Tag Archives: Light of the World

The Gifts of Epiphany

A Sermon for 6 January 2019 – Epiphany

A reading from the gospel of Matthew 2:1-12.  This is the gospel text assigned for today that tells of the gifts of Epiphany.  Listen to God’s word to us.

“In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews?  For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.”  When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born.  They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:  ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.’”  Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared.  Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.”  When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was.  10 When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy.  11 On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage.  Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.”

This is the word of God for the people of God.

Thanks be to God!

 

Are you familiar with something called the Magi Complex?  I learned of it from a friend who has been thriving for 6 years after breast cancer.  Part of the protocol used after her surgery, she found that the Magi Complex is one of nature’s most powerful healers.  Supposedly it’s a revolutionary supplement good not just for reversing inflammation to reduce pain in the body, but also for keeping cancer cells from growing within.  I admit I haven’t tried it myself – and anyone certainly should ask their medical professional before doing so, though my friend is living proof.  Along with other natural healing interventions, the Magi Complex kept her from any radiation or chemo after a double mastectomy.  In case you’re wondering just what’s in this miraculous Magi Complex, you guessed it.  As every wise healer knows:  gold (known in the essential-oil world as turmeric).  Frankincense.  And myrrh:  gifts from the earth fit for a king!

It makes good sense, actually.  Thanks to biblical details and historical legend, we know a little bit about the Eastern travelers called the magi or the three wise men.  They come seeking.  Asking:  “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews?  For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage” (Mt. 2:2).  They are foreigners from another land.  Most probably professional star-gazers.  Likely ones familiar with the healing arts of the earth.  In the light of the rising star, they are aware that something bigger than themselves calls them – like a tug they had waited for all their lives.  Some legends trace them back to Persia – others Babylon.  There, Jewish exiles once kept hope with stories of a Messiah who someday would come to set the world aright.  Had the promise reached their ears so that these wise men already knew of the one who someday would be born?  Think of the words of the prophets:  “Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God.  Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid.  . . .  Make straight in the desert a highway for our God.  Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low” (Is. 40:1-2a, 3b-4a).  And “he shall feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.”  (Is. 40:11).  “Here is your God,” the prophet also proclaimed, who “will come and save you” (from Is. 35:4).  Then, “the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy” (Is. 35:5-6a).  According to the prophets; the anointed of God, the Messiah, Israel’s long-awaited king would be the Great Healer.  Had these wise ones known all along the gifts fit to bring?

We hear the story and tend to envision the other kind of gold:  the precious metal of the earth’s crust that across cultures has connoted great wealth.  Frankincense, which biblical scholars tell us symbolized “an oblation worthy of divinity” – as the aromatic incense often burned in temples (Feasting on the Word, Yr. C, Vol. 1, William J. Danaher, Jr., p. 212).  And myrrh – known in Jesus’ day as a resin or essential oil used not only for healing, but also for burial.  The ancient Egyptians actually using myrrh for embalming their mummies.  So that even in the gifts given, we are told to hear clues of who the baby born in Bethlehem is destined to become.  . . .  The gospel of Matthew is keen to point out the three gifts from the Eastern travelers.  A detail so specific that every nativity now contains just three wise men – though the gospel never mentions the number of travelers, just the three gifts.  Magi, on bended knee, falling in awe around the precious child.

In her newly released children’s book entitled Home by Another Way:  A Christmas Story, Barbara Brown Taylor tells of the gifts received by the travelers from their time with the blessed baby.  On a page near the book’s end, the three elderly men stand by their camels ready to depart as a young mother holds a swaddled babe in her arms.  The page imaginatively reads:  “So the wise men picked up their packs, which were lighter than before.  Then they lined up in front of the baby, to thank him for the gifts he had given them.  ‘What in the world are you talking about?’ the baby’s mother said, laughing.  ‘For the scent and weight and skin of a baby,’ said the first wise man, who had no interest in living on herbs anymore” (as he’d been found doing at the opening of the story when Taylor imagined each of the three men seeking something more in a life of ascetism, a life of study, and a life of rigid spiritual discipline).  Of the second gift given by the baby, Taylor writes:  “’For this home and the love here,’ said the second wise man, who could not remember how to say it in the ancient language.  ‘For a really great story,’ said the third wise man, who thought that telling it might do a lot more for him than continuing to walk on hot coals” (as he had been doing at the opening of the story, according to Taylor, in his search for something more) (Barbara Brown Taylor, Home by Another Way:  A Christmas Story, illustrated by Melaine Cataldo; Flyaway Books, 2018).

