Sunday, January 1, 2017

And the word became flesh

Scripture Lessons: Isaiah 52: 7-10 and John 1: 1-14 Sermon title: And the word became flesh Preached on December 25th, 2016 What I just read as our Second Scripture Lesson, is the Gospel of John’s version of the Christmas Story. Last night I read Luke’s which told of the shepherds visiting baby Jesus in the manger. Next Sunday I’ll read about the Three Kings, but John’s account is different. In John’s account, there is no manger, no shepherds, no wise men, no angel, no pregnant Mary, no worried Joseph, no baby Jesus and no Santa Clause. What there is instead is the light and the darkness. This light has been shining since the beginning – since before the earth was called forth from the void, since before the mountains called up from the deep, since that time before life dawned and long before we humans were granted dominion. In those passing eons, despite the heat of summer and the cold of winter, despite death and war, extinction and holocaust, this light never went out, but shown through all that darkness. What there is in John’s Christmas story is light and darkness, so while this Christmas story is not the one that we remember around the Christmas tree or in the nativity scene, it is an account worth thinking of today, because through the years, just as is true today, the darkness was strong, but the light shined in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. As much as I love the manger, the shepherds, wise men, angels, pregnant mother Mary, worried Joseph, the precious baby Jesus and even jolly Santa Clause, as I read John I put all that aside for just a moment to consider light and darkness. First darkness. We don’t want to give darkness much attention during days like today, but it’s still there. To some, there’s no avoiding it. What’s so obvious is who is missing this Christmas. To others, what they see in all the hustle and bustle of shopping is also stress and anxiety, worry and debt, the ranting of racists in the checkout line. Even at the Christmas market in Germany – even there – was death and tragedy because there is darkness in the world even at Christmas. Not everyone gets to come home. Soldiers are still at war. Prisoners are still incarcerated. For many, work never ceases. There is darkness in this world – even at Christmas – but here’s the perspective that the Christmas Story in the Gospel of John brings – the darkness is there – yes it is and it has always been so – but the light shines in the darkness – and we are here today to gather around the light that shines in the darkness – remembering again this bright light that will never go out. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” For years – since I was young – that imagine captured me. My best friend Matt Buchanan and I would talk about it, and we didn’t talk about Scripture much, in fact most of the time what we were talking about was far removed from Scripture – and as we grew up and I went off to college and then seminary, Matt stayed home and wandered some. For some time, he fought addiction and when he didn’t make it to my wedding I started to fear that I’d lost him completely. But I didn’t. And not long ago this was the passage that I read at his wedding, for despite all the wandering he found his way home. \ Despite the addiction, he found freedom. Despite the darkness – the light shined and the darkness did not overcome it. This same image has ancient roots in the history of God’s people. Yesterday, for our Jewish brothers and sisters, began the celebration of Chanukah, also known as the festival of lights. This is the eight-day festival when one candle on the menorah is lit each night, remembering that during the time of Greek occupation, when only a one-day supply of oil had escaped contamination, that one day supply lasted eight and so the light in the Holy Temple never went out. That is the promise of God, is it not? God doesn’t promise that life will be free from suffering or hardship. God never said that this life would be easy – but what God did promise, again and again, is that “I will be with you,” and so when the God of Scripture took human form, when the Word of God became flesh and lived among us, he told his disciples that “I will be with you, even to the end of the age.” And we remember this, and we testify to this, knowing that even as our friend Allen Richardson lay dying in his home last week, exhausted and ready to rest, still he told his wife Cherri to leave the back porch light on and the front gate open should anyone else want to come and visit, because even as he walked through the valley of the shadow of death, in his heart there was still compassion. The light sines in the darkness. So even in the tide of asking for more and more, eating more and more, wanting more and more, having rung those bells for the Salvation Army outside Kroger I’ve seen that amid all of that still men and women stop and put money in the bucket – mindful not only of themselves. And for some reason, it was those who I assumed had the least because of their dress and the small contents of their cart, who gave the most – and in them I could see the light shining. I love Christmas. I love the lights on the houses, and I don’t even worry that I see the Grinch and Charlie Brown in the front yards of neighbors far more than I see the baby Jesus. Christians rant and worry about who has taken Christ out of Christmas to such a degree that shouting out “Merry Christmas” is like a political declaration, but here’s the thing – there has always been darkness – the Roman Empire waged a true war on Christmas, so the question then as it is now is this: having witnessed Jesus, the word made flesh, the promise of God incarnate, the very light that shines – will you let this light shine in your life so that Christ could no more be ripped from Christmas than your beating heart could be ripped from your chest? Can you testify to the light that we see burning so bright with an untouchable joy – will your hope shines in hopelessness – will you remember the everlasting life that will not be confined to the tomb – will this freedom that no tyranny can erase live today and tomorrow and in all the darkness of the coming year? Will your life testify to the light that shines so brightly that even the darkness cannot take it away? On the first Christmas, so many years ago, in the dark of night, after seeing the baby Jesus: The shepherds returned to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The Three Kings left for their own country by another road – so how will you go back out into the world having heard and seen and known this light? “Listen! Your sentinels lift their voices, together they sing for joy; for in plain sight they see the return of the Lord to Zion. Break forth together into singing, for the Lord has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem. And all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.”

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