Gospel: John 1:1-14 (Christmas: Series A)
The eternal Word of God became a mortal human being, but not in some far-off heavenly realm. No, He took up residence among us.
A few weeks ago, chapel at Concordia Seminary in Saint Louis (CSL) involved a joyful celebration called “Las Posadas.” It is a traditional Mexican service that dates back to the sixteenth century (you can view a video of the service by visiting the CSL chapel archive and searching for the service on December 1, 2022).
While there are a variety of adaptations of Las Posada, the central theme is Mary and Joseph’s search for lodging in Bethlehem. The word posada means “inn” or “place of dwelling.” It is literally a place where one can posar (rest). In this traditional celebration, a group of pilgrims representing Mary and Joseph search for a place to stay. They go from door to door, repeatedly being shut out by innkeepers who are too scared, or too tired, or too short on compassion to make room. Finally, they find an innkeeper who recognizes Mary as the mother of the divine Word (madre; del Divino Verbo) and welcomes them with open arms. The service concludes with a song of joy which invites everyone to enter and celebrate.
The Las Posadas service came to mind as I considered the reading from John 1 appointed for Christmas morning, especially verse 14. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” With this verse, John captures the heart of what we celebrate on Christmas morning. The eternal Word of God became a mortal human being, but not in some far-off heavenly realm. No, He took up residence (ἐσκήνωσεν) among us. That is, He lodged with us. He found a place to stay with us. He made His home with us.
This miracle of the incarnation is worthy of meditation for more than one morning, but it is hard to think of a more appropriate topic for consideration on Christmas Day. Therefore, with Las Posadas on my mind, I will suggest several themes you could explore in your sermon.
In the Las Posadas celebration, Mary and Joseph had a hard time finding welcome and so did Jesus. “He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, yet the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own people did not receive Him” (John 1:10-11). Notice the two sources of unwelcome. Cosmic John begins big. He made the world, and the world (ὁ κόσμος) did not know Him. This includes all of creation, and many throughout the world continue on this track. But then John focuses on the people of Israel. His own people would not welcome Him. This gets closer to the narrative of John’s Gospel. Like the innkeepers who were too scared or too sleepy, Jesus’ own people were unwilling to welcome Him, and ultimately killed Him.
The people who have gathered on Christmas Day are not like the people of Israel. They have flung wide the portals of their hearts. They have welcomed Jesus into their lives through faith. But still, there are aspects of their lives where the welcome runs out. Challenge your hearers to imagine the doors in their lives that they have closed to Jesus and His influence.
He lodged with us. He found a place to stay with us. He made His home with us.
This could have something to do with their reluctance to become an impartially welcoming community. While we believe, teach, and confess the Gospel is for all people, the reality is most congregations have a limit to how much they will welcome outsiders. Perhaps they are limited by fear. Perhaps they are worn out. Perhaps they lack compassion. Like the innkeepers in Las Posadas, there are many excuses, but a Christian community must always be as welcoming as God has been to them. Jesus seems to be thinking like this in Matthew 25:35, 38, and 43 (see also Romans 12:13, 15:7; Philemon 1:17; Hebrews 13:1-2; Deuteronomy 10:19). This theme of welcome offers you an angle to proclaim both the guiding (and accusing) commands of God, as well as the forgiving and life-giving promises of Jesus.
True welcome is more than just a willingness to let people into the building. It is an intimate reception of mutual sharing; both of joy and of burdens (see Galatians 6:2 and Romans 12:15-16). I am reminded how the word often translated “hospitality” in the New Testament (φιλόξενος, -ία) literally means “love of the stranger” (see 1 Peter 4:9, Romans 12:13, and Titus 1:8).
Genuine love and mutual sharing leads to intimacy, and where there is intimacy, there is security. The converse is also true. When intimacy is lacking, people who are physically close suffer the insecurity of distance. Henri Nouwen describes the result: “Our society is so fragmented, our family lives so sundered by physical and emotional distance, our friendships so sporadic, our intimacies so ‘in-between’ things and often so utilitarian, that there are few places where we can feel truly safe” (Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World, 73). Most of your hearers can relate, for most of us have experienced some version of this fragmentation.
How has God become intimate with us? The indwelling of His Spirit erases the distance between us and God. Jesus’ baptismal promise of unity (1 Corinthians 12:13) erases the unity between us and other believers. His great commission sends us to extend this unity to all people without exception.
It is impossible to celebrate the welcome and intimacy proclaimed in Las Posadas without rejoicing. That is why our chapel service concluded with “Joy to the World,” so might your service on Christmas morning. If the good news of Christmas does anything to people who continue to walk in a land of darkness, it inspires collective joy and song. As the pilgrims were finally welcomed into the celebration in Las Posadas, God also promises to welcome His people into the feast which has no end.
(If you are interested in considering a Las Posadas celebration for your congregation, see this guide.)
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching John 1:1-14.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach John 1:1-14.
Lectionary Podcast-Dr. David Scaer of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through John 1:1-14.