A great theologian, Bible scholar Karl Barth, once was asked to be a guest lecturer at the University of Chicago Divinity School.
At the end of a captivating closing lecture, the president of the seminary announced that Dr. Barth was not well and was quite tired and, although he thought that Dr. Barth would like to be open for questions, he shouldn’t be expected to handle the strain.
Then he said, "Therefore, I will ask just one question on behalf of all of us."
He turned to the renowned theologian and asked, "Of all the theological insights you have ever had, which do you consider to be the greatest of them all?"
It was the perfect question for a man who had written literally tens of thousands of pages of theology.
The students held pencils right up against their writing pads, ready to take down verbatim the premier insight of the greatest theologian of their time.
Dr. Barth closed his tired eyes, and he thought for a minute,.
Then he half smiled, opened his eyes, and said to those young seminarians, "The greatest theological insight that I have ever had is this: "Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so."
My dear friends in Christ, I submit to you that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the greatest love story ever written!
I wish with all my heart that everybody could read it that way, but I’m afraid to say that I meet people every day for whom the Gospel reads more like a used car contract.
Somehow in the midst of all those beautiful love verses, they hear only clauses and conditions and the spelling out of all the consequences should any of those clauses and conditions ever be infracted.
So I thank God that Christmas comes around once a year to remind us that God isn’t concerned about our status or position in life. If God were concerned about any of those things, then I submit to you that the Christ of God would never have been born into such disagreeable circumstances as we find in the second chapter of Luke.
No, Christmas is the beginning of a classic love story with all the right ingredients.
But in all relationships of love, there has to be that first meeting, doesn’t there? When I was a child, I remember asking "what if I had been born to another set of parents?"
I would never have known the love of the parents I know and love now.
My wife Kathy and I met 30 years ago when I went away to college for the first time. I still occasionally find myself asking those curious "what if" questions.
Do you ever find yourself asking those kinds of questions? "What if I had gone to another college in another part of the country? What if I had taken a job instead of going to school?"
My dear friends in Christ, I submit to you, that Christmas is a crossing of paths.
Christmas is where we find God intersecting with humanity! Christmas is our first and best meeting with the God who has desired us from the very beginning.
I submit to you that if it weren’t for Christmas, we might never have known the intensity of the love that God has for us.
Mary and Joseph, far from home because of imperial rule, a peasant mother giving birth in unsanitary, substandard housing. There was no fanfare, no royal delegation.. They just laid Him in that manger and watched His little face and listened for His breathing, just like every new parent does.
No, this couldn’t be anything but true love! True love accepts the beloved for who they really are.
God chooses to love us precisely because we are subjects of the human condition, not because of a favorable bottom line on a social and moral profit and loss statement.
Mary and Joseph had nothing to commend them except their humanity.
God had waited ever so patiently to send the One into our world who would be willing finally to embody the love God has for us all.
It is the birth of that love into our world that we celebrate on Christmas!
Who would have ever guessed that this crossing of paths, this intersection of the divine and the human, would take place so long ago in a remote, speck-of-dust village called Bethlehem of Judea?
This is the night when God sent out a love letter of cosmic proportions.
As Jesus grew and went out into the world, so our understanding of just how much God loves us also grew.
We find in Jesus that God’s love doesn’t demand perfection, that forgiveness isn’t given away sparingly but indiscriminately, that unconditional really means unconditional, and that God’s love is completely and thoroughly inclusive.
We find that even you and I fall within the embrace of that love, and that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Peace begins with the knowledge that God loves and accepts us just that much. It begins with Christmas!
Now having said all this, I know that the Christmas season can give rise to some painful memories for a good number of people. People often think about the failures they have suffered and about loved ones they have lost.
I lost my mother at Christmastime, so I can resonate some with those feelings. But I also know this: without Christmas my life would be positively unbearable!
I would like to close by telling you a story about a nativity pageant that, like life itself, didn’t go quite as planned.
The youth group was performing a manger scene. Joseph and Mary and all the other characters were in place and ready. They did their parts with seriousness and commitment, looking as pious as they possibly could.
Then it came time for the shepherds to enter.
Dressed in flannel bathrobes and towel head gear, they proceeded to where Mary and Joseph looked earnestly at the straw which contained a light bulb that was playing the part of the glowing newborn Jesus.
With his back to the congregation, one of the 12-year-old shepherds said to his buddy playing Joseph – in a whisper the congregation wasn’t supposed to hear, "Well, Joe, when you gonna pass out cigars?"
The solemnity of the occasion was destroyed.
Mary could not hold back her laughter. The chief angel, standing on a chair behind them was the worst of all. She shook so hard in laughter that she fell off her chair and took the curtained back drop and all the rest of the props down with her.
She just kept rolling around on the floor holding her stomach because she was laughing so hard.
The whole set was in shambles – and the congregation was roaring in laughter, too.
But, the only thing that didn’t go to pieces was that light bulb in the manger. It never stopped shining.
My dear friends in Christ, that baby in the manger is the light of my world, even when my world is in shambles.
In that baby, the divine and the human cross paths.
The infant Jesus is our living, breathing sign of the immeasurable love of God – the love He has had for all of us from the very beginning.
Christmas is the living promise that we are never, ever alone.
No matter where we are in life, no matter in what condition we find ourselves –
No matter how far we might stray away, or how unfaithful we are,
God will pursue us in love for eternity!
It’s a love that never stops shining.
May God bless each of you and those you love this Christmas!