Christmas and Creation- Sermon for January 3, 2021https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Fs_8gBgCBA
Sermon for January 3, 2021
While volunteering at CARITAS last Wednesday a co-worker told me about a Christmas decoration next door to the church he liked. It was not a generic “Happy Holidays” or even the common “Merry Christmas”. The sign simply said “Happy Birthday Jesus”. Many of our Christmas cards and Nativity scenes center our attention on the new-born Savior. Many artists portray Mary and Joseph looking lovingly over their child in the manger. But I wonder if those artists were men. It would be more realistic to show Mary exhausted after giving birth. And Joseph would be first with diaper duty. Someone sent me a cartoon poking fun at the Three Wise men and their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. The cartoon pictured a scene with the explanation “After the three Wise Men left, the three Wiser Women arrived with gifts of diapers, casseroles for the week, and wine.”
We have the festival of the Epiphany coming up on January 6th with the text from Matthew about the arrival of the wise men. But the Bible makes no mention of the wiser women but I would not doubt if they truly existed, maybe not bringing casseroles but helping Mary, a new and very young mother. In spite of stores telling us that Christmas is over except for the Christmas merchandise marked down 50% the church reminds us that we are celebrating Christmas. But the gospel reading from John does not sound like a traditional Christmas reading—-just where are the shepherd, angels, and most puzzling of all, the baby Jesus? Make no mistake, the gospel is a witness to Jesus, but instead of telling us to go to Bethlehem we are to go back to the very beginning—Creation. We heard “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” This reminds us of the first verse of the book of Genesis, “In the beginning when God created the heaven and the earth.” Our gospel reading is a commentary on the Creation story. Creation and Christmas are tied together because of Jesus.
We heard the work of the one called the Word: “All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.” When we read the first chapter of Genesis God creates by God’s Word, ‘God said let there be light…. God said let their oceans and fish…..God said let there be the sun, stars and the universe….God said let there be the earth with all its creatures….and God saw it was good. Listen to what is written in Psalm 33,
“For the word of the Lord is upright and all his work is done in faithfulness. He loves righteousness and justice, the earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord. By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and their entire host by the breath of his mouth. Let all the earth fear the Lord; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him. For God spoke, and it came to be; he commanded and it stood firm.” We hear that God’s word is not merely syllables or letters on a page, but how God works. God’s word is God’s construction company, how things get made, done, and even repaired. And behind God’s word and work is God’s will, what God intends. The earth….what does that mean to you? Maybe you are on lake ice fishing. Maybe you are cross-country skiing through the woods. Maybe you look outside and see deer in the yard. Maybe you are sitting in the parking lot at Trigs and watching people coming and going. All of this earthy stuff reveals God’s steadfast love. God’s word, work, and will are all about love. This is important to keep in mind when you may hear some Christians speak of the current pandemic as God’s punishment. That is a horrible witness to the true God: that God willed, as it were, the death of so many to satisfy some sort of divine justice. But the Bible says creation is full of steadfast love. Does this not mean that God is with us to support us during this difficult time, God grieves and hurts with a plague causing so much suffering? Recently I read a theologian who was making that point stating that God does not send thunderbolts of terror, but the thunderbolts God sends are you and me, called to encourage and build up one another in this time of distress.
In the gospel reading we hear about light. This is not a reference to sunlight or electric light, indeed part of Creation and human ingenuity, but the light of wisdom. We heard about John, not so much John the Baptist in this gospel, for the emphasis is on John the Witness. John came to testify to the light: “the True light which enlightens everyone was coming into the world.” The one called the “Word” in the text could almost be called “Wisdom”. In the 8th chapter of Proverbs Wisdom is almost described like a divine being as we read, “When God marked out the foundations of the earth, I was beside him, like a master worker; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race.”
We may wonder how do we make a nativity or Christmas scene out of this text, speaking of the Word who was with God and is God, the Word and the very work bringing creation into being, the Word revealing the wisdom of God. God’s will is to fill all creation with steadfast love, and God’s wisdom is delight in the human race. But unfortunately we think there is much about the human race that does not delight God. God wills for there to be justice and righteousness, but there is all too much injustice when we hear how people are treated. Much is not right when people in this country, the wealthiest in the world, are going hungry and homeless. So is God just as disappointed and confused as we are at times? But then we hear the meat of the gospel reading: “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” The Word, revealing the will and the wisdom of God, became a human being. This is called the Incarnation, or God’s enfleshment. You have heard of chili-con-carne or chili with meat. Jesus is God-con-carne, God in the flesh. The text said nothing about Jesus, true God and true human being sent by God to point out sins before sentencing. It simply said Jesus came to live among us. It is an interesting word meaning Jesus came to “tent” among us. That sounds very down-to-earth, and is actually a reference again to the Old Testament. As Israel traveled through the desert on the way to the Promised Land, God revealed glory at the Tent, or tabernacle, or portable worship place. The gospel of John has Jesus refer to himself as the Tabernacle, the Temple, where the glory of God is shown forth. In this gospel the glory of God is revealed by various signs or works of Jesus: changing water to wine at a wedding, healing the sick several times, refusing to condemn a woman guilty of adultery, restoring the sight of a man blind since birth, and weeping at the tomb of Lazarus before raising him from the dead.
For people tired of the chaos of life, Jesus said “I am the light of the world. For people hungry for love Jesus said “I am the Bread of Life. For people who feel lost in an uncaring world, Jesus said “I am the Good Shepherd.” For people defeated by death and grieving, Jesus said “I am the resurrection and the Life. For people feeling unworthy of following Jesus faithfully he said “I am the Vine, you are the branches.” Jesus ultimate work, ultimate sign, is the cross. As John the witness never tired of pointing out, Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Jesus came from heaven to earth to make clear the will of God: to save the world and not condemn the world.
I read about a Nurse Practitioner in Los Angeles named Janel Perez. She has devoted her medical knowledge to working among the city’s homeless population on the streets. She has assembled a mobile medical team to provide medical care and housing for the homeless, many who are veterans. Janel does not wear a white uniform but jeans, tennis shoes and t-shirts. In her battered back pack she carries medical supplies. Many of the veterans she meets are dealing with PTSD, mental disorders and addictions. She has to work to gain their trust. So part of her kit bag contains sandwiches and she sits with the homeless and listen to their stories. It may take many visits and much patience before a homeless vet will let her take blood pressures and administer medicine. Janel tells the story of a homeless Air Force veteran suffering from mental illness who had lived on the streets of LA for 20 years. She found him a place to live but remained ever suspicious of her. He refused to use the electricity in his new apartment. He refused all medication. To gain his trust Janel sat on the floor of his apartment and just listened to his stories. This went on for weeks until she finally gained his trust. Now his mental illness is controlled by medication. He has reconnected with his family. He has a new life because Janel came to him where he was and never gave up on healing him.
Jesus is true God in the flesh. Jesus came to reveal the Heart of God for people in need of healing spiritually and otherwise. Jesus reveals the truth of God’s will to heal God’ s beloved Creation with steadfast love. Jesus came with the ever active grace of God. I like to think of grace as Jesus’ presence with his hand of faithfulness and forgiveness, steadfast love and healing peace ever extended out to us. There is a wonderful Promise in this text for the 2nd Sunday of Christmas. Jesus gives a gift that will never grow old and fall apart. It is a gift that can never be discounted. The gift he gives is this: “To all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who are born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh, or of the will of man, but of God.” It is healing to believe in Jesus, for he made it clear by his cross and resurrection that we are not just a bundle of sins and failures heading for the ultimate disappointment of death. No, in Jesus is life, life ever as a beloved child of God.