Christmas Day, December 25th 2022
This is the Sermon of Christmas Day 2022 at St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church in DC, beginning with the Gospel reading for that day!
Gospel Reading: John 1:1-14 Rev. Todd Thomas
CELEBRANT: The Holy Gospel of our Savior Jesus Christ according to John.
PEOPLE: Glory to you, Lord Christ.
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 overtake it.
There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
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. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
And 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.
CELEBRANT: The Gospel of the Lord.
PEOPLE: Praise to you, Lord Christ.
Good morning, St. Timothy’s family, friends and everyone who has gathered for worship! Merry Christmas! It’s good to be together, and as we gather to worship on this special day and spend some time with our scriptures, so may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you, O God, our Rock and our redeemer! Amen.
Do you like stories? I love a good story, but I wasn’t always a very good reader. Did anyone else have that weird aunt and uncle around Christmas time, you know the ones who don’t have kids of their own, so they give nieces and nephews socks or gloves or something like that for gifts at Christmas? I had an aunt and uncle like that, and as kid I just wrote’em off, you know what I mean? I lowered my expectations with them, because I knew I wasn’t gonna get a toy, ever. Oh, I was a good kid, I thanked them for the socks, and I muttered my appreciation for the gloves they got me each year… but then they broke tradition and in one of my moody preteen years they gave me a hardback copy of Edgar Allen Poe’s short stories and poems for Christmas! And I gotta give credit where credit is due: I loved that book! I consumed those short stories and poems! That gift not only made me a fan of Poe but also helped me learn to love reading. When we moved to Maryland a little over 15 years ago one of the first things I did was a little pilgrimage to his grave in Baltimore on an anniversary of his death. To this day I’m a Poe fan, and I probably owe that aunt and uncle a much-belated thank you card for their putting me on the path of Poe writings and the joy of reading.
I also love the stories in scripture, especially around the birth of Jesus! I love the story of Gabriel appearing to Zechariah to announce that he and Elizabeth will finally have a child, John the Baptizer. I love the story of Gabriel appearing to Mary and their amazing conversation about Mary’s coming son, the one to be named Jesus. I love their whole conversation! It includes the one verse of the Bible I memorized years ago in Kiswahili, “Kwa maana hakuna lisiliowezikana kwa Mungu,” because nothing is impossible with God!
I love the stories of Joseph getting a visit from an angel and the travel to Bethlehem, the shepherds in their fields, and the scene at the birth of Jesus when all have gathered and realized that hey, this is really happening!
A Really Big, Good Story
And along comes John’s Gospel… and John says Oh you like stories, here hold my parchment… in the BEGINNING! Oh not just the beginning of our story 2,000 years ago, not just back to King David, not just back to Abraham and Sarah, not just back to Adam and Eve… the BEGINNING. Back when there was nothing as we know anything to be… there was the Word. The Word was God but also with God… something is happening here, something from God… this Word brings everything into being, John says, brings it all into being and fills it with life and light.
John’s story reads like that amazing script at the beginning of Star Wars, you know the one. Huge letters which tell the story of a galaxy far far away… except this story is our story, of all galaxies, of all that has been, is and will be… our story of light and life.
When it comes to understanding Jesus, John the Evangelist, the writer of our Gospel, wants us to take a deep breath and step back for a broad view of the story, get your wide angle lens ready for this one! John wants us to understand that Jesus is the meaning and the purpose we’ve been searching to find. As the One who brought it all into being, he’s also the One to help us navigate the landscape of all that is.
Life and Light are found in the Christ. As the One through whom it all happens, we can have no better guide, no better friend, no better path than the Way upon which he invites us. John points us to the One in whom we truly find our beginning, our middle and our end. The One in whom find our light when our days grow dark and our hearts are clouded with pain. Christ is the One who is our life when the days feel rough and less fun than we thought they would be.
Oh the Christmas story is Baby Jesus and Mary and Magi and all that, but it’s also about the very foundation of what can be our joy, hope and peace, no matter what twists and turns the story of our lives may throw at us. And it’s the foundation of making our place in this world. For the life and light are not just gifts of God to us, but they become the very thing we offer the world around us in faith.
Christmas is a story, our story, and it’s still being written, as the author Rev. Howard Thurman wrote in his poem/litany The Work of Christmas…
When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among others,
To make music in the heart.
