The Rev. Dr. C. Steven Teague, Rector
First Sunday after Christmas
New Testament scholars think today’s gospel reading is St. John’s attempt at a Christmas story – maybe an antidote to Luke or Matthew. Honestly, Luke is more down to earth and memorable. John is esoteric and abstract. Luke makes good Christmas pageants. John’s take sounds more like the new Star Wars movie: “In the beginning…In a galaxy far, far away,” with John Williams’ stirring orchestra in the background.
John serves up a philosophical and metaphysical stew: mysticism, pre-existence, light and darkness, ignorance and rejection, conflict, the Force Awakens. To all who accept and believe the Word, Jesus, they receive light and God’s glory. But not all will see it. Have you? Don’t give up if you haven’t. Ann Weems, poet, writes: “Each year the child is born again. Each year some new heart finally hears, finally sees, finally knows love. Keep looking and waiting.” She’s right – never give up. God doesn’t give up on us.
John takes us beyond the long, labored genealogies of Luke and Matthew and into the mists of creation. For John Christmas is a battle, not a birth. Light shines in darkness – exposes what’s there. Some don’t want to see or have their darkness exposed. Yet as much as darkness tries to win, light prevails. That’s the story of the cross. Everyone goes home thinking that’s it. Jesus is finished. By Sunday morning, the story takes a wild turn. God wins. Certainly, battles still rage, and darkness still nips at our heels, and will continue, but the outcome is decisive and revealed. Sadly, some still won’t believe God has come to love us and is for us in Jesus. Maybe this will be the year your heart will be overtaken by divine love, if it’s not already, or has a way to go.
John invites us to bring our stories into this story. The Word enters the world that came into being through him – to his own, who receive him, or not. That choice stands before us, too and draws us as participants in John’s story. My friend Dr. Willimon says what God wants to do for us is strange. God is a stranger we hardly know. In John’s Christmas we are receivers before we are givers. That’s hard. We prefer to be in control. That’s what givers do. They have power to decide who gets what they wish to give. With God, first we are receivers – accepting God’s light, see and accept ourselves as we really are – “empty-handed recipients of a gracious God” who hands us of all things, a baby.
It’s a journey that begins in baptism. We humbly receive what God has already done for us. Does baptism suddenly make you a child of God? No – we affirm what God has done and is doing. God, in creating you, made you his child. In baptism and confirmation we say, “Yes, we receive you” in a strange ritual we don’t fully understand. Light is overcoming darkness. Then we are empowered to give – our love to God and others.
How would someone reject the Word? Well, people fail to act on what they receive of God, and thus deny the Word’s reign in our lives. God creates us as beings of light, love and forgiveness for the world. As God’s children light shines in how we live, our values, how we treat others. We receive, grow and mature into this relationship with God in Jesus. That’s why we, God’s children, the church promises we are here to help you get this. We’re in this together. We’re here to support Harper be formed in God’s love through us. We make such commitments as God’s people, St. Paul’s Church, when we baptize infants, adults, everyone. John wants us to know we either show forth his light, love and presence in our lives, our days, to each person we encounter – or we don’t.
I was newly employed as a minister. One day I ran into a woman who recently had visited the church. I asked her about her visit. She tells me she spotted someone there who had demeaned and embarrassed her, a married man who came on to her. She did not want to be part of a church whose members act that way. I was mad and sad. How dare a Christian behave this way! She didn’t name names, which was good. I was young and too immature to handle such pastorally – not as much with that man, as myself. I would have told him he is no child of God. How dare I say that. Through the years, I humbly realize I do not always act like one either, and need to remember that before I unleash my words. We are all at different places in our journeys. I learned I can’t fix others – only myself. Only God’s grace, love and forgiveness fix us. Light overcomes our darkness. We’re not the source of light, only reflectors. Sometimes I think I get it, or am getting closer. Other times I miss the mark. I try to remember, “It’s not about me, but God – and what God has done.” God loves me anyway, and when I receive that and it changes me, I can give that love to others.
John says you and I have come into being – through the Word. That gives us all the potential to point to, even bear divine light. So some days if you see more darkness in me than light, just remind me – the darkness doesn’t win out. God does. That’s how God is forever with us, you know, Emmanuel. When we get it, we are children of God all over again. Others may even notice God’s light in us. What if we all choose to live like we believe the Word became flesh and lived among us, not just among us, but now within in. When we receive his glory, not confusing it for our own, once again the force awakens, and light overcomes darkness.