Warum feiern wir Weih­nacht­en?

Faith Impulse

Sermon under consideration of Mark 1,1 and Isaiah 40, 11: Why do we celebrate Christmas?

Dear brothers and sisters, today we have heard two texts that both deal with the coming of God. Two typical Advent texts, you could say, because that is precisely the great theme of Advent: preparing for the coming of God.

I don't know about you, but this question is very much on my mind: How can I prepare myself for the coming of God?

And really for the coming of God and not the approach of a big family celebration?

That would be one thing.

The other is, that the question is actually a wrong one. In truth, I am not preparing myself for the coming of God, because God has already come. God became man in Jesus. 

Jesus has not been coming every year for over 2000 years now. He came, lived, died a violent death and with his resurrection everything became new. As Christians in the year 2023, this is our reality.

So the question should be: How can I remember the incarnation of God? And in such a way that I can celebrate Christmas appropriately?

Of course, everyone and most families have created certain rituals for Christmas. You know where the Christmas tree is. Or you know what there will be to eat at Christmas. Or you know the routines that have become a tradition.

There's nothing wrong with any of this, because the beauty of rituals is that they give us security.

And yet I believe it is worth asking this question every year: What is the essence of Christmas? What is it that I should remember?

When I ask this question, I can not imagine that there is anyone who has put it into words better than Karl Rahner. Karl Rahner was a Catholic theologian who played a key role in the preparation and implementation of the Second Vatican Council. He died in 1984. Rahner wrote:

"We will soon be celebrating Christmas.
 Oh God, it's such a pious custom. A Christmas tree with lights and a few nice presents, excitement from the children and a little Christmas music is always nice and touching. 

We all - who can blame us - always secretly feel a little sorry for ourselves and so like to indulge in a little peaceful and comforting atmosphere, like stroking the head of a crying child and saying: It's not so bad, everything will be all right again. 

Is that all there is to Christmas? Is that the main thing? 
Is Christmas joy and peace just a mood into which we illusionistically escape? 


Or is it the manifestation, the holy celebration of a true event to which we set out with great courage of heart, so that it may also happen to us and through us, because it is definitely truth and reality?

Christmas is more than just a bit of consolation.
The child, the one child is what matters on this day, on this holy night. The Son of God who became man, everything is focusing on his birth. He made the dark night bright. He turned the night of our incomprehensibilities and our cruel fears into a holy night. 
That is what Christmas says.
The night became light. God has come. He is there. 

That is why everything is different than we think. 


When we say: It is Christmas, we are saying: 
God has spoken his last, his deepest, his most beautiful word into the world, when this word became flesh. 
A word that can no longer be undone, because it is God's final act, because it is God himself in the world. 
And this word is: I love you. You, world and you, man.
It is a very unexpected, a very improbable word.

But it is God's word and this word says to the world as a whole: 
I am here. I am with you. I am your time. I am the gloom of your everyday life, why won't you bear it?
I cry your tears - cry yours to me, my child. 
I am your joy, for since I have wept, joy is the more real attitude to life than fear. 

I accepted you when I took my human life upon myself; as your equals, as a new beginning I have triumphed in my downfalls. 

If you judge the future by yourselves alone, you cannot be pessimistic enough. But don't forget: your true future is my present.
That is why it is ultimately more realistic for you to adhere to my optimism, which is not utopia but the reality of God. 


The whole reality of God that I - the incomprehensible miracle of my almighty love - have placed intact and whole in the cold stable of your world. 
I am there. And my love has been invincible ever since.”

Karl Rahner

"God has spoken his last, his deepest, his most beautiful word into the world, when this word became flesh." 

In relation to Christmas, this is also the most beautiful and most important part of the Gospel text that we have heard today. Mark begins his Gospel with this very simple but of course all-changing headline: 

'This is the beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.'

That is already a weighty statement.

And there is one special feature that we listeners today no longer even notice: The gospel. The good news.

In ancient times, the word for good news was actually only used in the plural. There was always talk of good news, gospels, when some emperor had something positive to announce. Mark puts a double exclamation mark when he speaks not of gospels but of the gospel. It is not about one piece of good news among many other pieces of good news, but Jesus brings the saving, all-changing good news par excellence.

And something else strikes me in a special way this year when I hear texts such as the beginning of the Gospel of Mark or the text from the Book of Isaiah: 

How much worldliness is visible in them.

Worldly, by which I mean: how caught up are we humans in our own ideas of God's coming.

When God comes, the valleys rise, the mountains fall, everything that was previously crooked becomes straight. Yes, this is how people imagine the coming of a ruler.

God coming into the world as a small child in a cold stable - that was not planned. No one had expected that. And yet so much can be seen in this.

God does not come as a ruler who allows himself to be served, but becomes a very simple human being. A man who will wash the feet of his disciples. And who will lay down his life to save us.

Just as in the Gospel of Mark it is the first sentence that is actually the most important sentence, in Isaiah it is the last verse that is actually the most decisive.

First Isaiah speaks of this great road. Then there are loud cries and announcements until the penultimate verse: Behold, the Lord, God, comes with power, he reigns with a mighty arm. 

Up to this point, everything is in line with human expectations.

But then the final verse says: "Like a shepherd he feeds his flock, he gathers the lambs in his arms, he carries them in his bosom, he leads the ewes tenderly.

He carries the lambs in his bosom. And he leads the ewes gently.

What an image!
God is gentle.
And God is tender.

I believe that it will be this image and the wonderful words of Rahner that make me want to stop in front of the manger this year. 
And remind myself how much God loves us.


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