Mother Katherine’s sermon preached on Dec. 25, 2021

Posted by on Sat, Dec 25, 2021 in Christmas, Feast Days, Sermons

The Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ

Dec. 25, 2021

John’s opening words are a perfect unadorned simplicity for this holy morning. They stand in near complete contrast to Luke’s story of the Incarnation and somehow both are exactly right, beautifully true. 

Last night I spoke of the action words, the verbs in Luke’s telling, they bring his story close, embellishment drawing us in so we can almost smell the sweet hay, stifling a sneeze. Today’s words are not picturesque, they instead begin to open a door to the mystery and as we read it’s as if the magnitude of it blows the roof right off. Beginning with the very first line of the whole of Torah and scripture is a bold move. John isn’t borrowing it, he’s saying the Incarnation of God is a kind of bookend to the whole of the testament which has gone before. “In the beginning was the Word” closes what went before and says that in the coming of Word made flesh there is a whole new creation.

God dwells with us in an entirely new way—with us, in us, even becoming one of us when our darkness most needed the Light. Humankind’s struggle is ongoing and seemingly endless, God’s coming is even greater, it is eternal and continuous. We need this Light, this Word, every bit as much as John’s world did. We are awed and reassured and restored by the truth that “The light shines on in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

John writes that so many of his own do not recognize or receive him although the invitation is powerfully clear. I wonder if perhaps it is our own darkness we don’t see, mistakenly thinking our situation is entirely of our own making and entirely up to us to fix, like a New Year’s resolution powered only by willpower and not divine intervention. 

We don’t always recognize darkness as it falls around us. Remember playing outside and your dad or mum calling you in because it’s dark? We said of course, “It’s not dark yet, I can still see!” We couldn’t quite see it until we came into the house blinking in the brightness of the light. This has been such a time for so many people; not just the pandemic, also disasters around the world, outbursts of violence, heartbreak as differences divide us, increasing numbers of people without homes or jobs. We cannot honestly say “But it’s not dark yet.” We all know it is, and I don’t mean just metaphorically. Every one of us lives with the forces of pain, suffering, malevolence, evil, disaster, injustice, loss — those things that feel too heavy and impossible to see our way through. And then, the great dawn, “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.” Everyone. Whether we recognize it or not, whether we think we need it or not. This in-breaking of God changes everything if we let it. The Light of the world enters into us and takes up residence, so that we may carry it out into the world with us. Many of you have been bringing light to the shadowy corners of your pre-covid life, making choices to remove or reduce those obstacles which block the light of what is most important, what we most love. Or maybe this incarnation of God’s Word is stirring that anew for you right now.

Our Collect uses two most fitting words for this, adoption and grace. “Grant that we, who have been born again and made your children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by your Holy Spirit.” We have only to recognize  and receive this gift, a gift we are given continuously. That is the freedom of our adoption; it supersedes even our flesh and blood birth by adopting us into the new creation of God in Christ. David Lose asks us to “Note the freedom John imbues this invitation with: Children born not of blood (we will not be subject to the frailties of human flesh forever), or of the will of the flesh (we are more than our desires), or of the will of humans (we will not always be subject to whim and will of others). Rather, we are children of God, restored to God’s intention in creation.”

The Incarnation wasn’t a distant event two millennia back, it is now, it is new every day, every time we glimpse it and recognize it. God’s Word being made flesh doesn’t fully happen outside of us or way back when, and it cannot truly happen without us. I don’t believe “the Word made flesh” is complete in God coming enfleshed as Jesus in a human body, I think God completes that coming when God’s Word is made—in our flesh. When we receive and respond. 

This holy morning we celebrate by being present in gentle awe, feeling filled with joy, singing our praises, and basking in the spiritual light. This is a beautiful part of Christ coming to dwell within us, but only part. The other half is harder – though it lasts longer; letting the mystery of the Light take hold and bring forth our response, a response which transforms us. We aren’t really Christ-bearers, Christians, until we respond. 

One church I served always threw a ‘Birthday party for Baby Jesus” for the children when they finished their pageant. It was their beloved tradition, and even so it missed the biggest part; the coming of the Messiah is not so much his birthday as it is ours. Many adoptive families celebrate the day of their child’s birth and they also celebrate what many call their “Gotcha Day” – because coming into a family, a lifelong relationship, is so very important. Today celebrates both the Messiah’s birth and our own new birth as children of God. As John wrote, “In the beginning…” Life in Christ is our new creation too. Yes it takes active participation, even sacrifice and work. The rewards are exponential. 

One theologian wrote specifically about compassion, though for me his words speak of our whole response to God’s love. “Compassion is the sometimes fatal capacity for feeling what it’s like to live inside somebody else’s skin. It is the knowledge that there can never really be any peace and joy for me until there is peace and joy finally for you too.”

Isaiah wrote about the coming of good news of salvation, news that Our God resigns; “Break forth together into singing, you ruins of Jerusalem; 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.”

The exquisite mystical sense of John’s words are more love song or sonnet than church doctrine. Let’s live into our Communion with God in his poetic mystery today, let the words gently wash over you, touch you, heal and bless you. Last night I quoted from poet Amanda Gorman’s new book, Call Us What We Carry. Af first I included the words thinking of the boisterous glorious noise of a church full of friends, family, and children, all joyful and many seeing each other for the first time in nearly two years. As I read it again this morning I heard it speak into the quiet of this holy morning, and so forgive me repeating it, for (like scripture) it speaks in many ways.

As the world came apart,
We have come together. 
New meaning lapping 
Against us like mooned tides.
Laden with what we’ve lost,
We are led
By what we love.

Amen.

© 2021 The Rev. Katherine Sedwick. All rights reserved. Posted with permission.