Christmas Story #3

DISCLAIMER: I believe sermons are meant to be heard. They are the word proclaimed in a live exchange between God and the preacher, and the preacher and God, and the preacher and the people, and the people and the preacher, and the people and God, and God and the people. Typically set in the context of worship and always following the reading of scripture, sermons are about listening and speaking and hearing and heeding. At the risk of stepping outside such boundaries, I share sermons here — where the reader will have to wade through a manuscript that was created to be spoken word. Even if you don’t know the sound of my voice, let yourself hear as you read. Let your mind see as you hear. Let your life be opened to whatever response you begin to hear within you.

May the Spirit Speak to you!

A Sermon for 4 January 2015 – 2nd Sunday of Christmas

John 1:1-18 (Scripture is included below – NRSV.)

Throughout the season of Advent, we’ve been exploring how various gospels tell the story of Christmas – the way God was birthed into the world in Jesus, the Christ. I realize many of us already might have taken down the trees and trimmings of Christmas. We’ve gotten our homes back in order after the weeks of anticipation. We’re ready to get on to our typical routines tomorrow as Christmas and the holiday celebrations are over. Except, Christmas isn’t quite over – not yet. We weren’t just lazy around here and forgot to coordinate the sanctuary clean up!  Today is day 11 of the 12 day season of Christmas. But hopefully your true love didn’t send you 11 pipers piping. January 6th each year is the celebration of Epiphany – the beginning of the season when the Light of the world starts to spread as wise ones who knelt in homage at the Christ child went back to their homes a different way. Most probably by another route, but I like to think they also returned to their lives after that first Christmas with a different sense of joy in their hearts and minds. Inner peace over God’s good will towards the world. Hope from meeting the Light for which they had searched. . . .  We have a whole plan in place for worship and study together during the season of Epiphany called The Vital Church.  We’ll begin with worship a bit differently in the Fellowship Hall next Sunday – which also will be when we celebrate the Baptism of our Lord and each of our baptisms into discipleship behind him. It’s a way we hope to keep the spirit of the season alive as the Light spreads and spreads and spreads!

Christmas Story #3 seems the perfect lead-in. We’re in the gospel according to John today. Now I realize many don’t count the beautiful opening of the gospel of John as a story about Christmas – the coming of God in the flesh of humankind in the babe of Bethlehem. But it is! It’s the latest gospel writer’s telling of the story. When Christ became Christ – God both human and divine. I’ve heard it said that the Apostle Paul, the earliest Christian writer, claims Jesus becomes the Christ in his death and resurrection. The next chronological record, the gospel of Mark, claims it’s the baptism. Matthew and Luke, being next in the order, claim it’s at the miraculous birth in the flesh of Jesus when Christ comes among us. And for the latest written gospel, the gospel of John, it’s from the beginning of time that Christ exists. . . . Listen for the word of God in a reading of the gospel of John.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” . . . Then in the middle of the beautiful poetry about the pre-existent Word of God creating and finally coming into the world, we get the story of the forerunner – the one to point out the Light to others. Listen:

6“There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.” . . . And now back to the pre-existent Word: 10”He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of humankind, but of God. 14And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” And one more moment back to John: 15”(John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’”) 16From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made God known.”

Christmas Story #3. The Word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!

Many of us love the stories from Matthew and Luke – with their fret-filled father finally turned faithful from dreams that sort it all out. And their young girl willing to open her life to the impossible work made possible only by God. The sweet little baby with those lil bitty toes swaddled all up and laying in the hay of a manger while lowly shepherds witness the glorious miracle and messengers from God light up the midnight sky singing: “Gloria! Peace is to all the earth!” We love all that of the story. But something too is quite remarkable about the gospel of John’s unique telling. It takes us all the way back to Genesis 1:1 where “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth,” it all was a formless void with thick darkness everywhere. Until the Word of God proclaims: “Light!” Suddenly all life is possible (Gen. 1:1-3).

We literally would not be without light. The plants wouldn’t grow. The ground wouldn’t produce. We would not survive the harsh, cold darkness if it weren’t for light. Now I realize we can handle a whole lot of darkness in our lives, metaphorically speaking. We weren’t made to deny that life contains many dark nights. I’m pretty sure the first hearers of the gospel of John needed that reminder as life grew tougher around the turn of that First Century. Like them, we must remember as we fumble around in some of the most difficult spaces and places of the journey of life that Light does shine. We might have to search high and low for it – kinda like the wise ones from the East did – but as scripture attests: there always will be Light. The darkness cannot overcome it. It’s the gift of Christmas Story #3. Because more than any of the others, we’re reminded from the start, of that time when the Light seemingly went out, on Good Friday. But even then, God again speaks: “Light! Shine!” . . . We become children of God through this impossible act, only possible by God. Grace will be the truth the pre-existent Word of God will come to embody in Jesus, the Christ, the Word made flesh. Through him, all will be given the chance to see the very face of God. . . .

One commentator writes of the gospel of John’s story of Christmas: “This soaring symphony tries to express the inexpressible. God’s inner self, God’s loving heart, God’s eternal fellowship, spilling over and making a world, knowing full well that world would miss the point and be downright recalcitrant in reply. But Love loves anyway” (Feasting of the Word, Yr. B, Vol. 1; James C. Howell, p. 188). Light shines as it takes on our flesh to show us – to let our eyes see. To form us too into the love that loves anyway.

It is the good news of Christmas – stories number 1, 2, and 3. May we perceive it – may we live it – all throughout the year!

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2015  (All rights reserved.)

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