A Sermon For Year C, Christmas 1
Copyright © 2010 Nathan L. Bostian
Based on Galatians 3:23-25;4:4-7 and John 1:1-18
I want to begin by congratulating us. In the last few weeks, most of us in this place have made our shopping lists, and checked them twice. We have figured out who was naughty, and who was in fact nice.
We have licked envelopes until our tongues tasted like glue. We have wrapped presents, tied bows, and endured paper cuts innumerable.
We have listened to approximately 237 hours of Christmas music, watched three versions of Dicken's Christmas Carol, and seen "It's a Wonderful life" 2.4 times.
We have been to more Christmas parties than we can count, eaten more cookies and pies than we should have, and realized that 7% of our body mass is now made up entirely of Turkey and Dressing.
And now, instead of spending this hour writing thank you cards, or taking out garbage cans full of wrapping paper and gift boxes, or figuring out where to put up all our new presents, we are here.
We have made it though a lot to be here today. A lot of people. A lot of activities. A lot of family drama. So let us all take one, big, deep breath.
You are here. In the Lord's House. To worship.
In the midst of doing, doing, doing, you have come here to just "be". To just "be" in the presence of the Lord. You are not just a human doing. You are a human being.
So, take another deep breath and just "be".
Look around you. Look at the altar. Look at the cross. Look at the stained glass. And as you look, remember WHY you are here.
And just "be".
Listen for a moment. After a holiday full of noise, full of joy, full of drama: Listen to the silence [pause].
And just "be".
Why are you in this place today? Why did you come here? What are you seeking?
This place is a refuge from the hustle and bustle of the world all around us. It is not only a sanctuary in the religious sense, but it is a sanctuary in the fullest sense: It is a safe place to retreat from the craziness of life.
It is a safe harbor from the hurricane of endless activity and deadlines and decisions that swirls all around our daily lives.
It is a place to reconnect with WHY we exist, WHO we really are, and WHO we really belong to.
That is why I am here. To reconnect. To just "be" in the presence of God. To re-center myself upon the One who is the Center, the Source, and the Purpose of all existence.
And it is because of this that I believe the Gospel reading for this Sunday after Christmas is perfect. Every year, it is the same reading: The beginning of the Gospel of John. The Story of the Word of God who became one of us.
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… And the Word became flesh and lived among us."
Now, like translating any language into English, this reading looses a little in the translation. Because the Greek word "Logos", which we translate as "Word", does not fit neatly into our language.
Logos can mean many things, depending on the context it is used in:
If Logos were used in reference to a building or a work of art, it would be the essential shape that makes the thing what it is.
If Logos were used in reference to a Story or a Drama, it would be the Plot or Purpose that drives the Storyline to its completion.
If Logos were used in reference to a song or symphony, it would be the musical score that tells all the instruments how to converge and diverge to create beautiful music.
And yet, this Logos, this Word of God, is still more than the Purpose and Plot of our existence. These are still abstract and impersonal. They miss the full translation.
Another way to get at it would be this: Let's say you come to me and need me to help you somehow, and it's really important, and if I can't help you, then you will be in a real tight spot.
Then I look at you right in the eyes and say "Don't worry. I give you my WORD. I will be there for you."
That gets at the personal side of what John is saying here when he talks about Jesus being the Word of God. Because when I give you my Word, I am not just saying "yes". I am not just giving you a promise. I am giving you myself. I am saying "Trust in me. I will be here for you".
So, this beginning of John turns out to be saying something revolutionary, something that had never happened before on the world stage.
Because, on one hand, John agrees with most cultures and religions and philosophies across history. Most people have some sense that our world is created by a creative "Word": That there is a Purpose, a Plot, a Meaning behind our existence that guides our lives, and our history, to a goal.
That is not a very revolutionary idea in itself. But what John does that is revolutionary is to say that THIS Word has come to us, and become one of us. In Jesus, God has looked us straight in the eye, and said "Don't worry. I give you my WORD. I will be there for you."
History is littered with the assumption that humans must struggle and strive and work to attain that Purpose that is "out there", somewhere beyond us, as something abstract and unattainable.
But John makes the incredible leap of faith to the idea that this Purpose has not stayed "out there". Instead, that Purpose has given us a promise in Christ. That Meaning has given us Himself in Jesus. That Word has said "Trust in me. I will be here for you".
John says that God has given Godself to us, to be seen by us, to be known by us, to be touched by us, in Christ Jesus.
I supposed if God had wanted to make Godself known to ants, God would have become an ant. Or if God wanted to be known by dogs, God would have become a dog. And who knows, perhaps God did do just that, and we haven't found out yet.
But we do know that God has made humans in God's own image to Love God and be Loved by Him, to know God and make God known.
