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