Gifts, given and received, are a huge part of this day.  The final celebration of the Christmas cycle known as Epiphany.  The day assigned to the wise men.  The liturgical feast marked as the manifestation of God’s amazing gift:  the healing of the nations!  The East and the West – represented in the story by the Eastern travelers and the Western puppet-ruler Herod; who, according to one commentator, clashed “over the birth of a little Jewish boy” (Connections, Yr. C, Vol. 1, Emerson B. Powery, WJKP, 2018; p. 155).  If the magi’s gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh truly were gifts to be used by the one foretold by prophets, then the wise ones knew what Herod and Jerusalem could not see.  Among them was rising one who would shepherd the people – all the people.  Standing and feeding the flock that had been battered and bruised by their own.  Binding up the wounds of those longing for a little good news.  Proclaiming release to captives.  Recovering the sight of the blind.  Letting those oppressed go free.  The Great Healer of all nations shining as the Light of the world from the humble spot in Bethlehem.  Gifts given.  Others received as the magi gave witness to The Morning Star that had dawned.  The great Light to light the earth as guide through the night.

When I think about the gifts of Epiphany, first given:  gold, frankincense, myrrh.  And first received:  the divine in our flesh.  Love radiating from a little place in Bethlehem.  A story about one born to change the trajectory of the world.  I think too of the gifts given us.  From the magi we learn to seek.  Like them, we heed the words that would come from the baby’s lips when from a Mount he first taught:  “Ask, and it will be given you; search and you will find” (Matthew 7:7).  From the magi we learn to believe.  To trust the signs given us.  The promises of hope to heal us all.  From the magi we learn to stay open.  Waiting when we must.  Falling on our knees in wonder – even if what we’ve found doesn’t quite match any expectations we might have had.  From the magi we receive the greatest gift of all.  The reminder that we cannot go home from Christmas the same.  God’s gift is meant to change us.  Transform us from the inside out.

In Circle of Grace:  A Book of Blessings for the Seasons, Jan Richardson beautifully summarizes Epiphany’s gifts.  She reminds:  “There is no reversing this road.  The path that bore you here goes in one direction only, every step drawing you down a way by which you will not return.  You thought arrival was everything, that your entire journey ended with kneeling in the place you had spent all to find.  When you laid down your gift, release came with such ease, your treasure tumbling from your hands in awe and benediction.  Now the knowledge of your leaving comes like a stone laid over your heart, the familiar path closed and not even the solace of a star to guide your way.  You will set out in fear.  You will set out in dream.  But you will set out by that other road that lies in shadow and in dark.  We cannot show you what route will take you home; that way is yours and will be found in the walking.  But we tell you, you will wonder at how the light you thought you had left behind goes with you, spilling from your empty hands, shimmering beneath your homeward feet, illuminating the road with every step you take” (“Blessing of the Magi,” p. 70-72).

These are the gifts of Epiphany.  Given and received so that the Light now shines in us – through us – to illumine the Way home.  For us.  For all.  Thanks be to God!

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

© Copyright JMN – 2019 (All rights reserved.)

Also for Us

A Sermon for 26 February 2017 – Transfiguration of the Lord Sunday

A reading from the gospel of Matthew 17:1-9.  Listen for God’s word to us.

          “Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves.  And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white.  Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him.  Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”  While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!”  When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear.  But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.”  And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.  As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

This is the word of God for the people of God.  Thanks be to God.

