St. John's, Centreville
December 30, 2018
First Sunday after Christmas
Now may the God who brightened the night skies over Bethlehem, filled the shepherd's hearts with mysteries, and transformed a stable into a thing of immortal beauty, brighten our skies, fill our hearts with mystery and transform our lives forever. Amen.
Well, Christmas is over and it looks like we have all survived. Some of us have already hit the post-Christmas sag. After the anticipation and excitement of Christmas, after all the shopping and wrapping presents and sending Christmas cards and visiting relatives, it's all over. And now for many of us, it's time to get back to work, time to get back to the mundane details, time to clean up the house, write the thank you notes and take down the tree. It's December 30 and Christmas is over.......or is it?
Christmas Day, December 25 is over, that is true. But the work of Christmas has just begun. Christmas is more than a day in December. The season of Christmas lasts 12 days, until Epiphany, which is next Sunday, January 6. Christmas is not just the historical event of a birth in Bethlehem, but the faith of God's presence with us.
The prologue of the gospel of John, which we have just read, gives us a different look at the nativity than the gospels of Matthew and Luke. In John, there is no baby lying in a manger. There is no mention of Mary and Joseph traveling to Bethlehem. There are no angels, no shepherds, no star. John does not give us an historical account of the birth of Jesus. Instead, he gives us a confession of faith about the incarnation of God, of God coming among us in the person of Jesus Christ. John is more concerned about the beliefs about Jesus and what Jesus tells us about God.
"And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as a father's only Son, full of grace and truth." God became flesh, a living, breathing human being and lived among us in the person of Jesus, fully human and fully divine. Jesus came to show us what God is like, to reveal God to us, because Jesus is God.
The candles that we have in church, the candles that we give to someone who has just been baptized, represent Jesus as the light of the world. In our lesson from John, we heard, "The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it." We know and see a lot of the darkness that is in the world - wars, terrorism, hatred, discrimination. Some of us may be carrying heavy burdens within us, such as illness, or loneliness or depression or anxiety or fear.
But Jesus is the light of the world and is more powerful than any darkness within us or outside us. Jesus can shine light into the dark corners of our lives and can overcome that darkness and the fear that goes with it. We need to ask ourselves, "What's going on in our lives that needs the light of Jesus?"
But even though Jesus was betrayed and killed by human hands, the light did not go out. The love of God persisted and prevailed. And that is where we find our hope - in God's love for us. We may give up on God but God never gives up on us. It is God's love that surrounds us and holds us and lifts us up, even when we are in the midst of despair.
Christmas is not a one day celebration but a life-changing event. The birth of the Son of God can change our lives and can change the world. But we must open our hearts and minds to the presence of the living God. It is our responsibility to spread God's love and peace to others; to help the sick, the poor, the hungry, the homeless and the lost.
Howard Thurman, one of the great preachers of our time, wrote these words about Christmas:
When the song of the angels is stilled; When the star in the sky is gone;
When the kings and princes are home with their flock; the work of Christmas begins.
To find the lost, to heal the broken, to feed the hungry, to release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations, to bring peace among all, to make music in the heart.
It is easy to feel God's love and presence when we are gathered in church on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. It is harder to radiate God's love when we are back in the classroom or the office or in our homes, back in the ordinary and mundane activities of life.
Christmas is not over and will not be over until lives are changed, the world is changed and we have become one with God. Our task now is to take God and the love God so freely gave us in the birth of God's Son Jesus Christ in that lowly stable....to take that love into the world, reflecting God's image in our lives so that all will know God's love for us.
How do we reflect God's image? By how we treat each other. By giving of our time and talent to those in need; by acknowledging those whom others may call worthless; by respecting the dignity of every human being; to work for justice and freedom for all people. That is how we show God's love to others.
God became flesh and lived among us in the person of Jesus. God did this because of God's love for us. God gave the law through Moses, laws that would help people follow God. But then Jesus came to write those laws upon our hearts, to be in relationship with us, to show God's love for us, to be an example for us. Loving God and others cannot be done just by following the letter of the laws. It must come from the heart, from our relationship with God, our relationship with each other. Jesus came to show us how to live better and to have a relationship with God. Through the incarnation of Jesus Christ, that happened, and continues to happen every time we let God into our hearts.
So let us now begin the work of Christmas - to find the lost, heal the broken, feed the hungry, house the homeless, bring peace to all and spread life-changing love of God throughout the world. Amen.