Christmas I, Year A, 2010

Listen to the sermon here.

Merry Christmas!

The last week or so we have been immersed in Matthew and Luke’s Christmas stories. We have heard the Angel Gabriel’s soothing words to Joseph.  We have journeyed with Mary and Joseph as they made the long journey to Bethlehem. We have seen children act out the famous scenes of shepherds and kings visiting the baby Jesus.

All week we’ve been soaking in the details of the birth of Jesus. We’ve experienced the exhaustion of Joseph and Mary as they attempted to find a place to sleep.  We’ve smelled the hay and the animals.  We’ve felt the chill of the night air as the shepherds were confronted with angels.  We’ve celebrated as the little baby was born.

Today, John’s Gospel widens the angle of our gaze.  We move from the details of Jesus’ birth to a cosmic understanding of who Jesus is and what he means for us.

John reminds us Jesus was not just a baby, but was the Word, co-eternal with God.  As long as God has existed—which is forever—the Word has existed.  John begins his Gospel with the words “In the beginning.”  These words evoke the very beginning of the Genesis, where we get the amazing imagery of a Creator God calling creation into being through the words he speaks.  The words were not simply language, but had the power to enact all of creation:  the ground under our feet, the pine trees we hang with garland, the moon, the stars, the solar systems beyond our imagination.

John makes the argument that Jesus is that Word and creation was called into being through him.  Jesus was there from the very beginning. Not as a human being, not as an infant, but as the Word, as God.   When we see Jesus, we see God.

In the incarnation, the worlds of the eternal and the temporal slam together.  The creator becomes the created, bringing all the light of the Holy with him.

Christmas lights pierce the darkness of winter with their tiny dots of light, turning a time of year that can be cold and dark and forbidding into something magical. These little lights remind us of the great light that pierced our darkness millennia ago.

Life can sometimes feel as dark as a late December day.  There is so much suffering, injustice and death in Creation and the way we have abused the Creation and each other.  When we are going through such suffering, we can feel utterly, hopelessly alone.

But, we’re not alone.  The Word entered that darkness.  He entered our dark world and immediately began shedding his light. He spent his life pursuing and loving people—especially those going through dark times.  He brought healing and new life with him wherever he went.

The Word that called Creation into being, also entered that same Creation in order to redeem it and make it holy.  Suddenly, everyday human experiences: birth, death, friendship, dinner become touched by God.  Bread and wine are no longer just food and drink, but at the Communion table hold the very presence of the divine.

Christ coming into our world transformed the world.  Now, our ordinary lives are infused with holiness and meaning.  In our dark days, we experience the light of Christ through our prayers, through the love of fellow Christians.  When we experience that light, we too become light bearers, Christ bearers into the darkness.

And so, this Christmas season, we celebrate.  We lift our voices in song, we dress up our children in costumes and watch them re-enact the ordinary, extraordinary birth of Christ.  We listen to brass and tympani clang out the good news that Christ has come.  The whole of God has entered our world as a tiny baby and transformed our lives for ever.

Thanks be to God.

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Ash Wednesday, Year B, 2006

From our Psalm today:  “He redeems your life from the grave, and crowns you with mercy and loving-kindness”

Today we gather to observe Ash Wednesday.  We gather to remember our mortality, to repent of our sins, and to prepare ourselves for Lent.  This service is a painful one-full of images of our brokenness and our sin, but it is not a service that is without hope. 

Ash Wednesday and Lent provide the space for us to contemplate the darker areas of our lives.  We spend so much of our time fulfilling responsibilities that need to be filled, we tend not to have a lot of time to think and pray about the larger issues that may haunt us-grief over a loved ones’ death or the end of a relationship, fear about our own deaths, concern about our separation from God.  Unlike the sometimes forced cheerfulness of Christmas or Easter, Lent gives us permission to be more contemplative, less happy. 

For me, Lent is a time to remember my mother’s death.  She died six years ago this week.  Each Lent that has followed has felt a little different.  The first Lent I was still too stunned to feel much of anything.  The second Lent I was angry and felt piercing sadness. By the third Lent, I had found some level of peace and resignation.  In preparation for this Ash Wednesday, this Lent, I have been thinking about these words we will use in a few minutes:  Remember that you are dust and to dust you will return. 

At the end of the day, at the end of our lives, we are but flesh.  My mother was dead two days before anyone found her, and the image of her abandoned, lifeless body has stayed with me as an image of the organic finality of death.  The last few years, we have been overwhelmed by images of death:  the victims of the Tsumani, of the war in Iraq, of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.  The image of an unclaimed body is a lonely one, and thousands of bodies remain unclaimed, unidentified from these disasters.  What are we, in the end, but dust?  A pile of molecules tentatively held together by water and energy.  Or are we?

The words “Remember you are dust and to dust you will return” contain more than this barren image of death. Humans do not only end as dust, we began as dust as well. 

Remember you are dust. . . evokes the image of the Creator God breathing into dust to create human life.  When we say Remember you are dust and to dust you will return. . .we remind ourselves that the very ground of our being both created us and will be with us when we die.  We are reminded that our deaths are not a mere organic event, but are a transition-all within the scope of God’s loving care.  There is no place we can run to escape the love of God. Even our deaths do not separate us from Him. 

My mother was not really alone at the time of her death, and none of us will be, either.  We are not alone in our grief, in our depression, in our anger, even in our loneliness.  The same God who breathed life into the first man, and tenderly created the first woman, made each of us, and we rest in his loving hands throughout our entire lives.  Death is not powerful enough to separate us from our Creator and Redeemer.  Nothing is. 

This Lent, we are invited to draw near to this God who created us with such care and affection.  We repent of our sins and give up small pleasures during Lent, not because God wants to judge us, but because God wants us to draw near to him, to need him in a way we don’t often allow ourselves. 

God wants to breathe life into you just as he breathed life into Adam. 

 He redeems your life from the grave, and crowns you with mercy and loving-kindness;