 Week ONE among you has been wonderful!  Amid the new-hire paperwork, setting up the office, and preparing for this first Sunday together; I had a chance to meet a hand-full of you.  Beebe has been incredibly welcoming and helpful.  Session members have come by to fill me in on immediate info.  A few of us already have begun dreaming about ministries to begin to strengthen your connection with one another and ready this congregation for a future filled with hope.  Day two was especially fun, as that was the day I followed the boisterous sounds of young children’s voices down the stairs, up the hall, and into the Playcare Directors’ office.  I’d already met little Ziggy earlier that day – and his momma Kendra too.  Then as I stood in the Playcare office, another little one made her presence known.  Instead of Ziggy’s shy gaze that eventually turned to smiles, the little one in the office that afternoon was beat red.  Her whole little peach-fuzz head was as scarlet as a ripened tomato.  She screamed at the top of her little baby lungs.  It turned out that I wasn’t the only one having her first week here.  For in the arms of a patient Playcare teacher was thee most unhappy three-month-old you ever did see.  She squirmed and bellowed as the teacher gently tried to satisfy what had to be insatiable screams of hunger.  It was 2:15 p.m. on day one of Playcare for that precious little girl.  And no one all day long had been able to get her to take her bottle to eat.  Her face was contorted while tears streamed down her red-hot cheeks.  You could feel the heat of her discontent all the way across the room.  Her whole countenance was unhappy!

That little one stands in stark contrast to the transfigured Christ we hear of in Matthew’s gospel.  Six days after he had asked them “who do you say I am,” six days after Peter proudly proclaimed him the Son of the living God, six days after Jesus told them the path of self-emptying love would lead directly to a cross before resurrected life could begin.  Six days after all that, Jesus’ countenance was changed too.  His face wasn’t beat red like the little Playcare three-month-old, but shining as bright as the hot summer sun.  Up on that mountain, when Peter, James, and John looked upon him; he radiated.  It was as if everything about him turned the purest white.  Translucent-like.  Like in art that circles the risen Christ with a glorious golden aura; halos around the crown of his head and something like light exuding all about.  It was a miraculous transfiguration for sure, something absolutely incredible to behold.  But it wasn’t the first time it had occurred.  In the first Scripture reading, we heard when Yahweh called Moses up on a mountain.  There he was to receive the law.  As God was working to transform the newly-freed-from-Egypt slaves into God’s very own; a cloud covered Moses and the mountain.  “The glory of the LORD settled on Mount Sinai,” Exodus 24:16 reads.  “And the cloud covered it for six days.”  Moses face eventually would burn red-hot with anger when at last he returned to the people to discover their transgression not just of making, but also of reveling before a golden calf (Ex. 32:19).  When at last he returns to the mountain in order again to be enveloped by God, this time Moses’ face continues to carry the radiant splendor of the LORD.  The Scriptures record it as “the skin of his face” shining “because he had been talking with God” (Ex. 34:29).

I imagine it as love.  Beaming right from the center of his chest, to every cell in his body, until at last his face glimmered and his eyes sparkled from the amazing energy of God.  . . .  I’ve seen it elsewhere too, haven’t you?  In faces alight when lovers gaze into the eyes of the one who fully accepts them for who they are.  In the glow of grateful parents when first they hold their newborn child.  In the way we look when we are in our flow – using our particular gifts to meet the needs about which we care the most.  It is said about such folk that they radiate.  That they sparkle.  That they shine for all the world to see.  Every cell of their bodies filled with the loving light of God.

I can’t help but wonder if Jesus’ encounter on the mountain intentionally included three eyewitnesses just to be sure his followers would get that transfiguration is for them too.  O, it certainly was a wake-up call to the closest of his disciples.  Peter, James, and John saw their Lord changed.  They got caught up with Jesus in a cloud that overshadowed them too.  They saw the figures of Moses and Elijah with Jesus and heard the beautiful words:  “This is my Son, the Beloved; with whom I am well pleased; listen to him!” (Mt. 17:5).  Trembling in fear they fell to the ground – maybe because they’d just heard the definitive voice of God.  Or maybe because the command to heed one who’d just told them of a path of letting it all go . . .  perhaps that Way was too much for the disciples to integrate.  At least before they saw it enacted in full in Christ.

