If you have ever spent much time with a young child, you know that one of their favorite questions is, “Why?” You can have a ten minute conversation in which every statement you complete is answered with a, “Why?” Now this could mean that you, as an adult, are stimulated to really ponder the meaning behind the things we say or do. And in fact, many children, after hearing several answers to their questions, will simply answer, “Oh,” or “Okay.” But more often, this kind of conversation often results in frustrated exasperation where you either conceded, “I don’t know,” or you resort to your conversation ender, “because I said so.”
When I hear John’s gospel today, I like to imagine a curious child has heard Luke’s gospel of Mary, Joseph, shepherds, and angels, and has simply asked, “Why?” Why did Jesus have to be born? Why was Jesus born in a manger? Why did angels go visit those shepherds? Why didn’t Mary seem to understand any of this? To all of those questions, John’s gospel answers, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…the Word became flesh and lived among us.” Now if we understood that circular explanation, we still might ask, “Why? Why did the Word become flesh and live among us?” John’s answer continue: “He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.” Now most of us might be too confused to ask “Why?” at this point. We might, like a child, simply answer, “Oh.” And those of us who are bold enough might even profess our confusion. To this, John’s answer would likely be a simple repetition, “So that we might become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.”
This is John’s answer to the “Why?” of Luke’s Christmas story. Why did God take on human flesh in the persons of Mary and Joseph, and have that birth witnessed by angels and shepherds? God took on human flesh because, as one scholar explains, “God has called us God’s own children, individuals who hold infinite worth in God’s eyes, deserve love and respect, and will be used by God to care for God’s beloved world.”[i] I do not know about you, but that is the kind of answer that should make most of our whys end with an “Oh!” God came to the earth in the person of Jesus, took on human flesh so that we could become God’s children, because we hold infinite worth in God’s eyes, deserve love and respect, and will be used by God to care for God’s beloved world. That is some of the best, most affirming news I have heard in quite some time.
The trick though, is not to let our “Oh!” be the end of the story. If you can truly hear God’s words for you today – that we continue to celebrate Christmas because Christmas has a profound affect on our lives – then we have more work to do. Now I do not know if you have already selected your New Year’s Resolution yet, but if not, perhaps you can take on a new resolution this year. In light of John’s gospel, I invite you to consider taking on a daily mantra for the next month. Maybe you say the words as the introduction to your prayer time. Maybe you say them in the mirror after you get out of the shower. Or maybe you say them in the car on the way to work, school, or on your daily errands. The mantra goes like this: I am God’s child, deserving of love and respect, and God will use me to change the world.[ii] Let’s try the words together now, repeating after me: I am God’s child, deserving of love and respect, and God will use me to change the world. One more time so that you have the words in your mind: I am God’s child, deserving of love and respect, and God will use me to change the world. I invite you to try the words once a day, everyday, for at least one month. Then perhaps at the end of January, you can look back at Christmas, and your response will no longer by, “Why?” or “Oh!” but instead can be, “Okay!” Amen.
[i] David Lose, “An Unsentimental Christmas Sermon,” December 30, 2013, found at http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=2980 on December 26, 2014.