Second Sunday after Christmas, 1.5.2020

Beginnings are important.

On our news cycle for the FIRST day of the New Year, we all heard about babies born at the stroke of midnight. In Brooklyn and Staten Island, Aiden Zobnin and Anthony Saraceno were both born precisely at midnight. And on Long Island, little Bernard Casey Hall Nichols was born at 12:03 a.m. at Mount Sinai South Nassau Hospital.

We’re always happy to mark the moment when something wonderful and PRECIOUS comes into our lives. And certainly, newborn babies get our attention as wonderful and precious. We want good health for them. We want them to have loving parents, and a long and happy life.

The world has also marked when Christ came into the world, not just as a newborn baby who is wonderful and precious, but his WHOLE life Jesus is wonderful and precious. The prophet Isaiah couldn’t come up with enough descriptive words for him: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God . . . Prince of Peace.

I know that when Christ came into my life, and my eyes were opened, I could understand WHY we count time as BEFORE Christ coming and AFTER, because now I was counting time as before and AFTER Christ entered my life. Christ really does divide the darkness. No wonder the evangelist, John, echoes the book of Genesis, where God the Creator divides the darkness from the light.

We divide time as BEFORE Christ called the Before the Common Era and AFTER CHRIST – known as the Common Era or Anno Domini. The LIGHT that Christ brings is a BLAZING light! It chases away the darkness that has a stranglehold on us. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

We CELEBRATE this light as powerful, breaking the bonds of prisoners.

Some of you may have a story about the LIGHT of CHRIST who came into your life, either as a blazing spotlight, or maybe as a gentle light that gradually shone steady, quiet, and bright in your life.

I went to seminary with someone who said he came from a Pentecostal church where everyone seemed to have a story about Christ coming in some spectacular way. He didn’t have a story like that and wondered if there was something wrong with him. YET. Here he was in seminary. The light of Christ in an unspectacular way had drawn him along, and he had FOLLOWED. And at one of our chapel services, he celebrated the Christ who had come quietly and softly to him. Christ had STAYED close to him.

How has the LIGHT of CHRIST come into your life? Does it seem like Christ’s light was always there since you were small? Quiet, steady, a guiding light? Or have there been times when Christ shone in your life like the BLAZING star over Bethlehem?

God’s WORD is a LIGHT, chasing away the darkness we could also describe as BONDAGE. We can take God’s WORD into any situation from which we need release. The WORD of GOD is a real LIGHT, chasing away whatever tries to keep a stranglehold on us.

The WORD of GOD is a POWERFUL light, that banishes the gloom that wants to keep us CAPTIVE. And that’s what we call Jesus, the WORD of GOD.

So beginnings are important, and John begins his gospel with the audacious, “In the beginning . . .” as if he were rewriting the book of Genesis which also starts with “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth . . .”

Now John says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word WAS God.” With Jesus coming into the world, the world is starting over. A giant invisible RESET button has been pressed, and the world is on notice.

In the beginning was the WORD. That is the best way to describe him. Jesus is the walking, talking WORD and PROMISE of the heavenly PARENT. Jesus is the HEALING WORD. Jesus is the FORGIVING WORD. JESUS is the WORD who challenges us. Jesus is the WORD who REBUKES the forces of evil.

Jesus has so much to say and tell us about God’s LOVE, that he is called the WORD made flesh who lived among us. As the WORD in the flesh, Jesus enters our world of finitude. He comes into the world of air and matter, enters our timeline, enters the world WE occupy of beginnings and endings. It’s world of vulnerability, a world in which our bodies are fragile and temporary coverings for eternal souls. 

Where else do we see beginnings?

We’ve seen in the beginning of Matthew’s gospel Joseph is described as a “righteous man.” Yet in this world of new beginnings, Joseph redefines what exactly makes for righteousness. Righteousness used to mean he could put away his wife, Mary, leaving her to a fate of either being shunned or killed, an honor killing, and he would still be considered a good person. Joseph’s new kind of righteousness has him taking Mary as his wife, breaking new ground as to what it means to be righteous, a person of justice. This new kind of righteousness has Joseph going farther, stretching the limits.

In the first chapter of Luke’s gospel we see new beginnings; we see the evangelist comparing the two responses of Zechariah and Mary. Zechariah, as the high priest SHOULD be able to give the angel messenger a better answer than he does to the good news of a son. Instead he gives the angel a cranky old man response, ‘who wants a baby at this stage of our lives? ‘

Luke shows us little Mary, a young woman of no family background who gives the RIGHT answer. “God wants me? Yes! I’m on it!” Luke shows us that the old world is giving way to a NEW world, one in which the voices of THREE WOMEN, one middle aged, one young, and one very old are singing God’s praises.

John’s gospel has no story of Jesus’ early beginnings as a baby, instead the gospel leaps ahead to WHO exactly is this Jesus?

He is God’s VOICE, God’s HANDS, God’s HEART here on earth.

He is God’s promise walking around.

He is God’s healing.

He is this WORD is God’s restorative justice.

He is also God’s rebuke to those who reject him.

The Word made flesh shows us in the gospel of John, God as divine parent with a heart that longs for the prodigal son to return, and who looks down the long road, waiting. That prodigal son or daughter always looks like us. Taking our sweet time to come to our senses, until the pigs practically tell us it’s time to return to the father.

The Word made flesh in the gospel of John is God who verbally spars with a Samaritan woman at the well, and banters about the nature of water, and the kind of water we all need. We are ALL thirsty. And only God’s grace can slake our SOUL-THIRST, HEART-THIRST, grace shoots through our being with the force of a geyser bringing health and healing. So many refuse to drink.

The Word made flesh is God who finds a blind man and makes mud with his own saliva and dirt, moistening the dirt between his fingers, getting it under his nails like the Creator in Genesis who also plays in the mud.

This Word is a giant searchlight finding our hearts. The Word made flesh is the WORD who COMES DOWN to us – so that we may share in his life and spirit. We didn’t have to do the climbing – up to the heavens.        It is Christ who comes down to US. He takes on our humanity, so we can see God’s love. We see how far God’s love will go for us – taking on evil on our behalf – LOVE takes him to the cross.

His cross allows him to enter our suffering and he PLANTS his cross when we suffer. It is Christ who SUFFERS alongside us. That’s why he came 2000 years ago and why he CONTINUES to come to us. God SO loves the world that he couldn’t stay in heaven. LOVE propelled him to leave heaven and take his chances on earth.

KNOWING, as the hymn says, KNOWING we would bruise him, and SMIGHT him from the earth. Not IF he would be smighted, but WHEN. WHEN would they destroy him, how quickly?

We don’t have to DO anything to deserve this amazing gift of Christ. Our NEED is enough. Christ comes to us so that the WORD leaps for joy inside us.

Christ comes so that the WORD planted within us will cause us to FLOURISH. Christ comes to us so that the WORD will slake our thirst for meaning, understanding, judgment, wisdom. Christ comes to us so that the WORD will forgive, comfort and heal our bruised hearts.           

Can we open our hearts to this WORD and let him in? All he wants to do is hold us close just as it says: “It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.” Christ wants to share his heart with us, and in that sharing we receive MORE LIFE, which is what we all crave. Let’s not resist him. Christ offers to give us a new beginning.

I thank you Christ, for the gift of yourself. YOUR WORD restores and reshapes our lives. Your Word transforms us. Give us the courage to RECEIVE your WORD. So that WE will be renewed and WE can be your WORD, through the power of your spirit we will renew the face of the earth. We pray this through the mighty name of your Son, Jesus Christ.