SERMON 12/30/18 First Sunday after Christmas Year C, St. Monica’s Naples, FL
Isaiah 61:10-62:3; Psalm 147 or 147:13-21; Galatians 3:23-25; 4:4-7;John 1:1-18
We are still celebrating!
Driving down our street the other day, I saw something so horrid and blasphemous. It was only 3rd day of Christmas and someone had already stripped the ornaments, removed the lights and tensile, and placed a poor lifeless evergreen Christmas Tree on the side of the road for pickup and disposal. It was just the third day of Christmas, and I guess we are finished with caroling, decking the halls, opening the gifts, and now the world is ready for the Christmas celebrations to end. It’s time to get back to the daily grind, competitive spirit, and dog eat dog world. It’s as if we just cannot bear “Peace on Earth, Goodwill to All” for too long. For many of our friends, New Year’s Eve is the next big celebration, and we have to get those Christmas decorations down before 12/31/18.
But in the church, we will keep singing Christmas Carols, and we will keep the Advent wreath lit, and we will continue to don the church with white vestments and hangings, because there is more of Jesus’ story to be told. The Feast of the Nativity continues on, and the liturgical season of Christmas does not end until next Sunday at the Feast of the Epiphany, and even then, there is another turn and twist in the story.
There is much more to explore, and many more particulars about this miraculous reality that we need to stay with for a while. This is not just some sentimental Hallmark story, that like a special little ornament we pull off the shelf in December, and on December 26thwe put it back in some dust covered storage tote for another 12 months. God Incarnate, born in a manger, living among us, restoring us to Godself, is the beginning of the story of grace, adoption, and salvation we Christians tell all year long.
On the first Sunday after Christmas, the lectionary designers jumped over to John’s gospel and left behind Luke’s historical account of the birth of the “Babe in Manger.” John’s rendition of the Nativity is more philosophical in style and content. John’s version is like that of an eyewitness reporter on the scene, who offers a scholarly recording of events, and he provides depth of meaning and higher thought. John wrote, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The “Word” used by John was not referring to holy scripture as some might believe, he was describing philosophically the concepts of God the Father’s thought, reason, and the act of speaking creation with, in, and through the Son in the unity of the Holy Spirit.
Platonic philosophical allusions exist in John’s use of Logos or “word.” Allister McGrath writes, “Plato ascribed particular importance … to the notion of the logos through which the rationality (or wisdom) of the world is communicated and conceptualized.”(1) John does not begin the story in Nazareth or Bethlehem or even with the visitation of Mary, he begins at the very beginning. John connects the Incarnation event to the presence of logos, the Son, at the very beginning of life (creation). John tells us that in the beginning was the (logos) the divine spark, the concept, and the design of creation. John was referring to the Son, the second person of the Trinity, who in union with the Father and Spirit was in the beginning and acted in creation, and later in that manger and through that cross was active in the redemption and sanctification of all.
God come now please!
In Genesis 1 where we read, “In the beginning” again. We read in Genesis (ten times) that “God said” and creation came into being. God said, “Let there be light,” “let there be a dome,” “let the waters under the sky,” “let there be lights,” and “let the waters bring forth,” etc. God spoke and creation happened. Webster defines speaking as “to express thoughts, opinions, or feelings.” Through God’s action and outward expression of love , God’s plan became reality. The Apostle John clarifies that the logos (or word, reason, thought of God) was present at that beginning, and through that beginning all life came to be and later, that same Creator came to redeem us and make the relationship whole.
Intellectually it is rather difficult to grasp the concept of God incarnate in a small baby 2000 years ago, but that is where faith comes in. In my seminary classes we spent months exploring Trinitarian and Christological heresies and church doctrine, all trying to understand these concepts. I dare not bore you with the intricacies of the many unorthodoxies that have undermined church teaching. Suffice it to say, the church teaches that God was fully present in Jesus Christ and that mystery frames the salvation story.
You may ask, “Eric, why is this all this theological stuff so important?” Our faith in the paschal mystery of Christ is incomplete and flawed if we remove the fact that God was fully Incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth. God himself came to us to restore us to God’s original intent and plan, which is love, the same love experienced and manifested in the relationship between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, was fully present in Christ. The mystery and basis of our faith is that God humbled Godself and acted in the only way to show love that we might understand. He became one of us and did so to restore the relationship originated in creation. Unfortunately, this Good News that we celebrate each and every day is the same Good News the world rejects. We are too busy trying to make our own way, trying to pull ourselves up by the bootstraps, and too busy trying to do it all.
