Who IS Jesus?
Dec 24, 2021
Text: Luke 2:1-20
Pastor Jean M. Hansen
Christmas blessings to each of you! I am so thankful to be gathering for worship both in-person and by the live stream as we celebrate the birth of Jesus again. But, while last year's recorded services were carefully crafted, creative, and filled with the blessings of Christmas music and scripture, and my living room was cozy. I missed being here with God's people.
It is true that, for most of us, the holidays hinge on traditions that have family ties or that we have created for ourselves. However, when those traditions are somehow disturbed, the day's significance may seem lost. I know that I struggled with that myself in 2020, and some of you may face that challenge today due to continuing pandemic concerns or upheaval in your lives. I'm reminded of the people whose homes are now piles of rubble following the tornados earlier this month and the photos of Christmas stockings and wrapping paper thrown by the wind into the mud.
But even in such extreme circumstances, is it a given that the day's significance is lost? That depends, I suppose, on how we view that baby born in a barn.
As I mentioned in last year's Christmas Eve sermon, one of the unpredictable opportunities I have every other week is meeting with each preschool class in the sanctuary for what we call "religion." However, that title does not really describe the interaction between the children and me.
Recently I spent that time explaining the Advent wreath or at least attempting to do so. With the youngest children, who are only 3 years old, it was easiest to talk about celebrating Jesus' birthday on Christmas. We light the four blue candles as we get ready for that special day, I said. The big white candle in the middle is Jesus' candle; we'll light it on Christmas Eve because that is Jesus' birthday, and we are celebrating him.
Naturally, there was some input about Santa and presents, which I responded to by noting that it is great that on Jesus' birthday, we get gifts. Yes, Santa is kind; he must want us to be happy about Jesus' birthday. Oh, and, of course, we confirmed … as they waved their hands to tell me … that they too have birthdays and cakes with candles. When our time together ended, it seemed as if I had said Jesus and birthday about 100 times, with a few more thrown in during the closing prayer.
It was about then that a cute, polite, little guy raised his hand and said, "Excuse me, Pastor Jean." He had a question, although I expected it was a statement about his or his brother's or his sister's birthday. I was wrong; much to my amazement, this little guy asked me, "Who is Jesus?"
WOW! I do not know if he was practicing "stump the pastor" for his teen years or had heard that name often in preschool, especially lately, but did not have any information in his memory bank yet about this person named Jesus. I did the usual stalling technique of interviewees, "Well, now, that's a good question," and then struggled to give a response for a 3-year-old.
Out of the mouths of babes … that really is the question that all of us more mature types should consider and perhaps create an "elevator speech" to answer. (You know, what you could say during a brief encounter between floors on an elevator that would be a good summary of the topic at hand.)
So, as we celebrate his birthday along with people all over the world … who is Jesus? Or, perhaps more appropriately, who is Jesus to me? In the book, he edited titled Crazy Talk, Luther Seminary professor Rolf A. Jacobson writes that Jesus is, "Adopted son of a carpenter, born of a virgin girl, parable-teller, miracle-worker, crucified criminal, the last person anyone would expect to save the entire world." (1)
Jesus described himself as the "bread of life," the "Good Shepherd," the "way, the truth and the life." In the Gospel of John, he is called the "Word made flesh" and the "light that shines in the darkness." Peter was the first among the disciples to say to Jesus, "You are the Messiah." The Centurion who witnessed Jesus' death on the cross proclaimed, "Truly this was God's Son." The Apostle Paul proclaims that "our citizenship is in heaven, and we eagerly wait from there a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ." Jesus is the bearer of grace, the forgiver of sins, the transformer of lives.
Professor Jacobsen notes that ever since God raised Jesus from the dead, people who believe in him have been trying to understand who Jesus is … for them; doing so is a matter of faith, and it takes a lifetime
So, here we are celebrating his birth; many of us have done so many times. We remember the baby born in rustic circumstances to humble people and try to grasp that God came not in power and glory but in the weakness of a newborn child. As Daniel Erlanger and Marc Olson write, "God chose to exist and to act amid the ordinary. This (Jesus) is how God wants to be known and how God chooses to be found. In Jesus Christ, all of God comes all of the way into all of our humanity. God joins us in our humanness and promises to stay." (2)
It's interesting that in recent weeks, two people I do not know, one of whom did not know I'm a pastor, told me that Christmas is a difficult time for them., one which they strive to ignore because of losses they experienced this time of year. Events that disturbed what the holiday had been for them. Perhaps for them, the message of Christmas is particularly significant: God has entered our human life as we face what confounds and saddens us. It's not the celebrating that matters, really, but that God is here, in Jesus.
So, who is Jesus to us, to you, to me? He is God with us, and everything that implies, which is infinite in possibilities. AMEN
(1) Crazy Talk: A Not-So Stuffy Dictionary of Theological Terms, Rolf A. Jacobson, Editor, 2008 Augsburg Books
(2) "A Lutheran Welcome to Jesus", Daniel Erlander and Marc Olson, Augsburg Fortress Press