Though you may not be familiar with the name Stan Lee, you are almost certainly familiar with his work. Lee was one of the creative minds behind many of the superheroes and movie characters that we know and love – Spider-Man, X-Men, the Hulk, the Fantastic Four, the Avengers. And in Lee’s eyes, what made these characters so compelling wasn’t simply because of their incredible superpowers, but also in just how relatable and normal they were. They were characters created with real-life problems all their own.
Sure, they could lift buildings and create invisible force fields and swing across the city using the proportional strength and agility of a spider. However, when he wasn’t slugging it out with Doctor Octopus, Spider-Man was just a regular teenager, struggling with feelings of inadequacy and trying to scrape together a little spending money to take Gwen Stacy out on a date. Lee created characters that had acne and dandruff, characters that had to figure out how to make a living, the feeling of having your girlfriend break up with you, normal people stuff like that. And he created superheroes that didn’t live on some galaxy far, far away but in real places like New York City.
In other words, Lee created superheroes and then humanized them. Superheroes that were both capable and relatable. Both supernatural and natural. Both totally other, and yet perfectly normal. He created characters that in some respects are just like us.
And whether Stan Lee was ever aware of this connection or not, I am convinced that one of the reasons why Lee’s superheroes are loved by so many is because they echo a far more important story, a far more important person from many years before.
It’s the story, the moment that we celebrate each and every Christmas and the story that we celebrate together tonight, that moment long ago when God came down in the person of Jesus Christ.
That probably not so silent night long ago when God became human. When the supernatural became natural. Or as the bible describes it, where “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”
You see, at Christmas we remember and wonder and marvel at the seemingly inexplicable. That God became like us, for us.
That the one who was fully God also became fully human, the God-man who embraced all that encompasses the human experience.
As both God and man, Jesus, was in one sense, super human. He was and is God after all. He could and did things that for the most part, us mere mortals can’t do. He healed the sick, cast out demons, raised people from the dead, he could read people’s thoughts and hearts, he walked on water, fed the 5,000, silenced the storm, he turned water into wine for goodness sake’s! He was in so many ways, just like our favorite superheroes, super human.
And yet, at the same time, he was a normal human, just like us.
You might think that the Son of God would be born in a palace, or in a hospital with fine linens and that Mary would be given an epidural with plenty of time to spare. But no, Jesus was born in absolute humility, born in a stable, in a barn, next to all the gross and smelly animals.
You might think that the Son of God would be born in a royal and prestigious family, or born with superhero parents like the Incredibles. But no, born to Mary and Joseph, a couple of poor teenagers, born in Bethlehem of all places, in a one stoplight kind of town.
You might think that the Son of God would be born into instant fame, that parades would be thrown for him with everyone cheering in the streets shouting his name. But no, he was born facing immediate opposition, his parents on the run in the middle of the night, being chased because of the oppressive and tyrannical King Herod.
Born in humility, born into poverty, born into obscurity, born into controversy, God himself became one of us.
Christmas is the story of God becoming like us, for us in this person of Jesus Christ.
Part of what’s so beautiful about all this is that because God became like us, then as the Wonderful Counselor that he is, he can empathize with us. In other words, he gets us.
Isn’t this what we say to our family when we fall in love or find a kindred spirit kind of friendship? He or she, they “get us.” Friends, Jesus gets us.
To our kids and students here tonight, Jesus gets you. For he came, not as an adult, but as a baby, he grew up just like you. He knows what it’s like to be you.
If you’ve ever experienced poverty, Jesus has too. If you’ve ever felt lonely and rejected, Jesus has too. If you’ve ever been at odds with our own family, Jesus has too. If you have ever been faced with temptation, Jesus has too. If you’ve ever felt tired and exhausted, at the end of your rope, well, Jesus has too.
Friends, do you see what this means? It means you can trust him, you can go to him, you can lean on him. Whatever your struggles, whatever your pain, Jesus can take it, Jesus can handle it, he’s been there, for he himself experienced the full depth and breadth of the human experience.
I was with one of our church members the other day, she’s widowed, homebound, in quite a bit of pain. And at some point during our conversation she said. “I’m suffering right now. But it’s okay. Jesus suffered too.”
Yes, yes, and yes. As our bruised and battered brother, as our suffering servant, Jesus suffered too, and he did all it for you.
Christmas is the story of God becoming like us, for us.
And becoming like us, for us, he came to save us, to rescue us. For Jesus was not born simply so that he could empathize with us or console us, he came to save, to reconcile us back to God.
In Christmas, we see the remarkable depth of God’s love. That in taking on a human body, God became visible, touchable, huggable, vulnerable, woundable, killable. Having lived the life we should have lived, he took our sin upon himself and died the death we should have died, so that we can be reconciled to God. And in the ultimate superhero move that’s ever been made, he brought life out of death when he rose from the grave.
To borrow a line from our Advent Blocks series, which many of our families have been a part of this year, Jesus came to make the wrong things right and the dark things light. And one day he will return to finish what he started. And when he does, he’ll bring heaven with him. In the meantime, he’s given those who love and follow him his Holy Spirit, a very real reminder of the very presence of God, that he was and is Immanuel, meaning “God with us.”
Christmas is the story of God becoming like us, for us, to save us, so that we might forever be with him.
Friends, if you’re new or unfamiliar with this Jesus, I would encourage you to give him a shot. Maybe talk to someone who does, or read the gospel of Luke which tells the story of Jesus’s life, death and resurrection, he’s the superhero that all of scripture points to. We’ve been studying Luke as a church throughout this past year and we’ll continue to do so as we make our way to Easter and his death and resurrection and we’d love to have you join us on that journey.
In addition, in our narthex, or in other words, our lobby, is a booklet called Is Christmas Unbelievable? by author Rebecca McLaughlin. If you’ve ever thought to yourself that the Christmas story or the bible itself is too good to be true, Rebecca helps make the case for why the Christmas story and all the events surrounding Jesus’s birth are in fact so good because they are so true. And that’s our gift to you.
And to those who do know this Jesus, who have been walking with him for many years now, how might you draw all the closer to the God who became like us, for us?
Friends, I’m so grateful that you are here, and more importantly Jesus is so glad that you here.
We’ve said it before, let’s say it again. Merry Christmas you all. “Merry Christmas!”
Heavenly Father, the great joy of Christmas is Christ himself. For he became like us, for us. Father, through the power and leading of your Holy Spirit, may we receive this Jesus as the great gift of Christmas, for Father, our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you. It’s in Jesus’s name we pray, Amen.