Three Sundays ago the lectionary took us to the gospel of Matthew’s telling of Jesus’ great sermon.  I hope your guest preacher that day used The Sermon on the Mount, in which Jesus brilliantly said:  “You are the light of the world.  A city built on a hill cannot be hid.”  Remember that?  “No one after lighting a lamp,” Jesus says “puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way,” he then commanded “let your light shine before others” (Matthew 5:14-16a).  Shine.  Radiate.  Glow.  Let your face sparkle with the amazing love of God for us and for all!  You know, without such joy in us.  Without such grace exuding from the very center of our beings, how are others today going to see the loving Light of God?  . . .  Sometimes we’re our own worst advertisements.  We follow the One who lit-up this world wherever he set his feet.  Yet we put on our serious, church-going faces to get all somber about what we’re supposed to be doing in here – and out there in the world as well.  We can take ourselves way too seriously and get all caught up on head trips about God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit too.  But it’s a celebration to which we’ve been invited.  A party thrown by the risen Christ who does not want us to fear one thing, but to radiate with the very same Love that transfigured him on that mountain.  He’s chosen us to be behind him in this great adventure of letting ourselves go that others may join the dance too.  He commands us to be light – enlightening others as well.  Allowing all to see.  He needs us to shine.  And glow.  And sparkle with a Love that always leads to Life.

It’s why we’re here – as members of the body of Christ.  Why we, the church, exist.  To shine brightly for all the world to see.  . . .  Part of my work among you as your interim pastor will be to help you tease out – as you begin a new chapter in your life as a congregation without your previous pastor – now and in your future; what will be your unique mission?  I want to know and then help you build upon the particular difference you, as a congregation, seek to make in the lives of people.  I want to know what you are passionate about.  What matters so deeply to you all that you joyously and generously will invest your blood, sweat, and treasures into that piece of God’s mission in this world.  As a part of the body of Christ, what ministry is it that will set your hearts on fire until ya’ll brilliantly shine?!?!

This is our charge, brothers and sisters in Christ.  And the work we will undertake together.  . . .  Transfiguration is also for us.  He told us so.  For we are the light of the world.

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

© Copyright JMN – 2017  (All rights reserved.)

Shine On!

A Sermon for 7 February 2016:  Transfiguration of the Lord Sunday

(2 Cor. 3:12-4:2 & Luke 9:28-43)

A reading from the gospel of Luke 9:28-43. Listen for God’s word to us.

“Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen. On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. Just then a man from the crowd shouted, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son; he is my only child. Suddenly a spirit seizes him, and all at once he shrieks. It convulses him until he foams at the mouth; it mauls him and will scarcely leave him. I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.” Jesus answered, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.” While he was coming, the demon dashed him to the ground in convulsions. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. And all were astounded at the greatness of God.”

This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!

 

I’m sure you’ve heard the saying that beautiful brides radiate. And once their bellies get big and round, everyone says that pregnant women have that glow. Anyone excitedly welcoming a newborn talks about them being a bundle of warmth – as if the sweetness of God reflects right through them. . . . When parents are as proud as can be, they beam at their children. And of course, two people in love look at each other and their eyes light up an entire room.

Thomas Merton, one of the 20th Century’s most well-known monks, is famous for his epiphany in downtown Louisville on March 18, 1958. He said: “In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers.” He said, “It is a glorious destiny to be a member of the human race . . . there is no way of telling people they are all walking around shining like the sun.” . . . He went on to explain that he “suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire not self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes.” He wrote, “If only they could all see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all of the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed” (Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, New York: Doubleday, 1996 – www.mertoninstitute.org/retreatsandprograms/TheMertonInstituteEpiphanyProject/tabid/106/Default.aspx).

Buried in the book of Daniel, the prophet exclaims that “Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky, and those who lead many to righteousness (shall twinkle) like the stars forever and ever” (Daniel 12:3).

We didn’t hear the Exodus reading of the lectionary for Transfiguration Sunday, though 2 Corinthians makes reference to it. It’s about Moses coming down from Mount Sinai with the tablets of the Law. He was up on the mountaintop – in the presence or Shekinah of God. What he didn’t know as he descended from that amazing experience of being with God was that his face shone brightly – the light of God’s presence was reflecting on Moses’ skin. It kinda scared those who saw it. (Exodus 34:29-35).

