Second Weekend of Christmas: "Christmas Continues"
January 2 - 3, 2016
Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Manasquan, NJ
Jeremiah 37:7-14, Psalm 147, Ephesians 1:3-14, John 1:(1-9), 10-18
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. 6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. 14 And 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. 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.' ") 16 From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 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.
“In the beginning….” before we came into being….was light in the darkness. And John, the Gospel writer, who sounds here like the author of Genesis, called this light the Word, the logos, the logic, the wisdom underlying everything….Whole libraries have been written about these words. People, wise and foolish, have wracked their brains to seek to understand, to comprehend the depth of these words.
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As the new year breaks upon us, as we reflect on our Christmas celebrations, as families go their separate ways, we again hear these verses, hardly comprehensible: The Word became flesh. The Word was God. He gave power [for us] to become children of God. We have seen his glory. Overwhelming!
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But….if you are like me, there are a few additional things clamoring for attention in your mind.
For one, we have had two/three days to keep or to forget our new year’s resolutions. Many of us have returned to work; others still seek meaningful employment. School starts again Monday. Credit card bills are appearing in the mail along with income tax forms. Some of us are sick. Some grieving. Some family members didn’t get home for Christmas. We may worry about children or work or legal problems or finances. People in the Midwest and many places are reeling from terrible floods and storms; people across the world are still fleeing or waging war.
Maybe you’ve taken down your Christmas decorations; maybe they are still scattered about, a little shop-worn, a little dusty, dry – much like our “almost-last-day-of-Christmas” cheerfulness. Maybe the manger scene is still on your table, or mantel or window sill.
If you have children in the house, you might experience what happened to a friend of mine after her grandchildren had gone home after Christmas week.
She found a small, plastic, green dinosaur peering at baby Jesus in the manger. “Imagine that!” she laughed.
“Well,” I thought, “there’s an image I really like.”
Having children in the house to help create the images of disorder can be a blessing. If the children have a manger scene to play with, how much more fun is that! Mom and Dad can laugh after the children go to bed and they find
Baby Jesus in a hot wheel car,
the Blessed Mother keeping company with the Barbies,
and the shepherds scattered about the house keeping watch over the flocks of legos, action figures, blocks and trains.
These things don’t match, you say. Right! Something isn’t quite right about all this. Right! Yes, very right. For something doesn’t quite compute when you try to grasp the Word being made flesh and dwelling among us…
…among us with our dinosaur ideas and Barbie-doll fantasies, with our joys and sorrows, our hopes and disappointments, with our health and with our illnesses, with our wealth and with our debts, and yes, with our good deeds and with our bad. “But, come,” says Jesus, “there is room for you in the manger scene.” There is room for you among the shepherds, among the angel choir.
And there is room for me … with you.
This Word made flesh is meant to be part of our everyday lives. To be with us wherever we are, in our temptations, our conversations, at work, in school, at mealtime, playing with the kids, cooking, cleaning, caring for people who have forgotten our names – in these fleshly activities, he comes to make these “every days” holy. To make our lives holy by exchanging his goodness for our errors and sin. This “holy exchange,” our greatest Christmas present, lasts forever.
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I often just throw up my hands when someone asks me what I mean by God or by the idea of God taking flesh and coming to be among us. But when I throw up my hands, I also have to bow my head in a humble act of reverence and awe before this power, this being so much greater than our minds and hearts can hold – much as we might desire to comprehend this, if not in our brains, then in our marrow.
John’s Gospel tells the Christmas story in such marvelous abstract words that we might be tempted to wonder why the carpenter/teacher Jesus should make such a difference to us.
It’s because we made such a difference to Jesus. Jesus’ whole life was a life of friendship with people like us. He chose to heal, to teach peace, to provide food, and to forgive people desperate in their brokenness. He grew up and faced the cross, suffered the terrors of death, but did not languish in that dark place. God did not leave him, nor does God leave us, in despair or in separation from the Light. For, if you recall, Christ IS risen! The darkness does not overcome the light.
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What next? Those whom the Lord Christ befriended, on whom the light has shined, become candles that illumine darkened rooms of grief, illness, sorrow, abuse. The shadows of our humanity and death lurk. But we find, as we journey, that God – the profound agent of Light and Life boldly works within the darkness.
My friend Emily rushed to the home of her sister when her sister’s husband was killed in a car crash. She sat for a long time on the couch next to her stunned sister. When she began to rise to let someone else sit down, her sister put a firm hand on Emily’s knee and said, “STAY here.” There were no words to be said. Emily said she once thought that she’d need to memorize Bible verses in order to spread God’s word. But she learned that day: Being present is more than words. In like manner, God sent us not a sermon, not words, but Jesus, the Word – made flesh – to STAY among us – on the couch, at the table, in our hearts.
Jesus’ presence influences what we say to one another and how we live together; it fills the bread and wine we share at his table. The divine gift was not just a “once-upon-a-time-long-ago” event. The divine gift came to LIVE among us, to STAY.
As we live into the new year, we are invited to live in the LIGHT so that we might discern the call of Christ in our daily lives.
Let your sisters and brothers in Christ shine LIGHT on you and challenge you to use your gifts. If you think your little light or your simple presence are of no account, you are mistaken. Ask and see what God may do with you. Continue to pray and speak for peace. Shine and walk into the new year as child of the LIGHT, and cherish the mystery we call God. Whether you understand it or not, Jesus came to STAY: in the beginning….and in our earthly ending, the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it.
Pastor Beth Orling