I was down and out with flu-like symptoms on Sunday, so this sermon didn’t get preached. My friend Evan wonders if I was predestined to not preach this sermon. Either way, here it is, you can choose whether or not it should be read.
One of the great things about being a part of a liturgical tradition is the orderliness that comes with the seasons of the Church year. We, liturgical Christians: Episcopalians, Roman Catholics, Lutherans, etc.; tend find that our corporate religious life makes more sense when viewed not as a never ending series of one-off-Sundays in total isolation from everything else, but as parts of the larger progression of the seasons: the expectation of Advent leading to the joy of Christmas, the Magi in the Nativity scene open the door to the Epiphany, which leads us to contemplate our need for a savior during Lent, that becomes the pure joy of salvation throughout Easter, and a series of lessons on what it means to be a disciple of Jesus through Pentecost. Each Sunday builds, on atop the next, into a powerful year-long process of discipleship. So, as we gather this morning, the 29th of December, we are still very much celebrating the joy of Christmas. While our neighbors are already taking down their lights, have heaved their tree to the curb, and begun the national celebration of Capitol One Bowl Week, we get to sing those classic Christmas carols that we’ve been reluctantly holding out for. Lucky us, we even get a Second Sunday after Christmas this year, so we’ll get to do it all again next week.
To me, there is something so helpful about waking up each morning knowing it is still Christmas. I find it less helpful in about the 20th week of Pentecost, but that’s a sermon for another day. Every day of the year, I know what life is about: be it celebrating the birth of the Messiah in Christmas or focusing on how my sinfulness keeps me from living fully into God’s dream for me during Lent. Every day of the year, I get to start fresh with whatever celebration is going on. Every day, I get to join in with God’s work renewed and refreshed. Like the old hymn says, “Great is thy faithfulness! Morning by morning new mercies I see; All I have needed Thy hand hath provided – Great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!”
And so, here we are, on the fifth day of Christmas and the First Sunday after Christmas. The gift we get today isn’t five golden rings, but rather, the Prologue to John’s Gospel – eighteen verses of some of the most beautiful and profound poetry in existence. Each of the four Gospel’s has their way of introducing us to Jesus: for Mark, he’s a grown man who has come to the Jordan River to be baptized by John; in Matthew, he’s the long awaited descendant of Father Abraham and King David; we all know Luke’s grand story of angels, shepherds, and swaddling clothes; and then there is John.
John first introduces us not to Jesus, but to the Word of God who has been around since before the beginning. We find out from John that this Jesus character is much more than a baby born in stable, but is the very utterance of God’s creation. When God said, “let there be light,” Jesus was there making it so. When God said, “let us make humankind in our own image,” Jesus stitched together sinews and flesh. As God’s creative work continued, the Word was there. In particular, John’s poem brings forth echoes of the story of Moses and the Hebrews one month after they had left Egypt. As they journeyed away from Elim toward Mount Sinai, the people began to grumble, murmur, and complain. “Oh, that we were back in Egypt,” they moaned. “It would have been better if the LORD had killed us there! At least there we had plenty to eat. But now you have brought us into this desert to starve us to death.
And the Lord said, “I have heard the people’s complaints. Now tell them, ‘In the evening you will have meat to eat, and in the morning you will be filled with bread. Then you will know that I am the LORD your God.’” And Jesus, the divine Word of God, was there, providing the quail and the manna, as much as was needed for each person each day. Every day, the Hebrews woke up and gathered enough bread to sustain them for a day: no more, no less; they each received precisely enough for the day.
It’s no surprise then that as John introduces us to Jesus as the Creative Word of God, that he borrows the image of the divine Word providing enough manna for each day and assures us that when this Word took on flesh and blood, he would provide, from his fullness, grace upon grace. Using an almost extinct Greek idiom, John subtly tells his readers that what Jesus offers is like new manna replacing the old manna each morning; it is enough grace to sustain us for today’s work, today’s joys, and today’s sorrows.
This grace, specifically portioned each morning for each human being on earth, isn’t the gift of a divine Santa Claus who will bring us everything we want, however. No, this grace is the gift of God that makes us able to recognize our very special status as children of God. If you can take your mind all the way back to last Sunday, through all the food, drink, and wrapping paper, you’ll remember that Joseph received this gift of grace as the Angel called him by name, Joseph Son of David. As Keith said, he wasn’t “Joseph the loser” or “Joseph the victim of circumstances,” but instead he was Joseph, beloved of God and royal decedent of Israel’s greatest king. Joseph received an extra portion of grace on that long, cold night. Grace enough to remember who he was and whose he was.
Jesus, the Word of God, took on flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood to remind each of us of God’s great love for us. He came so that we might become inheritors of the kingdom. He came to make us his brothers and sisters; beloved children of God. Of course, that’s where the hard work begins. To paraphrase our collect for today, “the light of the incarnate Word that is enkindled in our hearts, is supposed to also shine forth in our lives.” Or, as a great meme that went through Facebook a few weeks ago said, “You claim to be a child of God. Now act like it!”
The good news is that we have the example of the Word made flesh to follow. As the year unfolds we’ll hear tale of many wondrous and marvelous works. He’ll reach out in compassion to touch and heal lepers. He’ll violate silly man-made rules and heal a man on the Sabbath day. He’ll talk about the Kingdom of God and how it is like a rare pearl or a fisher’s net. He’ll teach us to love beyond measure, to share without reservation, and to hope even in the midst of despair. In short, he’ll show us what it means to be a child of God – how we can let the light of Christ shine through us. Stick with us throughout the year, beloved children of God, the story is just beginning. Amen.