Rev. Thurman heard it, he heard it in John’s story. Did you hear it in the Gospel reading this morning, how in this opening poem and narrative of the Gospel John the Evangelist gives us the whole story, beginning to end? He gives us the whole picture even though we are in the middle still writing the joy and grace of our chapters!
John lets us in on the ending: the light shines and the darkness cannot overcome it! The light shines and it cannot be extinguished or hidden! Life is triumphant! The Word is doing its work in the world even today! I hear the words of Isaiah in chapter 55 when God says “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”
Now John and Isaiah may not be speaking of the same word conceptually or in the same context, but we can hear the same story being told. The will of God, the life and light of God gifted to us cannot be extinguished, for it is not simply something we have chosen or that we have devised, but we are chosen and we devised by it!
John says in his Gospel that the light is not extinguished by the darkness, not overcome. And he goes on to say that in this One, in this One who has from the beginning been our life and light, we find the open door to adoption into God’s family. We are brought in, brought near and made to be at home. We find our truest identity as God’s children, waking to who we truly are in this world. I once heard Father Richard Rohr describe it in similar words which I can only paraphrase, he said that God is our mirror, that in God see the image of our true selves, not making God in our image, but seeing ourselves as God sees us, creative whole and beloved.
This Is Really Happening
Like Mary and Joseph that night when the shepherds arrive to find them gathered around a newborn King, we begin to realize hey, this is really happening! This is my story, your story, our story. In this life and light we find the double miracle, that we can be forgiven and forgive. We find the blessing of a joy and strength beyond the moment in which we find ourselves. We find the love and presence of God which redeems and makes sacred all the mundane and seemingly small things of life. As Isaiah painted that picture so long ago of God’s word watering the ground and bringing forth good things from the earth, a reminder is planted in us of the Word who has made and called us and would bring good from our lives in this very same world.
“Ah Lord God, thank you for days like this. Maybe it is a cold day, and yet known to be so cold only in contrast to the warmth of your love and light in our lives. Bless those who do not have a warm home today. Bless those who need a warm place for their bodies and a shelter for their souls. Bless our families and friends as we gather to share life and light. Keep our hearts always open and reaching to one another, that our love may grow and may sustain us in all things. Bless those struggling with illness and loneliness. Bless those in prisons of cement and razor wire, and the prisons of addiction and pain. Thank you, God, for the reminder that the whole story is your love at our beginning, our middle and our end. Thank you for John’s reminder that we are yours and you are ours. We pray in Christ, our life and light. Amen. Amen and Amen.”
Merry Christmas and be blessed, Rev Todd
Light Not Overcome by Darkness
In this first week of Advent many of us are asking hard questions about race and justice. Many of us are trying to understand how we can repair the hurt and divisions in our nation and among our people. But others of us don’t seem to even be trying to understand the pain and view from the other side, more comfortable in a perceived sense of rightness.
At Church in Bethesda we begin Advent with the introduction to Jesus from John’s Gospel; it’s a cosmic intro like none of the other accounts. Here’s John, speaking of Jesus, John 1:1-5…
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
John begins to tell us about Jesus by going back to the beginning of the beginning with language that sounds very much like a creation narrative. John goes to the beginning of the beginning to make Jesus central in the creative power and meaning of God’s presence and work to bring the world into being. In doing so John calls Jesus the Word, the logos of God. The Word was of God, with God and was God’s activity.
This is a special way to present Jesus. Though we may think it easy to relate to Jesus as a baby in Luke’s Gospel, a child and a human being, I think John is doing a cool thing by calling Jesus Word. I think John is teaching us about Jesus by reminding us about ourselves.
Is there another species on the planet using words as we use them? We have the singular gift of speech and word, written and spoken. We tell stories, our stories. We write our stories down and share them. You’re reading my blog. I can’t help myself, I have to craft some words and throw them out there in the hopes that someone else will read, comprehend and maybe even appreciate them.
Jesus is Word just as he is light and life. This is a connection point to for us to the divine. One of the beautiful movements of John’s passage is highlighted later in these verses, John 1:12-14…
Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God– children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only [Son], who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Jesus entered creation to bring us into the divine. He came into our world to raise us out of it and into the world beyond us, born of divine will. He was begotten so that we might be begotten again into newness. He came here and identified with us so we could be identified anew into the thereness of heaven’s will. This is story, word and meaning.
Our words have power and meaning just as the Word in John’s introduction was also the life and light of all people. Jesus will later call us the “light of the world” in Matthew’s Gospel, further emphasizing our shared role in his story of bringing light and life to our planet, to our people.
