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.

Good Friday, Year B, 2006

In the Gospel of John, Jesus is the Cosmic Word.  From the very beginning he is clear about his transcendent nature and his close relationship with his Father in heaven. 

How painful then, for his friends and family, to see Jesus in the most degrading of human positions-hung on a cross.  He has been betrayed by Judas, denied by Peter and hangs before the Marys and his beloved disciple, slowly dying.  O Sacred Head, Sore Wounded, a hymn we sing today, expresses this grief:

Thy beauty, long-desirèd,
hath vanished from our sight;
thy power is all expirèd,
and quenched the light of light.

Jesus was light and life and hope.  Jesus dying must have felt like the most gut wrenching, mind spinning incongruity.  I know I would have wanted to run.  Run somewhere safe, somewhere far away. 

The Marys and the beloved disciple challenge us.  They do not run from the agony.  They do not turn away from Jesus’s pained body.  They do not try to get Jesus off the cross.  They have the courage to sit with Jesus, to commune with him, to be present to him, as he experiences his final suffering.

In the news lately, there has been a lot of talk about the recently discovered Gospel of Judas.  In this text, written about 150 years after our four Gospels, Judas doesn’t betray Jesus, Jesus asks Judas to turn him in.  There’s something comforting about this image-It presents a Jesus fully in control.  But none of the Gospels in our canon presents this convenient story.

Jesus was betrayed.  Jesus did die. Jesus willingly let go of control over his own life for our benefit.  And through all of that, the Marys and the beloved disciple never left his side. 

Last week, I had the opportunity of hearing Charles LaFond, the former assistant at Church of Our Savior, lead a retreat about Holy Week.  He told the story of the experiences of the chaplains to the morticians in New Orleans.  After the waters in New Orleans receded, the city was left with the horrifying task of dealing with tens of thousands of dead bodies.  400 morticians from around the country were brought in and a temporary tent city was built. 

Trucks brought in 40 bodies at a time, and they were distributed among the morticians.  While there were many drownings, there were also as many as 85 murder victims disguised as hurricane victims. After the autopsies, bodies were tagged and stored in refrigerated units. 

The job of the chaplains was to bless the truck with the bodies, to bless the bodies again as they were taken to the refrigerators after the autopsies, and to be with the morticians when they wept between autopsies.  Like the Marys and the beloved disciple’s ministry of presence to Jesus, the chaplains’ jobs were not to free the morticians from their horrific duties, but to stay close with them, to love them and pray for them, to be alongside them as they did their work.

That kind of commitment and presence takes enormous courage.  Facing Jesus’ death takes courage, too.  We worship a God who, while ultimately triumphant, was willing to be completely weak and mortal for our behalf.  While we are Easter people, we are also called to remember the shocking vulnerability of our Lord.  We are called to abide with him in prayer, as many of you did during the prayer vigil last night. 

In the same way, when our loved ones are experiencing crisis that makes us uncomfortable:  when they are losing their memory, dying, getting a divorce, losing a child, we are called to be with them.  We cannot solve their problems.  We cannot always make them feel better, but like the Marys and the beloved disciple, we can show up, we can pray for them, we can love them.

Good Friday invites us to grow into people who can abide in pain.  For we know that it is through Jesus’ pain, through his death that we must enter to experience the joy that follows.  In the meantime, we are asked to wait with Jesus still on the Cross.  Again from our hymn:

In thy most bitter passion
my heart to share doth cry,
with thee for my salvation
upon the cross to die.
Ah, keep my heart thus moved
to stand thy cross beneath,
to mourn thee, well-beloved,
yet thank thee for thy death.