own. Merry makers making merry!
In the tomb, after the flesh was killed, the gift was wrapped again and hidden away in a dark tomb. The light of the world and we attempt to hide Him in a dark tomb. That created darkness could not contain His glory. I believe the Shroud of Turin is the real burial shroud of Jesus. And His image was burned into that cloth from just a spark of His glory. The spark needed for His resurrection. He is risen. He has risen indeed, Hallelujah!
When His loved ones came to look for their present. The tomb was open. The great stone cast aside like discarded gift wrap. But the linen wrappings were still wrapped in the tomb. The wrappings of His shrouded dead body were still wrapped but the greatest present ever passed right through them. This is good news for the people who try to salvage the wrapping paper. It was all perfectly intact. Somehow the napkin that was placed over His face while He was on the cross was folded neatly next to the still wrapped linen shroud.
Wrap your head around that. For those of us (like me) who tear the wrapping off and toss it aside we have the stone.
For those of us who have better self control you have the shroud and the napkin. Again, the napkin was pinned to the cap of thorns and tucked under His beard to catch His blood when His heart ruptured on the cross and blood started flowing from His nose and mouth. The cap of thorns was removed at His burial but the cloth was left on His face. I don’t know why. It may have been stuck to His facial wounds or maybe His loved ones weren’t ready to see His normally animated and passionate face wrapped in the peace of death. A death for us. All part of the greatest gift. Also time was a factor as He was hastily anointed and placed in a linen shroud and bound with strips cut from the shroud itself. They needed Him buried fast, before the Sabbath.
The greatest gift passed through His gift wrapping with the napkin still on His face. I’m assuming this impaired the vision of His human eyes so He removed it and took the time to fold it neatly and place it next to the now deflated wrappings. He went out and left a wide open tomb.
Not even His own tomb but that of a friend. He went out and called many new friends to join Him who were also temporarily asleep.
The greatest gift left it’s wrapping to seek you! Jesus stepped out of Heaven and Hell for YOU! Meet Him half way. Seek Him out and share Him with others.
Open that gift of salvation. Open that gift of a lifetime – an eternal lifetime. Open the gift of perfect love and everlasting peace. In another verse from the Gospel of John, John 3:16, feel free to repeat it with me. For God so loved the the world, that He gave His only son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. He gave His only son! God gave us His greatest gift! I can’t say it enough, the greatest gift ever! His grace is in you! In ALL of US!
There are no returns with this gift but, we are called to regift! Regifting may get a bum rap (see what I did there) BUT I believe if you’re being honest with yourself and others then regifting is just recycling a great gift! And, again, we are called to regift this great gift! Regift the Good News in His holy name!
Merry Christmas, Rejoice, Regift and Repeat! Amen.