A Sermon for 25 December 2016 – Christmas Day
A reading from the gospel of John 1:1-14. Listen on this Christmas morning for God’s word to us.
“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. 6There 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. 10He 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 man, 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.”
This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!
Christmas is not the only celebration of the week. In the wee hours of the morning Wednesday, about the time my dog decided he just had to drag me out of bed for him to go outside; the Winter Solstice took place. It happened this year at 10:44 Universal Time – that’s 4:44 a.m. Central Standard Time on December 21. When the Northern Hemisphere leaned the furthest away from our sun, the North Pole experienced twenty-four full hours of night. And for us in this part of the earth; we had the shortest day of the year and longest night (www.earthsky.org/earth/everything-you-need-to-know-december-solstice). The ancients must have wondered if the sun ever would come back round again. Winter began – the official start for us of frigid temperatures, windy gusts, potentially treacherous ice, and long dark nights.
Many Christians are unaware, but the Winter Solstice and Christmas actually are tied up together. Long before the birth of Christ, cultures around the world observed the solstice. Many still do – it’s we in the United States who seem oblivious to the life-cycle of our solar system. “The word solstice comes from two ancient words: Sol, which was the name of the sun god, and stice, which meant still” (www.miltontimmons.com/SolsticeandChristmas.html). The solstice is the day when the sun stands still – many ancient cultures believing it’s the time when their sun god would go to battle against the forces of cold and darkness. Huge bonfires lit up the night sky at the time of the solstice. And in the morning, when the day after the solstice increased again in light; great celebrations took place. Their sun god had won! The cold of darkness would not reign. . . . As early as the Fourth Century when Christianity became the religion of the Empire, our Christian ancestors made the connection between the Winter Solstice and the birth of Christ, the one we believe to be the Son (s-o-n) God come to earth to dispel the chilling forces of darkness. Due to changes in marking time over the years – what with the need to keep the calendar in sync with the cycles of the sun; it eventually came to pass that Winter Solstice was landing on December 25th. Despite Pope Gregory establishing the Gregorian Calendar in 1582 – brilliantly adding the one additional day of February every fourth year – tradition kept to Christmas on December 25th instead of linking it forever with the Winter Solstices of anywhere from December 20-23 (www.miltontimmons.com/SolsticeandChristmas.html and www.timeanddate.com/calendar/december-solstice.html). Thus – all around the world, whether people know the Son (s-o-n) God or not, celebrations of the Light abound. Darkness will not have the final say. Light wins. The Son (s-o-n) God reigns!
Certainly the gospel writer of John knew this truth from nature when the beautiful poetry of John chapter 1 was written. And as brilliantly as our Christian ancestors, who over the centuries replaced a nod to a sun god with the hope of the Son (s-o-n) God, the gospel writer dispels our fears. The chilling forces– all we experience throughout the days of our year what with wars and hostile terrorist attacks. The continuation in our country of senseless mass shootings and greed and corruption and life-threatening illness in our families and among our friends. The desperation of a generation wondering how to make a living and aging folks left alone when families no longer can attend their needs. Mental illness and disturbed spirits. Poverty and racism and gender inequality still. Apathy about the future and even some wondering if things ever will get better for their families and them. It’s Christmas morning so we may not really want to hear about it; still it is true that darkness looms at every corner. But . . . but. Light has been born. The Light has come into the world! This we celebrate today. This we give witness to today, even as John the Baptist did from his wilderness pulpit. The True Light has come into the world. It shines brightly against the night sky – brighter than one small candle lighting up the dark. None of those chilling forces of destruction will overtake! Even out of death, Life returns.
It’s good news to remember this morning. It’s good news to live every day of the year! For when we return from our celebrations tomorrow – or maybe even later today, all that would destroy still will work its way. The darkness never goes away. It just may be that the darkness remains so that Light can be recognized for the amazing gift that it is. So that Light will shine. Brighter. . . . We who know Christ to be the Light of the world are children of the Light. The Son (s-o-n) God has told us so. It’s up to us to let our little light outshine all the chilling forces. It’s our job to be the Light expanding in the world so that love and peace and joy and hope are found. So that Life is seen despite death’s fiercest attempts. . . . So that all will know. So that all will celebrate. So that all will come to the Light to shine and shine and shine throughout eternity!
Merry Christmas, children of the Light! Go forth to let your light be brighter because of the glorious Son!
In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.
© Copyright JMN – 2016 (All rights reserved.)