“Grace upon Grace”
Theologian David McCleod asserts, “There is only one thing certain about the world: It is not what it was meant to be. Something has gone wrong, and that something is sin.”(4) There is sin and separation in the world today. There are still broken relationships, indifference, and self absorption. In the shadow of “Peace on Earth, Goodwill to all,” immigrant children are still in custody and some have needlessly died, children are being shot in our schools, police officers are being hunted and killed, social media friends are posting divisive and horrible rhetoric, and even after so many years of progress, racism is on the rise in the U.S.” Sin is alive today in the world, just as it was over 2000 years ago, but we do have hope in the light that came to us, to show us the way of love.
The Apostle John wrote, “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.” So if that is true, where is God in all this brokenness and sin? Why does God let this happen? “People regularly complain of God’s indifference to human suffering and pain. They say that if God would appear, take some responsibility, and offer some help, then they would see Him, recognize Him, and follow Him.”(4) We forget God did appear and John’s gospel makes clear that “God does care.” He came as one of us, as the Incognito God in Christ, and through him God was made known to us. The way of true life and love was made known to us in Jesus, and by his life, ministry, death and resurrection, we have grace upon grace.
We live our lives as if grace is scarce and our experience of grace has been rationed, like gasoline during World War II. The abundance of God’s grace upon grace is is real, if we but realize that the most beautiful and most valuable in life are those experiences not earned or deserved. Yet, we seek to fill the holes in our lives with things and thus, we are left still wanting. “Always wanting more makes it very likely that we will overlook the gifts we have received. And perpetual dissatisfaction makes gratitude a very awkward and unfamiliar practice.” (3) We need conversion, a transformation of life toward gratitude, where we can begin to experience new life in Christ.
Children of God
“A Bible teacher Harry Ironside was speeding across Colorado in a train and encountered a woman who wanted to speak to him about faith. As they sat and debated and discussed scripture and theology, Ironside asked the woman, “May I ask if you have been converted yourself?” Her face expressed the surprise she felt at such an abrupt question. “Why, I’ve always been interested in these things. My father was a class leader, and I have an uncle and two brothers who are all clergymen.”
Mr. Ironside answered. “And have you been converted yourself?” “You do not seem to understand,” was the woman’s grieved reply. ‘Yes, ma’am, I understood all that; but I mean, have you been truly converted to God yourself?” (4) Some folks believe this conversion thing happens in a single moment when you have made a specific commitment to God. Conversion can happen in such a way for some, but for many of us, conversion is something that happens over a lifetime, and many of us are still not yet finished. Conversion happens through grace by faith and as such, we become children of God.
In Paul’s letter to the Galatians he writes, “so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.” Becoming a Child of God is beyond our means to control or manipulate, because it begins by faith in Christ alone. So, the Good News of Christmas Day continues even beyond the 12 days afterward, in which we continue to celebrate that God who spoke through the Word in creation, and entered time and space, joined with us in flesh, walked among us, and through faith in him, we are made God’s children. This is Good News for all year long, so do not be to quick to move to the next season so quickly. Keep the Christmas tree up and decorated just a few more days, share a few more gifts from God’s grace with those you love, sing a few more carols, and remember that because of God’s love and grace upon grace, through the Word (logos) spoken into our hearts, we are all children of God.
(1) McGrath, Alister E. Christian Theology: An Introduction. , 2011., p. 176
(2) MIDDLER PROGRAM-2008-2009 SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY INTRODUCTION TO CHRISTIAN DOCTRINE HANDOUT # 6 DOCTRINE OF THE PERSON OF CHRIST
(3) Pohl, Christine D. “Homeward Bound.” The Christian Century, vol. 122, no. 26, Dec. 2005, p. 19.
(4) MacLeod, David J. “The Reaction of the World to the Word: John 1:10-13.” Bibliotheca Sacra, vol. 160, no. 640, Oct. 2003, pp. 398–413.