Sunday, December 27, 2015

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Christmas 1-C 1 Sunday, December 27, 2015

Isaiah 61:10—62:3 Galatians 3:23-25; 4:4-7 John 1:1-18 Today’s gospel reading is one of the most beautiful passages in all of scripture. “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” It is both poetic and deeply philosophical. And a little abstract. Abstractions – like the ones we find in poetry – often reach us in ways that pure linear thought cannot. Poetry can temporarily tie up our minds with strange or rhythmic word usage or with strange analogies so that the poet’s deeper message can seep into a deeper part of us. Sometimes for us to “get” something, it has to by-pass our always-evaluating minds. The rather abstract opening to the Gospel of John tells the same story we heard on Thursday night, Christmas Eve. It is the story of birth. But John is a theologian and a mystic, so he writes less about the details of the birth: that it was in Bethlehem; in a stable; with shepherds nearby, and so on. John’s account is less about the historical details of the birth of Jesus and more about the meaning of the birth of Christ. He unapologetically links his account of the birth of Christ with Genesis – the first book of the Bible. It, too, starts out with poetic, philosophical words: “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth.” I hear a suggestion from Gospel-writer John that the two great God-events of the universe are really one: Creation and Incarnation. The Incarnation, or Christmas, really began with Genesis, in the beginning, when all things were made. Evoking the poetry of Genesis, John talks about the Word. He says, "The Word was with God and the Word was God." And then he tells the Christmas story in nine words: And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us. He makes this dramatic statement – that the eternal, endless God has been incarnated as Human and come into the created world. It is a bold assertion. The other gospel writers don't go this far. But it is important that we do so this first Sunday after Christmas. Otherwise Christmas is little more than an elaborate church festival that has gained popularity all over the world. I read this past weekend that even Muslims in the Arab world dress up like Santa Claus, have decorated trees in their houses and otherwise celebrate Christmas! The Gospel writers Matthew, Mark and Luke talk in these terms: Messiah; Savior; Lord. Matthew mentions another term: "Emmanuel." It means "God is with us." But Matthew and the people of his day understood Emmanuel – "God is with us" — to mean: "God is on our side." If Matthew had been from Denver then “Emmanuel” would have meant God is a Broncos fan. The Jews who eagerly awaited a Messiah most likely did not/could not understand the name Emmanuel to mean "God has become one of us."

Church of the Nativity, 2175 Broadway, Grand Junction 81507…………………………….. Rev. Nature Johnston

Christmas 1-C 2 Sunday, December 27, 2015

And before John gets to his nine-word description of Christmas – and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us – he has a lot to say about light. Without yet mentioning him by name, he says Jesus Christ is "the light of all people" and that "the light shines in the darkness" and the darkness could not extinguish it. Once again, John is following the book of Genesis. The very first thing to be created in Genesis was light. So John mentions light no less than five times in his first chapter. He’ll go on to mention it ten more times throughout his gospel, quoting Jesus in some of his most memorable sayings:

“I am the light of the world.” “Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” "I have come as light into the world, so that everyone who believes in me should not remain in the darkness." We know about darkness. There is the long, sad night of grief when we’ve lost a loved one. Perhaps that one died. Perhaps that one moved out of town and out of our life. There is the darkness that comes upon us as specific episodes in our lives. Once, before I went to seminary, I endured a protracted period of unemployment. I just couldn’t catch a break. No job; no income. I was living off credit cards and beginning to question my worth as someone who could even have a job again. I was beginning to slide into depression. That was a dark time. I’m aware now of another kind of darkness. It’s what we may experience when we watch someone else go through a hard time. Someone we care about may be in a protracted period of unemployment or illness. Or perhaps that one may be the primary care-giver for someone else going through illness or permanent decline. Twentieth century British poet and mystic Caryll Houselander once was discovered by a friend lying on her back, on the ground, in a shed. The friend asked, “Caryll, are you ill?” “No,” replied the poet. “But a friend of mine is going through a fierce temptation and I must suffer with her.” That’s worth pondering in that poetic way that doesn’t make any sense to the linear mind. What it says to me is that this second-hand darkness – that of watching another go through a protracted difficulty – calls for a special kind of light from me. It calls me to remain caring without rescuing because some life episodes are beyond my ability to rescue or fix another. It calls me to remain attentive without judging, because it’s so easy to second-guess the decisions others are making in their time of darkness. It calls me to remain as the one who offers hope, and encouragement; not despair and doubt.

Church of the Nativity, 2175 Broadway, Grand Junction 81507…………………………….. Rev. Nature Johnston

Christmas 1-C 3 Sunday, December 27, 2015

What John says about Christmas in his gospel is that a new light has begun to shine. Perhaps the reason he uses the light image so often is because he wants us to know that not only is Christ the light of the world, Christ is many different kinds of light. Maybe you’re someone who experiences the light of Christ when you receive. I had the opportunity to receive the gift of music last night at a concert by New Age/Jazz pianist George Winston. I received that music. Maybe you’re someone who experiences the light of Christ when you create that which is given. Maybe you experience this light when you give. Possibly we all fit in all three categories. At Christmas, we can experience all three: we can receive, create; give. We can explore; experience; understand the many ways Christ is the light of the world. He is many points of light. We’ll hear that notion reinforced in a few minutes in our Eucharistic prayer: “Open our eyes to see your hand at work in the world about us” in many different ways. In the last few words we hear from John today there is an amazing tenderness. He says, "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." That's exactingly where Christ wants to take us, if we're willing: to the very heart of God. Amen.

Church of the Nativity, 2175 Broadway, Grand Junction 81507…………………………….. Rev. Nature Johnston