A Merry Christmas to all! I am back from a week in New Orleans. It was a delightful time of togetherness and great food.
I arrive back to my Morning Reflection routine as well. We near the end of Advent, and pivot to the alternate readings for Christmas Eve as well. But there is no real “pivot” for the same themes of hope and joy are as evident as when we started Advent.
Hope and joy are densely packed into both sets of readings – chuck full like taste and flavor are packed into gumbo.
On Christmas Eve we remember a central pillar of our faith: God’s incarnation. It is a story of terror and amazement. It is a story that has shocked generations. Our densely packed themes of Hope and Joy are found throughout the readings for the 12 Days of Christmas too.
In the midst of the craziness of this season, we pause and reflect on the extreme and extraordinary stories of God’s grace.
One of these stories of grace may seem a bit odd for Christmas – the most quoted scripture – the John 3:16 passage. Often seen at football games, with someone with a sign or a player who has it written in his eye black on his face.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”
It is unfortunate a passage so chuck full of God’s grace has been boiled down to a tiny verse which then misses the central point of the passage completely. On the surface this 3:16 seems damning, and has been used as such – used in some evangelical fervor to beat people over the heads, so warped it’s akin to an abusive relationship.
Often at games I am tempted to hold up a sign that says “JOHN 3:17”. God’s story rarely comes to us in one verse, or one tweet. We must read on to discover how chuck full of God’s grace this passage truly is.
John 3:17 declares “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.” The passage goes on to talk about judgment as if it is something for God alone, and not for us to be deciding. Our focus in on good deeds and staying in “the light.”
It turns out that John 3 warns against the very thing that people intentionally or unintentionally do with their “3:16” signs. By casting judgment on people, we miss the point of God’s purposes for us.
You see why I say this verse is CHUCK FULL O’ GRACE?
For John, everything seems to stem back to the premise that he laid out at the beginning: “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory…full of grace and truth.” Everything that follows is an explanation and expansion of that.
And this is why it is part of our Christmas trajectory of readings. It is a great passage to encase us in God’s grace. We are left as believers reveling in God’s wisdom all around us. We have seen our lives changed. We enjoy and celebrate God, feasting on the goodness of God, and sharing that feast with others.
So don’t let the meekness and mildness of Christmas fool you.
It is the story of a fragile little infant born to a 13 year old unwed mother. But in that tiny baby is another grand vision of God’s love – a vision that includes the whole world. It is a story that welcomes all of us in.
You heard me right – ALL. It is a vision of radical love – unexpected and unbridled. In that manger holds the beacon of light for all to see, and the hope of the future, the Prince of Peace, and the joy of the whole world. And it is intended for ALL.
A Merry Christmas to you all!