Calvary Episcopal Church
December 26, 1999
The First Sunday after Christmas Day
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light...John is the prophet foretold in the Old Testament, whose main mission would be to announce the coming of the Messiah. Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand! Here is one the thong of whose sandal I am not worthy to touch. Some thought that he himself was the Messiah but he said, go, look, see who it is who heals the sick, comforts those who suffer...John was a prophet whose job was to tell the Truth to those who needed to hear it, like Herod and his wife...and his main truth was to point to the light, to turn people towards the light that was Christ Jesus.
The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world. Enlightens. Frees from self-centeredness, lifts us beyond our own needs to caring about others. Enlightens, lifts us from the despair of death to the sure and certain hope of light and eternal life. Enlightens, brings light to darkness, brings hope to sadness, inspires, comforts, saves us from being alone. They say we are born alone and we die alone so we have to come to know ourselves and to rely upon ourselves. Yes, but, we are not alone. The light that enlightens us all is with us, at birth, at death, by day and by night.
He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. We pray for our Messiah to come, we ask God to be with us, but when he comes with demands for us to have a heart of flesh and not of stone, when he comes and expects us to be willing to love and beloved, we turn away, or worse, we turn him away, we may in fact even crucify him. It takes a lot of trust to accept the love of the Messiah and it takes courage to accept the love of another person, or to give it ourselves. Love is not like a computer. If the computer fails we can walk away. If love fails we carry our pain with us.
He came to his own people and his own people did not accept him.
We hear that
line from St. John's Gospel and we foolishly think, yes, those people
back then, that particular group knew him but did not recognize him, did
not know him, did not accept him as who He was. But if we think that,
we continue in our blindness, for they were us. They
But to all
who received Him, who believed in his name...and there is a piece of each
of us that can and does believe...but not of our own goodness, not of
our own will...this is the divine in us, that dimension of us through
which God is able to move and live and have His being, in us. When we
believe, it is not a gold star or A-plus for us; it is God working through
us. Faith is a gift. We must only not reject it. God is always working
in us to open ourselves to God. When we allow it, God
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. This one line is the entire Christmas story. The entire message of the birth of Christ. The Word, God's fullness, the 2nd Person of the Trinity, sent by God as a message, the message of love and goodness and God's real presence in the world, sent to dwell in flesh, sent to be human to live among us and speak our language so that we might receive Him and understand what God wants us to hear from God.
The Word became flesh and lived among us--sent as a helpless, innocent new baby--which says clearly that weakness in the world's terms can be above and beyond all the world's power and riches and materiality. God's presence is more likely to be found in the trust of a little child than in the worldly wisdom of one who has made their compromises and has ceased to believe in that in which he or she cannot see, touch and feel. That which we might call naive trust turns out to be God's presence, God's gift. He who receives the baby Jesus with the trust of a little child, of such is the Kingdom of God.
God chose to come into the world as a baby child, not as a prophet's message, not as a spirit, not even as words, but as a human being. In doing so, God has said that the life of flesh is good. He has said in this birth that God adores us and blesses us and looks at us and says, "It is good." God loves us so much that in order to communicate with us, God has spoken in our language, the language we can understand, the language of being human. He sanctified our lives by having His Son live a human life, in which Jesus walked and talked, prayed and cried, loved and suffered, partied and pondered; there is no joy and no pain that we can experience that Jesus does not understand, and so God understands, walks with us, knows our sorrows and feels our pain.
And God, too, feels pain. We know that from Jesus' experience on the Cross. We know it also by the fact that God spoke in one common universal language, the language of flesh/humanity, the language of the babe in the manger; and in so doing God was saying that we his children are created to be one, to share in the language of humanity. God's pain here comes in the fact that we are not one, that we make unnatural divisions, setting one group against another, filling our eyes and hearts with the evil of prejudice, of alienation one from another. God's pain comes from our racism, our sexism, our ageism, whatever divides us.
And we have beheld his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth. We behold the glory of God's son anytime we see beyond our own needs, whenever we are moved by the emotions of someone else, whenever we catch a glimpse of the divine. It may come in a moment of art, or of love, or of anguish for another. If just once in our lives, one time, we catch a glimmer of God's presence in another person or in our self, or in a situation, if just once in our lives this happens, we have beheld his glory.
...full of grace and glory. Grace is God's unmerited, unearned, unearnable love, generosity, relief from distress. Glory is the brightness of God's presence, God's bright, dazzling light. In Jesus we do see God and we see God's grace and glory. It fills us and makes our life different. We can never be the same once we behold God's grace and glory. We are changed.
From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace...
fullness came when he was incarnated, when he was born as Jesus. His fullness
filled the presence of all who knew him, of all who heard him. Most were
moved beyond words and transformed. Some wanted to silence him, and a
few of those took steps to make sure he could
St. John goes on to say: The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. All are good. The law itself is the product of love, given by God as guidance for living this life; e.g., love your parents, be faithful to your spouse, do no murder, do not steal. This is wise advice for living a life that will avoid unnecessary tragedy. But grace and truth came through Jesus, who brings the Good News that even if we break the law, God forgives and loves us. The news that our bond with God is not one of obedience that earns approval, disobedience that earns rejection; in Jesus we have seen the truth that God's love is grace: unearned, unearnable and unconditional adoration of us, God's own children. If before Jesus we obeyed the law so that God would love us, since Jesus we obey because we KNOW that God loves us and we respond with the goodness that the knowledge puts in us.
No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father's heart, who has made him known.
Well, there were many, many intimations of God prior to Christ. There was the still, small voice of God speaking to the young Israel. There was the parting of the Red Sea, God championing God's people against great but earthly odds. But in Jesus we have seen the fullness of God--not just voice, not just saving act, but the face of God, the feelings of God, the compassion and wisdom and patience--we have seen a model for our own lives, we have seen the caring, adoring Lord.
St. John wrote this nearly 2,000 years ago. At this Christmastime we have heard this once again, the wonder and the glory and the divine mystery that is the birth of Christ. May it transform us once again.
John 1: 6-18