Sermon for January 5, 2020
For years I have collected Nativity Scenes. The source of the variety came from what used to be called “Third World Craft” stores and online ordering. My fascination has come from their countries of origin. For example, I have one made from recycled paper, tightly woven, from Vietnam. From Haiti I have a Nativity painted on a scrap piece of tin. From Peru is a Nativity with whimsical characters made from different sizes of gourds. From Africa, I have Nativities from Kenya and the Cameroon. I have one of those stacking doll nativities from Russia. The Nativity scenes are based on the Gospel accounts in Matthew and Luke. The Gospel of Mark has no account of the birth of Jesus but begins with an adult Jesus ready to be baptized at the River Jordan.
Today, the Second Sunday of Christmas, we heard from the Gospel of John. With this text we heard of no manger, Mary, Joseph, shepherds and Wiseman. We hear of no reference to Bethlehem or an actual birth. What we hear sounds like creation: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 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 darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” It all sounds so high and lofty taking us before the creation of the universe and even the creation of time. The gospel writer wants us to think of the creation account in the book of Genesis. There we heard darkness covered everything. Then God said “Let there be light” and there was light. This was not the creation of the sun, which will come later. God called the light day, and the darkness night. Light represents the will and wisdom of God. When the Gospel of John said ‘in the beginning was the Word’, the Word is the wisdom behind all creation and its goodness. Wisdom is given a special place in the book of Proverbs. There Wisdom is described as One beside God as the Master Worker of creation.
We will identify the Word and Wisdom of God as Jesus, the one who was with God at creation, and is God. This may sound puzzling and we scratch our heads wondering why such a gospel reading for the second Sunday of Christmas. Creation is the reason we celebrate Christmas, the coming of Jesus to save Creation from what the text called ‘darkness’. Here darkness does not mean evening hours, but it is meant to represent what threatens the goodness of God’s creation. What overcomes such darkness is light, and this light is more than solar power. This is the salvation power of the Son of God, the true light coming into the world to enlighten everyone. This is an important theme in the gospel of John and Jesus will say later in the gospel, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”
We could say that the gift of Christmas is enlightenment. Enlightenment comes with the very down-to-earth text we heard, “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.” Here stated is what we can call the miracle or grace of Christmas: the master builder, technician, and engineer of creation, of the entire cosmos, came to earth as a human being. Jesus is the Word become flesh-bone-blood-muscle-nerves-tissue-human being, just like you and me. Jesus did not just appear to be a human being, a disguise of sorts hiding the glory of his divinity. His glory was in his humanity, for Jesus came with the purpose to live or dwell among us. The literal wording is Jesus came to pitch his tent among us, recalling the tent sanctuary we read about in the book of Exodus as Moses and Israel traveled the desert. Although a humble tent, yet the glory of God was revealed as heavenly light. Jesus did not travel around with a lighted halo around his head. People would have run away from him in fear. Jesus revealed the glory of God in another way as made clear with perhaps the most familiar verse of the Bible: “For God so loved the world that he have his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life” At one time in the Gospel of John Jesus said to his followers, “abide or make your home in God’s love.”
Have you ever noticed that many Christmas cards are printed in China? That is a mystery to me but I suppose it is another example of globalization. I get the New York Times on line and there was this interesting story out of England. A mother bought a box of Christmas cards for her six year old daughter. She was going to send a card to everyone in her class. She opened one card ready to write when she discovered the card had writing inside. The writing was disturbing: “Forced to work against our will. Please help us and notify human rights organization.” The writing was thought to be the hand of an English speaking prisoner in a Chinese labor camp.” Whoever wrote that card is experiencing the power of darkness. Although we are not oppressed in a foreign prison, we know very well the power of darkness in the world: what we hear about in the news or the anxiety and fear we may be dealing with in our own lives. God did not send us a card with the words “Have yourself a Merry little Christmas.” God knows the darkness in the world, the darkness in our lives and has come in person, in the flesh and blood of Jesus, the Son of God. The promise surrounding Jesus is “The darkness did not overcome him.” Jesus came to this earth to make his home among us. His flesh and blood humanity is to help us make connection with Jesus, the connection we call faith. Faith is a relationship with Jesus who has overcome darkness for us so we know we are not alone to face our sins, troubles, or pain, but we can overcome because Jesus has made his home with us. The reading called this receiving from Jesus “grace and truth”; Jesus ever reveals the truth of God’s love for this world, God’s love for all of us. Jesus loved to use common elements of life to speak about his solid and steadfast faithfulness. He told the woman at the well that if she drank the water he came to give her, she would never thirst again. After feeding the crowd Jesus told them “I am the Bread of Life, whoever comes to me will never be hungry.” At the grave of his friend Lazarus, facing the ultimate darkness and anti-creation of death, Jesus had the nerve to say “I am the resurrection and the life, all who believe in me will live even though they die. And everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” What is Jesus saying that his coming to earth as a flesh and blood person satisfies the deepest hunger and thirst for the compassion and companionship of God? He is saying that he overcomes the power of death; the relationship of faith in Jesus not even death can cancel. No wonder the second lesson said that from Jesus we don’t simply receive grace, but he lavishes abundantly grace upon us. When Jesus died on the cross, uniquely in the Gospel of John Jesus said “It is finished.” Jesus indeed finished, accomplished, paid in full, our salvation or as it is put in the gospel of John, eternal life.
I read this story about Fred Rogers of Mr. Roger’s fame. Some years ago when his children’s program was gaining notice Oprah Winfrey wanted him to come on her show. His agent said “yes, but with one condition—make sure there are no children in the audience.” The producers of the show thought that was silly and so invited all kinds of children. When Oprah was on the air with Fred Rogers, she thought it would be cute to have one or two children ask him questions. But what actually happened was not just a few, but many of the children wanted to ask Mr. Rogers something. The children took over the show because Fred Rogers insisted on hearing from and answering the questions of every kid who wanted to ask. Not on script Fred went to the audience to talk to the children. Oprah and the show producers panicked. She was no longer in control. All she could do was go to commercials until things settled down. Fred Rogers advised adults to never forget that they were children once and possibly had all kinds of questions about life. If you never lose sight of what it means to be like a child, a precious child, then you will understand what it means to be a child of God.
Our lesson said “To all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh, or the will of man, but of God.” The Word became flesh; Jesus came to make his home among us, full of grace and the truth: trusting Jesus who loves us and gave himself for us we receive his power, to live forever with God as precious children of God.