Mother Katherine’s sermon preached Dec. 27, 2020

Posted by on Sun, Dec 27, 2020 in Christmas, Sermons

The First Sunday after
Christmas Day

December 27, 2020

On Christmas Eve, we heard the birth of the Jesus story at both services from the gospel of Luke, describing the time and place, the barn, a manger, the babe, parents, shepherds, and angels. On Christmas Day we heard the story of the incarnation from the gospel of John, with none of the above whatsoever. Today — we hear it again, with a a bit added on. This gives time to look further into John’s message, and so today is ‘part two’ for those of you who were here a couple days ago on Christmas morning. Neither is wrong, they simply give us different ways of telling. Luke speaks of an event and John is telling us about the ongoing presence of God with us. We need them both. In one of Richard Rohr’s recent ‘Daily Meditations’ he writes, “Walking through the past year of chaos and despair has been difficult; but, ultimately, it is when everything seems adrift that the spiritual journey becomes both an anchor and a sail.” For me, Luke’s event-based gospel is the anchor, and John’s ongoing way of life gospel is a sail. We do indeed need both. Today we get to explore John’s take.

It’s only about 48 hours since Christmas’ first day (a celebration that continues for 12 days) and yet how many times have you already been asked “Did you have a nice Christmas?” — even if we waited until the 12 days were past, we might still see one another and ask the same question; “How was your Christmas?” We tend to be an event-focused people, and celebrating the birth of Christ each year comes to mind something like a birthday celebration might. We can put it on the calendar, we can look ahead to see what day of the week Christmas will be next year and in 2065. Soon we will begin packing up the ornaments, hauling off the tree, putting away the Christmas cookie recipes. I check the week ahead on my calendar and see it says last Friday ‘was’ Christmas, and my next zoom meeting is on Tuesday. Events go on the calendar so we don’t forget them, because our lives tend to be paced from one event to the next. Our calendars are rarely blank for a whole day, let alone a week – and if it does happen there’s a sense of freedom because “nothing’s going on then.” This is where I’m grateful for John’s perspective on Christmas and how it reaches into our lives.  

He starts his telling with the start of creation, evoking the words of Genesis; “In the beginning when God created …” 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. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. John is speaking of the continuation of the creation story, ongoing in Jesus of Nazareth and in us. God didn’t stop creating after Genesis – creation is continually unfolding and evolving. John sees it ongoing in us as part of that creation. St. Gregory of Nyssa called Christmas “the festival of re-creation.” (My thanks to The Rev. Michael Marsh for noting this.) 

God wants a new creation of relationship with humankind; the incarnation allows God to be seen face to face, to touch and be touched by us, to feel our pain and joy, our grief and delight. To be alive with us always Jesus gives the bread of his body, dies a human death and is resurrected for love of us. “And the word became flesh and lived among us.” Holy and human, becoming as us, that we might become as him — an early Christian church understanding from about 320 C.E. St. Athanasius wrote “God became man so that man might become god.” A sentence often called a brilliant summary of the Gospel; (see section 54:3 from “On the Incarnation” by Athanasius in his early 20s). Perhaps better translated as “Divinity was clothed in humanity so that humanity might clothed in divinity.” This is God’s great gift to us in Christmas. “But 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 of the will of man, but of God.”

We often speak of the community being ‘The Body of Christ’ in that together we are Christ’s presence for others, each bringing and giving the gift they have to offer, being his hands in this world. Again, think back to John’s echoing or pairing with Genesis, with humankind created in God’s image. We are called to carry the presence of God’s love with us, and we see it in each other all the time, even without consciously naming it as such. There’s a wonderful quote from the Talmud; Rabbi Joshua ben Levi said, “A procession of angels go before each person, heralding, ‘Make way for the image of God!’” (Deuteronomy Rabbah, 4:4) It makes me squirm a bit to think of myself this way, but I see it so easily true of others! How do we act if we think we are to be the image of God to someone? Where have you seen it in someone else? If it’s true of us, it is also true of the guy who sings and plays guitar at Sunset Way and Front St, talking even when no one responds. It’s true of the exhausted delivery person, the nurse drawing blood, the teenager pumping gas, the policewoman, the politician, the pediatrician, and the little girl twirling around the store in her princess pajamas. We are all of us created as images of God, even when we don’t much feel like it. 

When we think of it this way, John’s gospel interprets the incarnation as more a way of life than an event. Not a day on the calendar, a way of being. I usually resist our tendency to make nouns into verbs, but maybe instead of asking “How was your Christmas?” we could ask “How is Christmassing going for you?” (It would even be right to ask it in April or August!) In better grammar, “How are you doing with seeing yourself and others in the Word made flesh?” Think of those angels, always going before you, proclaiming you are the image of God. We might even come to say “The Word keeps becoming flesh and lives among us!”

In these twelve days of Christmas and always, I pray your spiritual journey is both an anchor and a sail for you, and that the incarnation is a joyful holy event and a divinely embodied way of life for you. Amen.

© 2020 The Rev. Katherine Sedwick. All rights reserved.

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