Jesus himself has some sort of experience. It may not have been exactly the same. But we hear of the way Jesus was transfigured on the mountain. He’s up there praying – just eight days after he told his disciples what lie ahead. Peter, James, and John are with him. While he’s deep in prayer, they look up to see “the appearance of Jesus’ face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white” (Luke 9:29). He’s transformed before their eyes. That radiance. That glow. That beaming shine like the bright summer sun. The presence of God glows right through his skin. It’s as if on that mountain, all with eyes to see finally behold the core of Christ’s reality. Who he really is: the one in whom God in-full dwells. A voice even confirms it saying: “This is my Son, the Chosen; listen to him!” (Luke 9:35)

Now, it may seem like quite a leap, but we can think about worship just like that. In Celebration of Discipline, by Richard Foster, worship is defined as: “when (upper case S) Spirit touches (lower case s) spirit” (Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster, 1998, p. 159). When the Holy Spirit of God connects with the spirit of God alive in us. Worship is when we get plugged in. Re-charged. Spirit unites with spirit, which we know can happen anywhere in this God-breathed creation. So that sometimes it just happens. Walking along an autumn path, the rays of the sunshine just so that is seems the world is transfixed into heaven-like streets of gold. Or any number of such unexpected, take-your-breath-away life moments that leave us speechless in awe. The times we’re not ready for God’s Spirit to wake up the one slumbering in us. And the times we actually get ourselves ready: prime the pump, it’s often called. When we go to a particular place – like here – where it seems a thin place between common and extraordinary. Holy and mundane. We attune ourselves to connect with that which is Beyond. Spirit touches spirit: worship!

It’s what the Apostle Paul is referring to when he writes that “all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord – as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image (of the Lord) from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor. 3:18). Worship is about seeing the glory of God. Celebrating the glory of God. Being in the glorious presence of God and never finding ourselves the same thereafter. . . . Like those disciples. Think about them. Most probably they weren’t up on that mountain to worship. I’m guessing they only went because Jesus’ asked them to. Kinda like the President’s bodyguards who have to follow him around where ever he goes. They either felt it their responsibility as Jesus’ trustworthy friends to make that trek up. Or maybe they curiously were trying to develop a prayer habit of their own. . . . According to the story, they make the climb and sit nearby as if casual observers. They planned to sit around and watch as their dear friend Jesus prays. But what’s about to take place on that mountain isn’t something they’re able casually to observe. In the Presence of God, they’re pulled in. They hear God’s voice. And they are called to heed. Though they are silent upon the descent, eventually their sealed lips will be broken and they will be charged to go into all the world filled with the power of the same Spirit to witness in word and deed to the ends of the earth. . . . Worship is about that – that encounter which transforms. Our spirits unite with God’s Spirit in that glorious high that requires us then to go forth changed. Transformed to reflect God’s glory. You might even say transfigured ourselves to heed the call of Christ. Which is why there should be a sign at the sanctuary entrance that we’re all required to read on our way in: Warning – enter at your own risk, because you cannot leave here the same!

Of course, we have to remember that the point isn’t only for our benefit. “Worship the LORD your God, and serve only God” Jesus said right after his baptism and his own temptation in the wilderness (Luke 4:8). “You shall have no other gods before me,” God says to the freshly-freed Israelites in commandment number one in the wilderness (Exodus 20:3). The Hebrew word for worship means “to prostrate.” To bow. To bend ourselves before God – the LORD our God. No other gods. We were created to worship the LORD God alone. (Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster, 1998, p. 169). . . . In other words, even though worship will have an effect on us, it first and foremost is about God. God is the One before whom we bow. In whose presence we humble ourselves joyfully because after all, this is the One of such amazing, unmerited Love. The God of grace who has made a way for us in Christ Jesus our Lord! What could be a better reason to worship?!

There’s a story about a famous preacher who tells what he saw as a young boy in the face of another man. Supposedly as a child, this would-be preacher encountered a missionary just home on furlough who was on fire for God. When first the boy saw him, he ran to get the neighborhood priest to ask who this man was. The boy was so impressed by the joy that exuded from that missionary. He never had seen someone all aglow like that. He claimed in his memoirs, which he wrote near the end of his life; that he went on to commit his life to serving God in professional ministry – largely because of the moment he encountered that missionary. He confessed that he never could get away from the influence of the light he saw radiating from that missionary. . . . A shining face – glowing with the love and joy of Jesus Christ. The experience changed that boy’s life entirely. . . . Which just goes to show that time spent with God – Spirit connecting with spirit – . . . true worship has power we never should underestimate. (http://powertochange.com/blogposts/20/11/11/06/shine_like_the_sun_2). . . . In remembrance of that, may we welcome every opportunity for God’s Spirit to connect with our own!

© Copyright JMN – 2016  (All rights reserved.)

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!
RevJule
______________________

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.

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