The Reverend John Allison
December 27, 2020
First Sunday after Christmas
Christ Church, Hudson
Here we are on this third day of Christmas. The Messiah has come. The child has been born. So far much of our focus has been on the birth of the baby Jesus, so wonderfully imagined in Luke’s beautiful depiction of Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem and the rather inauspicious circumstances of Jesus's birth in the stable. Today, however, our Gospel reading from John’s prologue paints a very different picture. Rather than dwell on Jesus’s earthy, humble beginnings in the stable, John goes back even further, to the beginning of time: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him and, without him, not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.”
Christ, what John calls the Word, does not just come into being with the birth of Jesus but has been present with God from the beginning of time. The Word (in Greek “Logos") would not have been understood by John’s readers in the usual way in which we understand Word today. For John and his Greek readers, Logos, the Word, was more likely understood as the creative spark of the universe, as the organizing force of the cosmos, and in this passage John places Christ right there at THE beginning of it all, with God—the Word was God. We could speculate as to why John chooses this aspect of Christ’s beginning rather than the more familiar story of Jesus’s birth in the manger, in fact many have, but what I find significant, what I find useful on this first Sunday after Christmas, is the glimpse John provides of the greater significance of the human birth of the Christ Child, for this is what I’m left wondering about in these days after the tender story of the baby Jesus in the manger. The Christ Child has been born but what does it mean? What does it mean to us as believing, practicing Christians and what does it mean to the world? These are the questions that we are meant to take forward as we move through the Christmas season. These are the questions that will allow us to recognize the many gifts God gives us in Jesus.
When I was about ten years old I wanted a chemistry set for Christmas. I waited and waited in the weeks building up to Christmas morning and then, sure enough, I got my wish. I tore open the paper of a large box and had just what I had asked for. I remember the joy, the wonder. And then I felt something else. I think now I might label the feeling perplexity but then it was more the gradual realization that I really didn’t know what I could do with a chemistry set. The sudden onset of wonder and amazement that I had at the opening of the gift grew into something else. This was not a gift that offered instant gratification. In fact, this was a gift that demanded something of me. It demanded a kind of willing engagement I hadn't expected. These middle days of the Christmas season feel something like that for me now as I ponder the full significance of Christ being born into the world. There is still the wonder, the excitement, the sense of fulfillment, and yet a gradual understanding that the full promise of the gift will continue to unfold in ways that are beyond my imagination. The gift of Christ has changed everything and the surprise and wonder are only just beginning. And I, WE, are called to participate in that unfolding. We are called to participate in Christ’s Incarnation. We are called as witnesses to God’s loving action in the world. Are we ready? This is the gift we prepared for all through Advent and now the time has come to fulfillment.
John says, “And the Word became flesh and lived among us.” God with us. God has redeemed our flesh, our very humanity, in the person of Jesus. The corruption of Adam’s sin is wiped away and all creation is made new with the birth of Christ into the world. As creatures made in God’s image we are called to reflect that image outward—THAT is the task incumbent on us in accepting God’s gift. The gift of Christ calls forth something from us.
One of the early Church Fathers, Irenaeus, who was instrumental in articulating the theology of the Incarnation, said, “the glory of God is a human being fully alive.” The glory of God is a human being fully alive. What that means to us, what it means to be fully alive is grounded in our recognition that Christ has been born into the world, that God has taken on human flesh and lives among us. That’s what we celebrate in these twelve days of Christmas, and it’s the message we are called to take into the world as disciples.
Isaiah says, “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my whole being shall exult in my God.” We are called to embody God’s love for us as offered in Christ with our whole selves. “For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.” It’s this fruition of God’s love that we are called to participate in and it’s through our participation that Christ is continually born into the world, that righteousness and praise might spring up before all nations.
Our collect for the day asks that the light of Christ be kindled in our hearts and shine forth in our lives. As bearers of the light we bring God’s love into the world. That’s what it means to participate in the Incarnation, to embody God’s love in Jesus. That’s the glory of God that we celebrate at Christmas. Amen.