St. John's Episcopal Church

Sermon for December 31, 2017 

First Sunday After Christmas

The Rev. Carol Hancock


St. John's, Centreville
December 31, 2017
1st Sunday after Christmas
Isaiah 61; Galatians 3; John 1
     God of new beginnings, meet us where we are in our journey, imperfect as we are, and use us in ways we cannot imagine to make a difference in the world for you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
     Today we come to the end of 2017. Many of us may have made New Year's resolutions - new ways we want be, new ways we want to do things. This is always a good time of year to envision in what ways we want to change our lives. It may be in small ways, such as losing those pesky 10 pounds, or getting more exercise. Or it may be in larger ways like changing careers or going back to school.
     Whatever New Year's resolutions we have made, we look toward the new year with hope and optimism. It's a brand new year and the possibilities are endless. 2018 is a clean slate, a blank calendar.
     Because we have just celebrated Christmas Day when God comes among us in the flesh and blood person of Jesus Christ, it's a hopeful time. Jesus came to save us from sin and death and to show us a better way to live - a way filled with love and forgiveness.
     In our reading from the Letter of Paul to the Galatians, Paul writes that before the birth of Jesus, people lived under the discipline of the law. Over 600 laws that the Jews followed were to keep them accountable, give them guidelines for life. But people could follow all the laws and still not have any change of heart. The laws dictated how to live, but not how to be, not how to live as God's children.
     But the birth of Jesus changed that. In John's gospel that we read, Jesus came as the light of the world, the light that overcomes all the darkness. It's only when the light of Jesus overcomes the darkness that is in each of us, that we can change our lives, that we can have the hope we need.
     Our reading from the Book of Isaiah underscores that hope. The Israelites trusted in God to bring light into their darkness. They were exiled from their land and became slaves in Babylon. They longed to be able to return to their homeland and they struggled to keep that hope alive for their children and grandchildren. Eventually the descendants of the exiles were freed and allowed to return to Judah. The community rejoices that they are able to return home, just as a bride and bridegroom rejoice at their wedding celebration. They are filled with new hope and promise and the start of a new life. After the exiles return, not everything worked out as they had hoped, but their trust was still in God. The temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed as had many of their cities. Things were not the same as they were when they were exiled many generations before. But God's light continued to shine in the darkness of God's reunited people as they rebuilt the temple and the cities they had left.
     One theologian describes hope in this way: " Hope is based on the possibilities of God irrespective of how things are...Hope is grounded in the faithfulness of God and therefore on the effectiveness of God's promise."
     A movie came out in 1999 called "Jakob the Liar" . During World War II in Nazi occupied Poland, poor Jewish cafĂ© owner Jakob, played by Robin Williams', accidentally overhears a forbidden radio news bulletin while he is in the commandants office, declaring Allied military successes against German forces. To fight the incredible depression and suicide throughout the ghetto, Jakob leads people to believe that he has a radio and he tells fictitious news bulletins daily about Allied advances against the Nazis. The hopes of those who were cold and starving and barely surviving in this ghetto were raised. Maybe they could hold on for a few more weeks until the Allies arrived. Hope spread from one person to another as this rumor of a radio spread. Jakob was asked daily, "What's the news today?" "How close are the Allies?" "When will we be freed?" Hope kept the people alive.
     The reality was that Jakob did not have a radio. He didn't know if the Allies were near or not. But his lies gave these devastated people hope. And with hope came a chance for life. In the end, his lie cost him his life, when the Germans heard he had a radio, and he could not convince them that he did not.
     Hope can help us keep going, to envision new ways of living, to entrust our lives to God. When we cross the threshold of hope, old wounds can be healed, and we can see possibilities that we didn't see before, possibilities that God might have for us.
     Hope calls us to consider the new life that God brought forth in Bethlehem, a baby brought into this world by Mary, a young girl, who had the faith to say "yes" to God. This baby was the Son of God, fully human and fully divine. God sent his Son into the world to give us renewed hope, to live among us, to share our experiences, our darkness, our joys and our pain - to be one with us.
     The birth of Jesus changed the world. Jesus taught us how to love one another, how to forgive one another, how to treat one another. The birth of the Christ child gives us renewed hope each year when we celebrate his birth, when we realize God loves us so much that God sent his only Son to redeem us and show us a better way.
     It is very difficult to live without hope - hope in God who loves us, hope that when things are bad that they will get better, hope in a community of faith to love us and lift us up.
     Tomorrow, we begin a new year, a year that is filled with hope and expectation. What will we make of this new year? How will our lives be changed? What new resolutions will we make for our lives? How many of those resolutions will put God at the center?
     May 2018 be filled with faith, hope and love - faith in God, hope for a more peaceful world, and love for one another. Amen.
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