The First Sunday After Christmas

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December 29, 2019

Today, on the first Sunday after Christmas, we hear the Christmas story from a different perspective, as poetry, through the prologue of the Gospel of John.   I can’t imagine understanding Christmas, or the rest of the story, without the Gospel of John.  It is on our calendar for every first Sunday after Christmas and it is also an option for every Christmas Day.   There is a good reason why it rolls around every year.  It’s a profound introduction to the meaning of the rest of the story.

So, John says, In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.  All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.

Our Gospel this morning is describing an intimate relationship and to understand the relationship, John’s poetry invites us to enter through the Genesis Creation story:   

In the beginning, Genesis says, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.  Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.  And God saw that the light was good. 

What does our Gospel say that has come into being through God?  Life.  And the life, John says, was the light of all people.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.  The Light has Life in it.

Christ is that Light.  Christ is that real Light that John the Baptist keeps pointing us toward.  In our poetry this morning, John the Baptist keeps popping up to point to the real person, Jesus, who is that true Light that has come into the world to enlighten every one of us.  If we want to know what it means to be made in God’s image, we can look long and hard at Jesus.  Through Jesus, the Word speaks anew into creation, “Let there be light.”

It’s a strange phenomenon that we don’t always notice the Light of Christ.  Our Holy Bible and, if we are honest, our ordinary lives, point out, again and again, that it is common for us to not recognize it, to ignore it, to resist it, to forget about it. 

I have my own annual ritual that keeps me remembering that Light shines in the darkness.  Every Spring, I plant Morning Glories and Moonflowers in my backyard.  My little blue Morning Glories start blooming around dawn and close in the late afternoon; my Moonflowers start blooming at dusk and bloom all night.  What a marvelous sign from God’s creation that says “he makes the dawn and the dusk both sing for joy.”  [i]   I’ve had Moonflowers outside my bedroom window that grow profusely, and the white blooms can be six inches wide.  Moonflowers literally shine in the dark.  They remind me of the year I went through my “Dark Night of the Soul.”  It gives me great comfort knowing that God’s plan includes flowers that bloom only in the dark.

John’s Christmas story says that all who recognize the truth in the Light of Christ are empowered to be children of God.  Paul, in our epistle to the Galatians this morning, says the same thing:  Now that faith has been revealed, he says, we are God’s adopted children and because we are God’s children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts crying, “Abba! Father!”  It’s interesting the way Paul puts it—"as faith revealed.”  It’s as though faith, at its essential core means accepting that we—me, you, everything else—has already received grace upon grace, we’ve already received Life that is the light of all people.  This section of Galatians, by the way, is also part of our every First Sunday after Christmas reading.  Every year, in case we forget, we’ll be reminded to take ownership of our inheritance.

Our poetry continues: 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.

The Word became flesh—earthly, limited, frail, transitory. God, in Jesus, chooses to share our human experience with us.  Just being open to that can surely change the way we see everything.  Our ordinary lives can be experienced as compassionate union with Christ.  God chooses to share in our ordinary selves, our joys, our difficulties; God chooses to share Divine Love.  Done. Divine Love is already part of our very being.

Our poetry ends with John the Baptist reminding us that Jesus came before and Jesus came after, and therefore, Jesus is ahead of us.  John the Baptist, you will recall, is a voice out of the wilderness.  There will always, always be a voice crying from the wilderness to point us toward the Light, to remind us of the Light.  If we pay attention, it will connect us to the rest of the story, to see, and live, the whole story.

What do these voices look like?  Well, Moonflowers for one.  You for another.  You are a voice pointing to the true Light when because of your own wilderness experiences, you show real compassion for one another, real compassion for all of God’s creation.  Martin Luther King called actions like these “unenforceable obligations” because, he said, they are beyond the reach of the laws of society.  They concern inner attitudes, genuine person-to-person relations, and expressions of compassion that law books cannot regulate. . . Such obligations, King says, are met by one’s commitment to an inner law, written on the heart. . . a higher law that produces love.[ii] 

Unenforceable obligations.  Giving voice to Light requires a personal intention that is often costly and uncomfortable.  There seems to be a pattern here that we need to bring to our awareness and keep it there.

Julian of Norwich has been my Spiritual companion this year.  I reflect on her teachings almost every day.  She, like the Gospel of John, brings a fresh perspective to the way I see things.  Some things she brings to my attention, well, I’d rather not look at.  But I do anyway because she causes me to think deeply, and as hard as it is, I find Light in what she asks of me.

In Julian’s Long Text 51, speaking of Adam as all of humanity, she says that because of the true union, which was made in heaven, that when Adam fell, God’s son fell into the Virgin’s womb. [iii]   This image, again, speaks of an awesome compassionate connection with God that cannot be broken.  God, out of Love, willingly enters our human condition, falls with us, and never leaving us, makes us a new creation in relationship with the Divine. [iv]

That’s what the whole Gospel is about: 

Creation, Calls from the Wilderness, and New Light.

Morning Glories, Dark Nights of the Soul, and Moonflowers.

Incarnation, Passion, and Resurrection.

God’s first action was to speak light into darkness.  From the very beginning, there was a plan, a purpose to speak light into darkness.

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.  Our human response to this Light, this Divine Love, is part of God’s plan from the very beginning. 

Clothed with the garments of faith, hope, and love; enfolded into a Divine relationship; blessed with grace and truth enkindled in our hearts--may we, in our ordinary, everyday lives, good times and hard times and everything in between, experience a compassionate and glorious union with Christ.  Out of that relationship, may we give life to our own unenforceable obligations so our actions in the world will continue to speak Light into darkness. 

[i] Psalm 65:8

[ii] Strength to Love, Martin Luther King, Jr., page 28.

[iii] From Julian of Norwich: Revelations of Divine Love, translated by Elizabeth Spearing.

[iv] I feel sure this insight came from The Drawing of This Love: Growing in Faith with Julian of Norwich, Robert Fruehwirth, because I wrote about it in my journal when I was reading this book.  I haven’t found the page number.