We would encourage you not to preach today; but if you feel you must, here is a possible direction.
In the days following Christmas, lots of people are just exhausted. We clergy are exhausted. Music leaders, lay leaders, choir members, and church staff are exhausted (especially on a year when Christmas Eve falls on Saturday!). Church members, especially active ones, are exhausted. Maybe folks are even kind of glad it is over. They might be relieved that, after this service, they will have a little break from church.
And so it is important to realize that people’s feelings may be all over the map as they gather for worship on Christmas Day. There may be some who feel resentful. There may be those who are in attendance more out of guilt than joy. And there will be some, hopefully more than a few, who are downright thrilled to be in worship on Christmas Day!
Whether folks are feeling joyful, excited and peaceful today, or feeling like they just survived a war, the truth of the matter is that every year when people come to this holiday, in some form or another, we all have to reinterpret our experience of the holiday season according to our current life circumstances.
Christmas is a day that is, for most people, laden with both expectations and memories. We bring to Christmas Day not only our present circumstances, but our ghosts of Christmases past and our hopes for Christmases future.
There are those who remember the Christmases of childhood with fondness and joy. For those who had positive Christmas experiences as children, there may be a strong desire to re-create that experience as closely as possible for their current family situation. But of course, no matter how hard we try, we can’t achieve this goal. We can’t return to the past, and we can’t bring back to life the cast of characters or the particular circumstances that were a part of it all. Those things we hold in our memories, no matter how idyllic we remember them as being, cannot be reproduced. They are the past.
Other people’s Christmases-past do not bring happy memories. They are the stuff of nightmares, dominated by memories of parents or loved ones fighting, deep disappointments, heavy drinking, not enough money, sibling rivalry, resentment, anger, grief, being carted between divorced parents, or feelings of terrible loneliness and loss.
For those whose memories are not happy, Christmas-present may represent a chance to make a complete break from Christmases past. They are an opportunity to reinterpret the holiday and build new memories to replace the old ones.
John’s version of the birth of Christ is a complete reinterpretation of the old, old, story traditionally read on Christmas Eve. In John’s Gospel, there is no visitation from an angel, no shepherds keeping their flocks by night, no star in the sky, no stable and manger, no mother and child.
In John’s Gospel there’s just the “Word.”
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being” (John 1:1-3, NRSV).
As such, John’s reinterpretation of the Christmas story provides a necessary corrective to the other gospel narratives about the birth of Jesus. It is a reinterpretation of the tradition that, while not a complete break from the other versions, is a part of the story that must be told if we are to fully understand what this season is about.
John’s opening narrative is not about the birth of Jesus. Rather, it is about the birth of God into the world and God giving birth to the world. It is about God’s creation of this world and all that is in it. It is about how in the beginning of time, the Word of God became flesh. It is about God incarnate, God with us, Emmanuel, in the person of Jesus the Christ.
It is about how, in the beginning, that same Word, that same flesh and blood person, that same man whose birth we just celebrated, was always with God, part of God, of the same being as God.
John starts with the premise that God created us and that part of that act of creation was God's Word, or message, or angle, or stamp, or intention, or idea, or ideal, or purpose, all of which he sums up as the Word.
Before there was anything, before creation, there was the Word.
The Word was there with God, all along, from the beginning. The Word was the same as God. The Word was God. The Word was the source of life itself, so that all of life has the genetic stamp of the Word built into it. It’s in our DNA.
Because of the Word, all of life has not only a genetic stamp of the Word, but also a built-in awareness of the light that has come into the world. Human beings, who are created in God’s image, are endowed by our creator with a natural impulse to be followers of light instead of followers of shadow and despair.
God's creative activity and the work of the Word did and does not end with the act of causing the moon and stars, sun and earth, plants, animals, and people to come into being. All of these things come from the Word, but creation is not the end. God did not set it all into motion and then go away.
The Word became a human being. The Word was born, flesh and blood, and became a participant in the daily events and struggles of human life. The Word, which had already given the impulse to be followers of light, came to focus in one individual: Jesus Christ, full of grace and truth.
Because God sent God’s only son into the world, we can live as children of the light. Because of Jesus, we can resist our human temptation to dwell in the shadows and fears and despair of the past. Because of Jesus, we can fight to improve the hand that the world has dealt us. Because of Jesus, our lives can be reinterpreted. We can be re-created, born again, and given a new life through Christ, who is God with us.
Because God has come to us in this way, we have a second chance to make things right. And a third, and a fourth, and a hundredth, if we need it. Because of Jesus, we have been given the opportunity to reinterpret our pasts and move toward a life lived in the light of truth and grace rather than a life overshadowed by the darkness of our painful memories and experiences.
The good news for today is the proclamation that the light has come into the world, full of grace and truth. The light of Christ is stronger than the powers of darkness and evil that threaten us. And the power of life in Christ Jesus is stronger than any memory, stronger than any setback, stronger than any evil that threatens us, stronger even than the power of death. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all the people. The light of Christ shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not, and will not ever, overcome it.
This is the promise that is born into the world through the birth of Jesus.
This is the hope, the love, the joy, and the peace of Christ.
This is the center of our celebration.
This is the reason we have the strength to go on.
This is why we can keep rewriting our life scripts, all the way into the life that is to come.