Tuesday, December 20, 2005

"Birth of the Light" Christmas Sermon

Over the past weeks of the Advent season, we have looked into the faces of the cherished figures of the Nativity. During the first week, amidst the celebration of the Hanging of the Greens, the Angels were our focus. We asked ourselves what kind of signs we might be given by the angels we might knowingly or more likely unknowingly encounter in our own lives. The next week, we focused on the role that the shepherds and livestock played in our great story, and how they were open to God’s announcement of incarnation because of their willingness to “keep watch” and “listen.” Then we focused on Joseph, the silent guardian of God as a baby. We looked at his great witness to follow God’s promptings and the miracle of his belief and faith in the message brought to him by the angel. Last week we reflected on Mary’s Song of Magnification of the works of God. And today we turn our attention to the manger. That centerpiece to the nativity story—and what it holds: The center of the whole world.
John’s prologue is revered by many as the most beautiful words of the entire Bible. It tells the story of our Christ in a unique way in the Bible. Whereas Matthew and Luke tell the story of Jesus’ humble beginnings in the manger, and Mark’s hurried gospel doesn’t even reflect on the Christ’s origins, John’s Gospel tells that Christ as the Eternal Logos or Word was with God and Part of God before the Creation of the world.
It is from John that we learn that this man traveled around the lakes and mountains and cities of Palestine 2000 years ago was no ordinary man, but instead the “Word in Flesh.” It tells that how everything was created through the Word, and that therefore all creation was known by him and all creation has a connection to him. God creates by speaking, and the Word is the manifestation of that aspect of God.
We also learn that this creative Word is Light—as Isaiah says, the “people who have walked in the darkness have seen a great light” Isaiah goes on to talk about a child who will one day be born who will bear this light, and John identifies this light as the person whose birth we celebrate this day.
Last night as I read this scripture as our last lesson to the lessons and carols service, we enacted the scripture as it was read. We began in darkness, as we heard about the Word being in the beginning with God and nothing else. This was before the creation of anything, including light and darkness. And then I lit the Christ candle as we heard about the Word’s life being the light of all people. As the light went around the room and illuminated the faces of everyone present, I read the words that contain the whole Gospel in two sentences, “But 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.”
I enacted this part of the service last night because I wanted us to hear it and understand it as being true and present in this moment with us. John doesn’t tell the story of something that happened a long time ago and is merely an occurence of the past—John writes about a light that shines in darkness. The darkness of time or place does not overcome the light that continues to shine.
This is the amazing thing about the Gospel. WE have walked in the darkness. We come from all walks of life. Some of us are old, some of us are young, some of us are hometown people, some of us are transplants from another place, some of us are rich, some of us are poor, some of us have loved, some of us have loved and lost. Here’s what we all have in common—we have all walked in the darkness. Though it would seem that some of us have sinned in greater frequency or greater magnitude than others, we have all been born with something missing in our lives, a “God shaped hole in our hearts” as some people call it. Isaiah and John calls it darkness.
But the good news is this, we have seen a great light, and furthermore, that Light comes to us to receive. Graciously, the Light has come toward us and continues to come toward us. As long as we reject the great filling light in our presence, we will continue to walk in darkness. As long as we refuse to forgive and love and share and make peace, that “God shaped hole” will continue to be a God shaped hole. Why? Because God loves us so much that God gave us freedom. The light is not invasive. It is persuasive, like a friend holding a candle toward you for you to light your candle on.
And if we do light our candle with the Light of God, IF we do allow our soul to be ignited with the awesome power of love and forgiveness and peace and sharing, our faces will become illuminated in the presence of the Living Christ. We will finally see ourselves and our neighbors as Children of God. This is the message that the Living Word would have us understand. After all of creation was spoken into being through the creative power of the Word and Breath in Genesis 1, there is a pronouncement that is as creative and life giving as our identity: God is happy with God’s creation and exclaims, “It is good!”
Yes, we are children of God from the very beginning, but we enslave ourselves to lesser parents. We walk in darkness and we look to other sources for parental comfort, don’t we? We make ourselves “Children of Exclusiveness” or “Children of Posessions” or “Children of Beauty” or “Children of Hollow Happiness.” Jesus says later in John’s gospel that “this is the judgment of the world, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light.” Why do we love the darkness rather than the light?
Because the light comes to earth in a feeding trough…The Light takes a cross on his back and asks us to as well. The Light asks us to change our direction in life. We fill the God shaped hole with other things, and we think we are full until the little cracks appear in our carefully tailored lives. God’s light continues to shine in our direction though, and it continues to come to us. All we have to do is dip our candle toward the one being offered to us. All we must do is dip our heads down and ask for forgiveness. All we must do is forgive others as God forgives us.
When we take on the light, our burdens are taken on by that little child laying in a manger. He is willing and able to carry our load. As things become lighter in our lives, we may even find ourselves sharing the light with others. We may turn to the person next to us and offer the Light of Christ to them.
In so doing, the brightness grows! God’s Kingdom is made manifest on earth, and more faces glow with the good news of the Word and Light. Just as we saw last night, the Light comes in the flesh because the Living Christ is alive in our flesh. The very enactment of the Christmas story in our midst is shown in Our faces glowing in the candlelight as we sing hymns declaring the wonder and mystery of God’s humble birth. The Light becomes brighter through our sharing, and more people in the shadows are able to see it. But for us to share the Light and be the Living Christ, we must walk toward the shadows. This is what Christ exhibited in a life in which he was reprimanded by the “holy men” for going into the houses of tax collectors and prostitutes.
This birth that we celebrate today is not just a birth in a stable 2000 years ago, it is a birth waiting to happen. Every moment holds the potential for this birth because this birth is the birth of the Light in the world of darkness. The darkness cannot overcome it, and as long as we hold the candle of our faith in front of us, guiding us, we cannot be overcome. Even in dying, the martyrs of our faith were able to shed light on the darkness. As we gather to share this sacred meal together, let us imagine ourselves receiving the light just as we did last night with candles. We take this meal for the same purpose—to bring more fuel for the fire, to help the light shine brighter through our participation in the Living Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. The Light of God wants to enlighten your life because God wants you to know who you really are—a shining faced Child of God! Amen.

4 comments:

  1. Great sermon! Thanks for sharing. I was struggling with how to preach the Johannine Christ immediately after proclaiming the text from Luke.

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