December 31, 2017 1st Sunday after Christmas YR B Sandra Wu
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.
Good morning (evening) and a very happy New Year to all. My name is Sandra Wu. A few months ago when Fr. Brent asked me to preach, I immediately went into panic mode and suffered premature performance anxiety. Then why am I here today? When I looked at the lectionary readings for the first Sunday after Christmas and saw that the gospel reading was from the first chapter of John, that was it! Since I first read and pondered the prologue to this gospel, I have been awed and mystified by the poetry, the magnificence, and the power of John’s words.
The Interpreter’s Bible sums up my feelings and thoughts: (quote)“No book in literature has so breathtaking an opening as these stupendous findings on the life and character about to be described, flung down so confidently as the only possible explanation of them…The whole thing has the effect more of a piece of lofty music than of literature. It stirs strange feelings and emotions in us that surge up out of the deeps. It creates an atmosphere in which one reads, awed and tense, and with held breath. We know that we are face to face with something august, tremendous, illimitable. But the impression left upon most readers’ minds, one fancies, is indefinite and vague; a sense of something very big and very real, but indescribable, which will not go into words.”(end quote)
Join me then on my journey to understand and put into context John’s words.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…The Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.
Here is John’s profound declaration of the incarnation, the begetting of the divine from the divine, “God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God” as we profess in the Nicene Creed every Sunday. The Greek word Logos (translated as the Word) is defined in the Harper Collins Study Bible as “the divine principle of reason that gives order to the universe and binds the human mind to the mind of God.” As Genesis I begins with the phrase “in the beginning” and goes on to describe the creation of the heavens and the earth and all the life upon it, John speaks of a new beginning, a new creation, with the the birth of the one that brings eternal life to the people after they have grown away from 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.
In the first century, at the time of John’s writing, the Gnostics believed that there was an upper world of pure Spirit which was the dwelling place of God and a lower world of material things, darkness, and evil. Between these 2 worlds was a series of intermediaries, beings that separated God from his creation, a dualistic world. John refutes this belief by asserting that “all things came into being through him and without him not one thing came into being.” There is no impediment between the Creator and the created, as it says in Genesis I.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
John defines the essential nature of God as Light, Love and Spirit. That light battles and wins over the forces of darkness. Humans are born into darkness (sin) and are saved by the Light, the revelation of God through the incarnation.
He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.
Jesus participated fully in our humanity, experiencing suffering, misunderstanding, weariness, thirst, pain, sorrow and disappointment. His own people betrayed him and he died on the cross. This Jesus is fully human and fully divine.
But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God…Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.
We are able to see the face of God through the life and actions and selfless love of Jesus. Grace and truth. Selfless love in action. Kenosis. We pray to Jesus Christ, “you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace.” Jesus is our chance for renewal, for reconciliation with God by the forgiveness of our sin, our sin of distancing ourselves from God.
Hearing or reading about God’s love is one thing, but there is nothing like personal experience to drive it home. When we lived in Ohio and I had an upcoming hip replacement surgery, something I was hoping to avoid, my friends who were members of an evangelical sect offered to “pray over me” for healing. It was an intense and out of the ordinary experience with 5 or 6 people praying aloud over me all at once in Susie and Mike’s house, laying on of hands, and with a high level of emotion. In the end I still needed the orthopedist to fix the problem, but one person’s statement to me during the healing prayer remains ever fixed in my heart. She said “God loves YOU, Sandra.” Now I had been quite familiar with the fact and belief that God loves the world and all the creatures in it. Somehow I didn’t really KNOW that God’s love extended to ME, personally, until then. When I read John’s gospel, it is all laid out for me, for us.
So here we are, a week after Christmas Day. The parties are over, the guests have departed, the leftovers have been preserved or disposed of. Presents have been opened, some of them returned or exchanged. Dry brown needles are dropping from the Christmas tree. We are exhausted, our wallets are a little lighter, perhaps we are even disappointed because our Christmas was not perfect. Shouldn’t we be feeling good, just as happy as on Christmas Day when we were joyful because the divine had come to us on earth? The Light and Love of Jesus has arrived. Now what are we to do? Do we gear up for New Year’s eve parties and the plethora of bowl games on New Year’s Day? What about carving out some time to reflect on the meaning of the birth of Christ?
We started this journey during the dark time of Advent, when we lived in sin, in darkness, and we placed obstructions between ourselves and God. It is literally the darkest time of year, just before the winter solstice. Then we celebrate the birth of Jesus, the incarnation of the divine, on Christmas day. We are told by John that Jesus brought light into the darkness at that time and that the light continues to shine, and is not extinguished even today. The days grow longer now, by a few minutes every day. We feel hopeful that eventually the cold and rainy days will be in the past and that the sun will shine on us and warm us again. Isaiah says that “we shall be called by a new name and that we are granted righteousness by the grace of God in Christ.” The new life that was born in Bethlehem represents God’s desire to be with God’s people in a new way. This is a time of birth and renewal.
How can we continue to experience this sense of renewal throughout the New Year? What can we do to recognize God’s love for us in a new way, every day, not just on Sunday? We pray, we praise, we bless, we come to church, we pledge some of our earnings, we listen to sacred music, we do good works, we feed the hungry and shelter the homeless at Resurrection. In our private lives we say our daily prayers, or pray the Office, read and meditate on scripture as in the practice of Lectio Divina. We practice Centering Prayer, meditating with the intention to consent to the presence and action of God within us. The purpose of all this is to transform our lives into the likeness of God. To do as Jesus did, to love the Lord our God with all our mind and heart and to love each other, to become the embodiment of Christ in our actions. It requires intention and it requires action. It is hard to maintain our intentions without some help. That’s where the community at Resurrection comes in. We have numerous opportunities to engage with each other to strengthen our resolve. There is Mass, Adult Formation, Contemplative Prayer, Lunch Bunch, choir, Piecemakers, a total of 37 ministries at Resurrection when I attended last summer’s Ministry Fair!
I’d like to put in a plug for Contemplative Prayer. We practice letting go of thoughts during silent prayer so that we can make room for God. The effect is to bring ourselves to awareness of God in our everyday lives by emptying ourselves of our ego-driven thoughts, our unceasing busyness, our seeing things and persons as bad or good, right or wrong, black or white. As Richard Rohr writes so eloquently in a recent daily meditation on Self-Emptying, (quote) “the key to kenosis is knowing that your life is not about you. Everything—each breath, heartbeat, morsel of food, seeming success— is a gift. We are entirely dependent upon God’s loving us into being, and keeping us in being, interdependent with all other beings. Your life does not really belong to you…life and love are poured into us that we may pour into others. This is precisely what Jesus modeled for us through his life, death, and resurrection.” (end quote)
On the first Sunday after Christmas we hear from Paul’s letter to the Galatians, calling us to be reborn. “We should be overjoyed because in Christ we are children and heirs of God, freed from slavery.” Let us go forward into the New Year with a renewed dedication to become children of God in our thoughts, actions and spirit.
In closing, I would like to share with you the words of a choral composition written by Morten Lauridsen, a Pacific Northwest composer. Ed and I were blessed to hear this piece performed earlier this month in Tacoma. The piece is entitled O Nata Lux.
O nata lux de lumine, Jesu redemptor saeculi- O Light born of Light, Jesus, redeemer of the world, with kindness deign to receive the praise and prayer of suppliants. You who once deigned to be clothed in flesh for the sake of the lost, grant us to be made members of your blessed body. O Light born of Light, Jesus, redeemer of the world.