Has anyone ever told you that you matter to God?
Christmas Day 2011 Year B
Isaiah 52.7-10; Hebrews 1.1-4; John 1.1-14
Pastor Renee Splichal Larson
Grace and peace to you from the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ our Lord.
This might be a strange question, but has anyone ever told you that you matter to God? If not, and even if you have, hear it again…you matter to God! It is Christmas day and you matter. It was around this time of year six years ago, when I was living in Denver, CO, that I had a conversation with two six-year-old girls that I worked with at an after school program.
Our conversation began with the usual, you know, how good flaming hot cheetos were as they stuffed them in their mouths. They would tell me about recess that day and what they learned in school, and then all of the sudden the conversation came to an abrupt halt. One of the girls said, “Yeah, I was scared when I fell today on the playground so I prayed to Jesus.” The other little girl looked at her puzzled and asked, “Who is Jesus?”
Maybe you have grown up like me, learning about Jesus and being told that God cares about you, or maybe you are just starting to ask questions about this one called, Jesus, or maybe you literally have nothing better to do than come to worship on Christmas morning. In whatever case, it is possible that these words, “You matter to God,” are difficult to hear and believe because they seem like some abstract impossibility that cannot be true for you, even if you have grown up hearing them.
If you have ever wondered whether or not you matter to God and whether or not God is going to do anything about the world we live in, you are not alone. Not only do we wonder about these questions, the Israelites, for whom this text in Isaiah was written, were wondering if God cared about them and if God was powerful enough to do anything about the pain and suffering of world they lived in.
For you see, the Israelites in our text today were living in exile in Babylon, longing for a message of hope. They were taken far away from their homes and many from their families to an unfamiliar land, subject to the powerful Babylonian Empire. Not only were they living in uncertain circumstances and times, their holy temple in Jerusalem lay in ruins. The temple, which was believed to be the holy of holies, the place where God dwelled with the people, and the place in which the people knew that they mattered to God, was utterly destroyed.
The people longed for a message of hope, a sign that God cared about their situation, and that God would pick up the pieces of their temple ruins and the ruins that their lives had become and be with them and piece them back together.
Even though it is Christmas this day, a day that is meant for singing and rejoicing, a day that people give one another gifts to show them they care, a day when families are together, a day that is meant to be filled with laughter, cookie eating, and apple cider, which are all wonderful celebrations at Christmas time, perhaps you or someone you know feel like some of the realities of the world, even at Christmas time or especially at Christmas, are overbearing and can make one feel like they are in ruins from the realities of life, waiting to be put back together, longing for a message of hope.
Many of you here at YCC are like the Israelites long ago, away from their homes and among unfamiliar people. You may wonder: when is God going to piece me and my life back together? I know that being here for many of you is far from easy, especially when life in the cottages can be tough. Yet, I also have heard from a number of you that coming here has saved your life and you know it. Perhaps it is a blessing in disguise that Christmas comes whether we are ready for it or not, no matter where we are, and no matter what our situation.
It is here in which I think about our reading from John 1. It is actually one of my favorites, if not my favorite reading from Scripture. I love it for many reasons, but I think I love it most because of verses 3 through 5:
John 1:3-5 What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
What these opening verses from John tell us is that God breaks into the world, our lives, and our situations as is. God doesn’t wait for our lives to become neat and tidy, God plunges into the depths of our souls and makes a home deep down in our chest and dwells there with you and with me. This is the message of Christmas and the incredible good news for all of the world.
Many of us have tried to find life and meaning in and through many things, including but not limited to friends or family, work, perhaps even drugs or alcohol, but it is only in God in which real life can be offered and found. God offers light and life to you and God always has. This doesn’t mean problems go away; it means that God promises that the darkness in your life will not win. Darkness is what the light of Christ loves to make its way into.
Theologian Cynthia Rigby, says it well and blatantly when she writes: “It makes no sense to us that the immutable God of the universe would enter into the bowels of our world in order to be with us (Cynthia Rigby, Feasting on the Word, p. 120).”
On one level, God becoming human in Jesus Christ doesn’t make any sense, and on another level it makes all the sense in the world. How could we come to love and trust a God that has no idea about the obstacles and temptations we face each day? Or a God that doesn’t know what it is like to weep and feel the sting of loneliness and loss? Or a God that doesn’t know what it is like to die?
The God that we have come to understand or are gradually getting know through Jesus Christ is a God who wants you and me to know more than anything is how much God loves us and how much you and I matter to God. “The Word became flesh and lived among us,” says John 1:14. The Word of God did not become flesh in Jesus in order to simply check out life on earth for awhile. The Word of God became flesh in Jesus to give us a light of hope, and to remind us that God has the first and last Word over the powers of darkness, evil, and death.
Now getting back to our reading from Isaiah…The Israelites were eventually released from captivity, but life was nothing like before and an “ideal” time and life was never realized or achieved for that group of people. God is not in the business of making lives perfect, but God gives strength and peace in the midst of the difficulties of life because God has come to be with us so we do not need to go through life alone.
It is interesting to greet people with the words, “Merry Christmas.” In our language it can be thought of as “Have a Happy Christmas.” Originally in England, Merry Christmas, carried the meaning of “Have a peace-filled Christmas.” We know that we do not live in a peace-filled world and a peace-filled world is certainly not the world in which Jesus entered into, yet he entered into it anyway.
“How beautiful…are the feet of the messenger,” Jesus Christ, “who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation,” and says this Christmas Day, “You matter to God.”