Sunday, December 24, 2023

Sermon: “The X(mas) Files: WHY?” John 3:16-17 (December 24, 2023 - Christmas Eve)

Over the four weeks of Advent, the congregation of Boone Church has been playing detective as we investigated the familiar scripture that informs our understanding of Christmas. I’ve been putting on this hat and asking the basic “W” questions to help us better understand the nature of this Messiah whose birth we celebrate each year: who, what, when, and where. We’ve discovered that when we ask these questions about the Christ with open and inquisitive minds, we can learn just as much about ourselves as we do about God. The question of “Who” the Messiah is led us to ask who it is that we actually follow as our messiah. The question of “What” the Messiah is coming to accomplish led us to ask what we might be misunderstanding about Jesus’ agenda. The question of “When” the Messiah would come led us to ask if we’re able to see ALL the ways that God has been, is, and will be working in the world. And just this morning, the question of “Where” the Messiah can be found led us to ask how far we’re willing to go to find him. So we’ve learned a lot from this ancient story that we’ve heard thousands of times before…and we’ve learned a lot about how its message echoes in our own lives even today.

But of course, we all know that there are FIVE “W” questions – who, what, when, where…and why. So tonight, having prepared our hearts throughout Advent, having asked all these questions, and having once again heard these stories tonight, we finally get to ask the big question, the one that adds dimension and meaning to all of the others: WHY? Why would God take on flesh to live among us? Why, with all our faults, should we be given this hope of redemption? Why do we celebrate Christmas?

The obvious answer is the one that we see on signs and social media posts everywhere this time of year: “JESUS is the reason for the season.” And that’s 100% true – those of us who consider ourselves Christians don’t celebrate Christmas because of the break that it gives us from work and school (although that’s great) or because of the gifts that we exchange (also great) or because of the parties, gatherings, and various other activities that seem to happen every single day for a whole month (depending on how tired you are, maybe less great), but we celebrate because it’s when we remember the day our Savior, Jesus the Christ, was born into the world to live among us. Jesus is, very literally, the reason that this season exists.

But if you ask me, that’s not a good enough answer for experienced detectives like ourselves. It doesn’t get to the bottom of the mystery; it doesn’t really explain anything. If the only answer to “Why” was “Jesus”, then the Church could just celebrate Jesus’ birthday during worship on a Sunday morning, the same way we observe other liturgical events. No, there’s something special about Christmas, some reason that we pull out all the stops, a reason that we’re willing to come to church TWO TIMES IN THE SAME WEEK. Yes, Jesus is the reason for the season – but what’s the reason for Jesus?

As detectives, let’s do a quick recap of the evidence we’ve gathered from scripture and see if we can answer this question. The who: the Messiah is a figure who can rescue us from sin and reconcile us with God. The what: the Messiah brings good news for the poor, release for prisoners, and liberation for the oppressed. The when: the Messiah was born into humanity 2000 years ago, but lives and reigns with God now and for all of time. The where: the Messiah can be found anywhere, and is with everyone.

This evidence is astounding. According to this, the Messiah is much more than a role model, much more than a leader, much more, even, than a hero – the Messiah is an impossible gift. And there’s only one reason I can think of that such an incredible gift would ever be given. The question of “why” isn’t necessarily answered by our traditional Christmas scripture readings, but an equally familiar passage from John answers it perfectly:

“For God so loved the world that God gave God’s only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

It turns out the answer to the question of “why” is simple after all: LOVE. The Messiah is born to the world and all its people because of a love that is willing to give absolutely everything for us. Love is why we’re no longer bound by our sin; love is why we’re able to find hope in the shadowy places of life; love is why we gather here on this night. God’s love for us – for you – is why this day is so special, why the birth of a baby to a poor family in a small town 2000 years ago still matters. It makes the whos, the whats, the whens, and the wheres of the world fade into the background. Because the “why” bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. God’s love is the reason for it all.

This is the Good News that the prophets spoke of, that Mary believed in, that Joseph trusted, that the Shepherds celebrated, that the Magi sought. And this is the Good News that we’re called to spread to the ends of the earth. Not biblical minutiae or religious rules or sanctimonious behavior, but LOVE. Love for all people, in all places, in all times, in all ways.

Kindred, tonight, we have solved the mystery – and it turns out that the answer was in front of us the whole time. The answer to every “why” is love. HOLY love, EXTRAVAGANT love, IMPOSSIBLE love – GOD’S love, poured out over the whole world, and our love, shared abundantly out of gratitude for the love that we’ve been given. When worship is over and you leave this place to go out into the cold night, carry this love with you. Let it warm you and guide you. Share it lavishly as God intends, without condition or reservation. Let it be the answer to every question that you ask, now and forevermore. In the name of the one who is Lover, Beloved, and Love itself; Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer; Mother, Child, and Breath of God; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: Amen.

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