And so, after God had prepared humanity for his arrival through Ages and Stages, by sending Prophets and Sages, God became human to be KNOWN by humans.
That is what John is getting at by saying that "The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ."
The Law is the preparation. It is the set of instructions to clean the house to prepare for holiday guests. First you clean the bathroom, then the kitchen, then the bedrooms, then the living room, and so forth. After that, you are ready for your company to come.
Moses and the whole Tradition of the Jewish Law was a preparation for our Christmas Guest: The God made flesh. This Law taught us to put God first, to not confuse idols with the Real thing, to make space and time to worship God, to treat other people with justice, dignity, and Love.
And not only was the Jewish Law a preparation for the coming of God in Christ, but many cultures have been a preparation for Christ as well.
Early Christian teachers, like Justin the Martyr, taught that Greek and Roman cultures prepared the Gentiles for Christ, in the same way that the Jewish Law prepared Jews for Christ.
Many cultures, many belief systems, give us a "Law" which is fulfilled in Jesus. They teach us that there is a Purpose and a Meaning guiding All Reality; They teach us to avoid idols and illusions which masquerade as God; They teach us about Love and Justice and the dignity of human life.
But they are all incomplete. All miss the mark. All fall short. Whether it is the Hebrew Law, or Greek philosophy, or another worldview: The best they can be is a preparation for our Guest.
Grace and Truth, God in human form, comes in its fullest in Christ. In Christ, God doesn't just give us another Law. He looks us in the eye and gives us His Word.
And that is why this reading comes at the perfect time of year every year.
Every year, we enter into a month-long period of intense activity that runs from Thanksgiving to Christmas.
Every year, we run ourselves ragged by doing, doing, doing, and we desperately need a place to just "be".
Every year, we finish Christmas exhausted, and we desperately need a time to rest, reflect and re-assess our lives: WHY we are we here? WHO are we? WHO do we really belong to?
And every year, we are confronted with the fact that the Purpose of our lives, the "Why" of our existence, has sought us, and found us, and is present to us in Jesus Christ.
In fact, in our society, it is almost as if we purposely re-live the struggle between the Law and Faith that Paul speaks of in our reading from Galatians today.
Think about it: Every year, summer ends, and the activity ramps up. This is especially true of families with kids in school, but it is also true of anyone who lives around friends or family with kids in school.
Which is just about all of us.
And so, as the fall semester begins, we plunge into activity after activity, and event after event. We live our lives by our appointment calendars and our to-do lists.
These calendars and lists tell us what must be done, who must be seen, where we must go, and when to be there.
Each kid, each job, each organization in our lives has their own calendar, their own list. And these lists and calendars fight with each other for dominance.
What will win? Family time or the project at the office? Do we go to Sally's ballet recital, or Billy's soccer tournament? Will I spend time helping with the school project, or completing the spreadsheet for the presentation?
And then, as fall turns into winter, a new set of calendars and lists are imposed on us. What are the Thanksgiving plans? When do we schedule the Christmas parties? What does everyone want for Christmas? How can we possibly find enough time and money to buy gifts?
And all of the lists and calendars crescendo into a symphony of controlled chaos on Christmas, when Christ finally arrives.
And afterward, finally, all is calm again. There is rest. The presents and the parties and the calendars and the lists are finally done. If only for a few days. There is rest.
You know what all these calendars and lists and requirements and activities sound like to me? They sound a lot like what the Bible calls "Law".
And this cycle of chaotic activity finally leading to rest in Christ: It sounds a lot like what Paul describes when he says:
"Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith."
Do you sometimes feel imprisoned by all the activities and requirements in your life? I do.
Do you sometimes look at your appointment calendar and to-do lists as a disciplinarian who sternly guards your life? I do too.
Do you yearn to reconnect with the real Purpose and Meaning for your life, to find that Faith that has been left behind, somewhere in the clutter and chaos of everyday life? I do too.
When Paul uses the word "justified", it means to be put back into a right relationship, a right standing with God.
And that right relationship is not one where we are slaves, endlessly toiling for a harsh boss, who will never be happy with our hard work. That right relationship is not one in which we check our to-do list to see if we have done everything to please God.
Rather, that right relationship is that of children, who are held close by our Father's embrace. It is a relationship where we freely, without shame, call God our Abba, our Father, our Daddy. That is what it means to be justified before God.
So, in the calm and peace of this first Sunday after Christmas, I call upon us to realize that our struggle with the Law is over. I call upon us all to embrace God as our Daddy once more.
In this place, at this time, we are free from lists and calendars and activities. We are free to just "be" with our God.
I call upon us to be silent, to rest in God's Love, and to realize that the Meaning of Life has become flesh. In Him, God has looked us in the eye and given us His Word:
"I will never leave you or forsake you. I am yours forever."