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A Reflection for Christmas Day

Dear <<First Name>>,

“In the beginning was the word... and the word became flesh and dwelled among us.”—John 1:1, 14
The lectionary reading for Christmas Day is not the nativity stories of Matthew and Luke. There is no reading of censuses and inns, of angels and shepherds, of wise men and a star.  Instead, the reading for Christmas Day is from the first chapter of the Gospel of John, a hymn to the Eternal Word of God.

It seems an odd thing to those of us used to the traditional trappings of the Christmas narrative. We all know what a Nativity scene looks like. We know who the usual participants are. And while a younger member of the Sunday school will often be asked to play the Baby Jesus in the Christmas pageant, rarely is anyone cast as the Incarnate Word.

Orthodox mural of nativity from Jordan. CC BY-SA 2.5, And yet, it is the Incarnation that is at the heart of Christmas. For all the carols, for all the Christmas cards, all the images we are accustomed to associating with this holiday, at the heart of it is not a baby in manger, but a mystery.  The Word of God—God’s own self-revelation, the Word with which God spoke all creation into being, the Word that came to the prophets and prompted them to speak for justice and righteousness, the Word that is God’s own Mind and Reason—became one of us. Lived with us. In John’s gospel, the verb usually translated as “dwelled” actually means “set up a tent” among us.  

The message of Christmas–and of Christianity–is that in our sorrows, our suffering, our brokenness, God should dwell with us, in our midst. To know our joys and our sorrows. To know the brokennesses of our lives. To even experience our death—and to be raised to our resurrection. God puts up a tent among us and sets up camp as one of us.

Christmas is about the Word becoming Flesh and dwelling in our midst. It is about the radical declaration of the Eternal God’s solidarity with mortal humanity: and all the implications and consequences that that solidarity has for us. The Word becoming Flesh means that our lives have meaning. Our puny, mortal existences, that fly past in the blink of an eye, that are statistically irrelevant in the cosmic span of time, are nevertheless embraced and affirmed by the Eternal God.

The old Latin Christmas chant sums it up perfectly: “O magnum mysterium… O great mystery and wonderful sacrament, that animals should see the new born Lord lying in a manger….” The great mystery and power of our faith is in this radical, and surprising, declaration of God’s solidarity with us.

It is a profound mystery, more beautiful than any carol, more moving than any holiday movie, or greeting card sentiment.  A mystery at the heart of our faith that emboldens us to declare radical solidarity with one another, as God declares with us.  Giving dignity to even the most rejected, the most marginalized.  Sharing love, mercy, and compassion. Joining our voices to those whose voices are not often heard. Living lives of hope in the midst of a fearful world.  These things we do because we know that our lives have meaning, the goodness of our existence is affirmed by the Lord of all Creation. By showing this love and solidarity to the world, we proclaim our faith in the one who comes to us at Christmas.  The one of whom we sing in the old Charles Wesley carol, even as we wonder at the mystery:
Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see;
Hail th’ incarnate Deity,
Pleased as man with men to dwell,
Jesus, our Emmanuel.

May the Love and the Joy of the Emmanuel, God-with-us, fill you this Christmas and always. Merry Christmas.

Your brother and pastor,

Rev. Mark Schaefer
Pastor, Cheltenham UMC

I am grateful to Rev. Herbert Brisbon for all his guidance and support during this time of transition as he leaves to serve Dillard University and as I come on to serve as Cheltenham's pastor. I look forward to serving you and getting to know you all in the coming weeks. —Mark Schaefer


Sermon: “Rachel Weeping for Her Children,” Rev. Mark Schaefer
Scripture Lessons: Isaiah 63:7–9, Matthew 2:13–23

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Regular Weekly Calendar

  • Monday
    • Monday Methodists, 9 a.m.
    • Knitting Circle, 10 a.m.
    • Church Council 7 p.m.
  • Tuesday
    • Cheltenham Academy, 9 a.m.–5 p.m.
    • AA and Al-Anon, 8 p.m.
  • Wednesday
    • Regular Events Canceled for Christmas Day
  • Thursday
    • Pastor’s Sabbath
  • Sunday
    • Sunday School, 9 a.m.
    • Sunday Worship, 10 a.m.
    • Fellowship, 11 a.m.
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