What are the memorable parts of the Christmas story for you? Most people follow Luke’s chapters, with a splash of Matthew folded in. Earthy and holy at the same time – a simple pregnant couple, a journey, sharing a room with livestock, a baby’s birth, angels appear to shepherds, who get religion and go see what is going on, magi following a star. It’s beautifully entertaining – inspiration for carols, anthems and Christmas greeting cards, except for the genealogies and that awful genocide thing.
Today on post-Christmas low Sunday, people are so worn out from shopping, unwrapping presents, stuffing themselves, and travel – they’ll stay home. John lifts us who wonder what happened to the Christmas bump into pre-created realms, where the Word exists, who is with God and is God. All came to being through the Word who becomes flesh to live among us.
People who visit St. Paul’s ask why we have an eagle on the lectern. The eagle symbolizes John the Evangelist – as an eagle would whisk its prey away into the heavens. Greek philosophers wanted to be lifted out of this terrible world. They prefer John to a point. But then John says – “God comes to earth – in human flesh to redeem us now and here.” They are looking to escape, not hear that God would come down to this mess.
Many today still think the spiritual is holy and the world – material, fleshy and decaying is tainted and sinful. Some go into King James English to pray or speak of God, as if old English is more spiritual and attractive to God. John objects – no pretensions needed. God knows how we talk – direct and plain, and God enters the messiness of our existence – not because we are so awful – but because we are so loved. God doesn’t wait for us – God comes to be with us. God is part of this life where we are, as we are – in our passions and desires – to redeem us and guide us, not condemn us; in relationships and experiences – when we create spaces of love and safety for others; at church and out in the world; living God’s mission; when we worship, marry, bury – give birth. God’s grace is everywhere. John begins: “You don’t have to clean yourself up to come to God. God comes to you. You get Jesus – you get God. You are God’s beloved right where you are.” If that news moves you in any way, then go tell those who think they aren’t, “God’s come to love you, too,” one day redeeming our darkness, fear, death and brokenness. It’s already begun. God brings the light of eternal love to us in a lowly child humbly born. That child grows up, suffers and dies not to make God love us, but to show us how much God already loves us. Luke and Matthew give us a story. John, though, tells us what God is doing behind the scenes. God is no longer an idea to be accepted or rejected, but a human being in whom we connect personally and experience relationally. Actually, that’s what God’s after from the beginning to be with and in his creation. Now God gives us an earthly face and heart we can get to know, if we will.
An attractive, tall woman shows up to join a church choir. In a deep voice, she says: “My name is Gloria and I sing bass.” “Great, we can use you.” She adds: “You know I am a trannie.” For those who may not be familiar – that means a cross-dresser. “Yes, Gloria, a woman who sings bass is unusual.” Gloria joins and sings – though none too well. She attracts her friends to church, too. They are – well, a bit different. Soon a petition started to get her removed from the choir: “She’s a distraction. We can’t focus on prayer, worship or the holiness of the sacrament with people like that present.” The church council meets to vote on whether she should be asked to leave. At the meeting, the pastor speaks: “You know John says that Jesus came to live among us. People didn’t receive him well either. Yet the light of divine love continually overcomes darkness. As confused as Gloria may be, do you think Jesus is so put off with her messiness – he’d want us to tell some guy and his friends, whom he died for – leave? I’ve never read we have to get our acts together for God to be in the sacraments anyway. We get the sacraments to receive God who us all. I could be wrong though. Go ahead. Vote.” Gloria stayed.
Some months later, Gloria tells the pastor his wife is dying of cancer, and he’s got to face some issues. They don’t see Gloria for some months. One day a man shows up and when he speaks, the pastor realizes that Gordon is Gloria. He’s come to say goodbye. He’s going home to care for his wife and family. Some time passes, and a letter arrives for the parish. Gordon requests it be read to the church. “Last night at home, my wife died peacefully from cancer. After the funeral home people left with her body, I tucked my boys to bed, and I realized, I would not be here if it weren’t for your goodness. I know it must not have been easy to seat a cross-dresser in your choir. But you believed in me when I didn’t know who I was or what I needed. Who would have guessed singing in that choir would eventually lead me back – to a wife who reconciled and forgave me, giving back two boys to their dad because they’d done nothing to deserve being orphans. I often heard you preach and sing about ‘amazing grace.’ Never stop. I am a witness to its power. What I have found is that amazing grace says it doesn’t matter where you start. It matters where God’s love finishes it.”
In the beginning was the Word that became flesh to show us how much God loves and wants us all. None of us have seen God, says John. I think he’s right – not until Jesus came. In Jesus we see the Father’s glory – and light still overcomes darkness. You do believe that – right? God will stop at nothing to be part of our lives – to make us part of his – that’s the meaning of Christmas.
Thank you, John and the Holy Spirit. You make it clear enough for us to grasp. Help us get it – and live in and with the light, coming this world’s confusion and darkness every day.