A gift-wrapped Merry Christmas

Published 3:30 pm Sunday, January 1, 2023

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One friend I have tells of family gatherings at Christmas. All the little cousins would spend Christmas Eve night down in the basement together. They could stay up all night. If they fell asleep, they could wake up early. It was completely their choice how they spent that night. 

But what they were not allowed to do was to come upstairs to where the Christmas tree, the presents and the rest of the family were. That is, until the upstairs light came on. 

That was the signal. No light, no entry and no peeking. Can you imagine just for a minute how many times each child probably stole a glance toward the upstairs door, checking to see if the light was on? 

You’ve probably been there yourself, right? Something similar at least. I sure have. When that light finally went on, the excited stampede of young footsteps was probably frantic. Magical, even.

We use light intentionally to change things. Light never leaves things like they were. Light shows what is, and light brings about possibilities that don’t exist in the dark. But we also know that sometimes light changes things contrary to what we might want. 

If we leave clothing out or on display long enough, the light fades it. The cover of a book will fade where the light hits it. A baseball, autographed by your favorite player right in the sweet spot will one day turn yellow even under the most careful protection from light. 

John was trying to explain what happened in the story. Mary had a baby and wrapped him in a swaddling cloth. The shepherds got word that something amazing was happening. The wise men traveled from afar and were told to look for the light. We know all of that because Luke tells us.

Not John. John is our thoughtful friend. John is the one to whom people might say once in a while, “C’mon, man. Loosen up. You’re always up in your head.” 

No, on that first Christmas Day John’s attention was being held by light. Everyone else was holding the baby or getting the details of the story down in more conventional synoptic style. Meanwhile, John was over to the side. He was turning the whole thing every which way, and you might suspect that when John did weigh in his version of the story was going to be different.

The true light, which would illuminate everything, was coming into the world! Yes, we are given a choice to receive that light. There is agency here for all of us. We can choose and become a part of what God is doing. We can choose not to be.

When Mary’s baby was born, the Word was made Flesh. The true light came into the world and changed everything! This is the good news of Christmas. This is good news for people who may not even know that they need it yet. 

It is good news for the teenager who is locked in conflict with a world they are still growing into. It is good news for the widow or widower who are working at making a tough adjustment. It is good news for the person who is coping with disappointment or change. 

We have seen this great light. This grace and truth has settled in to live among us. When you receive that light, the miracle of Christmas is that Christ has helped us have the chance to see the world in a different way. 

Everything broken and fallen, sinful and diseased, was called into salvation by God’s spoken word. That’s what happened on that first Christmas. The light came on and all of us children of God could finally see what we were getting. 

Humanity looked up the figurative staircase, and the light was on. Somewhere in the night of humanity’s story, Jesus had come. Oh, I know for you and for me sometimes it can feel like we’ve been told to stay downstairs again. 

It can sometimes, in some seasons, feel like the light will just never come on. But the truth of it is, as John proclaims here, the light already came on. The Word was ahead of us, it speaks to us now and it will continue speaking after we are gone. 

The gift-wrapped surprise of our Merry Christmas isn’t something we needed to wait for. Yet in this season, once again we have. Jesus Christ is God in the flesh. Now, that’s something that was worth staying up for.

Dr. Charles Qualls is senior pastor at Franklin Baptist Church. Contact him at 757-562-5135.