We relate to Jesus not only in our shared human infancy, but in our shared words of light and life, a shared mission and purpose in creation. We are a blend of human and divine, as was Christ, made so by Christ, and now continuing the great work of Christ begun at the beginning of beginnings.
The Work of Advent.
I know we usually talk about the waiting of Advent, but John reminds us that we stand singularly among creation as co-light and co-life with the Word and the Word’s work in Advent. Even in the first week, with only one candle lit, and the light seeming so small, the work moves on. Even in a broken world, in broken times, when the darkness seems so strong and justice so elusive, our words are still so needed.
Shine your light. Speak life. Believe. Own your begottenness and know that the darkness runs before your light. The darkness cannot overcome or commandeer your light. Even if some don’t understand and even if your own don’t celebrate your light, it must still shine. Your words must still be life giving and creative.
This is an Advent Season to embrace our calling. In the face of whatever frustration or disappointment or darkness we see, shine on in life and love! And let’s make our Advent prayer one of purpose and joy to our God, Psalm 19:14 adapted with John 1…
“May all the words of our mouths be life and light in the world,
and the meditations of our hearts be pleasing and part of your great work,
oh God of Creation, our Hope and our Divine Parent!”
Nov. 29, 2013 Civility in Xian Scripture
Matthew 5:13-16, “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”
We began this month of exploring Christian scripture to understand civility with Jesus, and we’ll end with Jesus. This is a very familiar passage to most anyone who grew up in church. Jesus loved to teach in symbols, and this is some of his best… it’s simple, we can relate to the content, and it inspires. We are called to be salt, seasoning the world for the better. We are to be light, a source of illumination and joy for those struggling to see. Amen and amen.
Jesus lays it all on the line for us in these simple words: we are salt, and we are light. No matter what you’re cooking, the salt becomes part of the dish, lost for any other purpose other than favoring and then never being seen again. Oh, it’s flavor is there, we know where the salt has gone… but that’s just it, the salt is gone. The dish remains. The dish is so much better for having been salted.
No matter the light source you choose, it burns up, it gives all it has and it’s gone. A lamp burns away it’s oil. A candle melts. A bulb eventually burns away it’s filament or it’s gases, batteries go dead… all lights on this earth end in their using. This is our calling. We are used up in service to this world. We are sent to make the world better for everyone else, and Jesus evens asks what we’re good for if we reject that calling! If we will not salt and we will not light, then what use do we have?
The word civil at the base of the word civility is a very fun study if you ever feel like digging in and chewing on it a while. It denotes both the meaning of responsible/polite behavior, but it also denotes this aspect of being a common member of society, a citizen. The two concepts are united in the word, both being a citizen and acting a citizen. Jesus does this with salt and light, both being and doing. Salt is our identity and our action. Light is both what we are and what we do. Our place in the world hinges on this calling… we exist in this capacity of purpose.
So what does all that mean? It means that I don’t salt the earth one day a week, or two days a week, or only when I choose to be salty. I must reflect on the needs around me and strive to be salt all the time. I must own the call to saltiness and pursue it with all my heart, mind and soul. It’s not just a thing I do on weekends or when there’s a Bible study. It’s in my walk, my talk, my laughter, my weeping, my falling, my failing, my dancing and my singing.
My light doesn’t have a on/off switch for my convenience. I am not choosing to be light for only those I have deemed worthy of the time or the effort. I am shining, shining on my worst day, my best day, in the rain, in the snow, in the pain and in the green of springtime joys. I am being what I am called to be, to the best of my ability and with all the joy of the call I can muster on any given day. And if we have come together to make a community like the one Jesus has described in the verses preceding this passage, in those amazing words we call “The Beatitudes,” then when my savor lessens and my light dims, it will be renewed in my kingdom fellowship with you. Together, we are called to be salt and light, never alone. Never alone.
I am salt with you. I am not salting the earth alone! I am light with you. I am not lighting anything by myself! Civil is not something I am or do alone. Civil exists within the community of the citizens! If we are to find a singular truth of civility in the teaching of scriptures then let it be the truth of our need for one another! I need you! I need you to myself be salt. I need you to myself be light. I need you, and that is why I am striving to be civil, to keep us in the bonds of love, mutual encouragement, sharing and growth.
Never alone. Thank you, God, I am not alone.