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Sermon preached at St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church in Falls Church, VA December 24, 2018.
Christmas Eve, Year C (RCL Christmas Day III): Isaiah 52:7-10; Psalm 98; Hebrews 1:1-4; John 1:1-14

Alleluia! To us a child is born: Come let us adore him. Alleluia!

For much of Christmas, what we see and hear is the Holy Family in Bethlehem. If you came for that tonight, I’m sorry. It is the readings prescribed for Christmas Day I or II that are full of things making Christmas the season that it is. Both Matthew and Luke give us Nativity accounts from an earthly perspective: the way Mary and Joseph and the shepherds in their fields saw what happened.
     Tonight, we hear John’s telling of Christmas, not an earthly account, but from a heavenly perspective, for those with eyes of faith that see. This is the way the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven would have told the Love story of the Incarnation had John not been commissioned to tell it. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God, and the Word was with God ... And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” (John 1:1-2, 14)
     Eugene Peterson, the American Presbyterian clergyman, scholar, theologian, author, and poet who died earlier this year, in his interpretation of Scripture called The Message, writes: “The Word was first, the Word present to God, God present to the Word. ... The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood.”
     By Word through Flesh, God is in the neighborhood.Think about that! Isn’t this the Christmas message you really want to hear tonight? That no matter what the headlines scream or how uncertain our lives might feel ~ God is in our neighborhood and our lives? Immanuel ~ God with us.
And John tells us how this has been true all along. In the Book of Genesis, God speaks Creation into being through the Word. God gives the Word and things happen: Light from darkness; heaven and earth; ocean, seas, and streams; fields and vale; creatures on the ground, in the water, and through the air, and human companions. Everything, seen or unseen, is called into being by the spoken Word of God.
     Paralleling Genesis, John gives us God speaking Salvation into existence. God’s Word takes on human flesh and comes to us in the person of Jesus Christ. Salvation, as preached to the world by Jesus, the Son of God, comes as judgment and forgiveness, healing and illumination, mercy and grace, joy and love, freedom and resurrection. That which was made by God, and later tainted by us, is ultimately redeemed through Jesus Christ, God Incarnate in the world.
     By Word through Flesh, God is in the neighborhood.
     How does this make you feel? Can you see God in your world? I hope you can ~ in the beauty surrounding you here tonight, in the love you find in family and friends. Even in the lights all around your neighborhoods!
     Matthew and Luke’s stories are not so radically different from John’s. I imagine Luke seeking the shepherds to ask, ‘What made you leave your fields and flocks to find the Christ child in such an unexpected place?’ They said it was the angels and their hymn. When Luke asked, ‘Do you remember what they sang?’ the shepherds’ reply was, ‘How could we not? It still rings in our hearts and our minds even now! ‘Glory to God in the highest and on earth, peace, goodwill to all humankind.’
     The angels announced an end to the tension between heaven and earth, spirit and flesh, God and the world. God and God’s people would be reunited, one to another, with the two joined in the same flesh. All of this would take place, not by us taking on God’s Spirit, but by God becoming incarnate among us.
     By Word through Flesh, God is in the neighborhood.
     Now I recognize we’re still seeking reconciliation between humanity these days. But I know, and I want you to hear, God’s promise through Jesus that reconciliation will come.
     God came in the flesh, with all its attendant weaknesses and limitations. Not to destroy Creation, but to redeem it, not to take us out of the world, but to give to all flesh, God’s Holy Spirit in this world. God did this by speaking the Word into being as Jesus Christ incarnate, the very best Christmas gift one could ever receive.
     “The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood.” No honest reading of Scripture can conclude anything, but that Christ was true man. Not an abstract man or a spiritual being who appeared to have flesh. But flesh like us, bones like ours.
Scriptures also say that Jesus is true God. “God of God, Light of Light, true God of true God.” In Jesus, God and humankind, heaven and earth, the celestial and terrestrial are united in one, perfect unity. The heavenly and the earthly are brought together.
By Word through Flesh, God is in the neighborhood.
     Jesus was born into a violent time under difficult circumstances. And yet his ministry flourished and here we are, 2000 years later, celebrating his birth and looking for ways that we can show his work ourselves. Our ways of walking in the love of Jesus are our continual Christmas gifts to our worlds ~ our neighborhoods. We show this unity, this heavenly kingdom here on earth.
     This work of reconciling Love is entirely the work of God through the Word of God. What makes this so hard to grasp sometimes, is that in Christ, the infinite God not only embraces the finite world of humankind, but that God does so despite our resistance and rejection. “He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.”
     But through Holy Baptism, we are united to God through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, and God’s peace and good will have been grafted in us. For us, the infinite takes on the finite and God provides for us through the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. Every time we gather at this table for Holy Eucharist, it is for us the work of reconciliation through Love all over again.
     “The Word was first, the Word present to God, God present to the Word. ... The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood.” As Peterson continues, “We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-in-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, generous inside and out, true from start to finish.”
     By Word through Flesh, God is in our neighborhood. AMEN.

     Alleluia! To us a child is born: Come let us adore him. Alleluia!