The Rev. Denise Vaughn
The theater relies almost inevitably upon words, upon speech. Backdrops and scenery may provide insights into the mood and setting but the words provide the drama with spirit and depth. The Christmas stage is no different and on this first Sunday after Christmas as we encounter the God who comes to us as a small babe in the manger, we learn once again of the importance of words, we learn that this child born in Bethlehem is the Word who “was with God” and “was God” participating in the creation of “all things”. But what is a word? A word is the visible expression of a thought. In John’s gospel, Jesus is the very thought of God in human form. This babe in a manger is the Word become flesh, in Jesus Christ our Lord.
Now John’s gospel contains none of the traditional stories associated with Christmas. No angels descend from the sky to offer sighs and songs. No shepherds leave flocks behind to rush across the Bethlehem fields to see for themselves what has been told them. No Magi journey across the landscape, following the movement of stars to discern and then search out a new king. Neither, Mary or Joseph appears. John’s gospel concerns itself with the appearance of the Word of God – a Word whose place and speaking provides us unique insights into the God who comes to us as the babe in the manger.
John’s gospel starts with an echo of Genesis. “In the beginning God, in the beginning was the Word….” John intentionally places the opening of his Gospel along-side the opening words in the book of Genesis. In those first words of beginnings in Genesis, the story spoke of creation unfolding from God’s hands and purpose. In the Gospel of John, these new words of beginning signify a new creation emerging from those same hands and purposes. The Word that was present at creation’s beginning is the Word now become flesh to live among us. This Word is not only with God but was God. In Jesus of Nazareth, God has come to share in our humanity.
Until this moment God had largely been known ‘from above’. God had created the universe and human life. God had spoken to Israel through law and prophets, from burning bushes and leading clouds. God’s immanence was experienced in the Ark of the Covenant, but once the Ark disappeared, God seemed to become silent. But now John perceives an extraordinary turn of events. While God had remained wrapped in the awe and mystery known fully only by the Word – that Word became flesh. That Word has come to make God known and to bring life to all people by revealing God. In Jesus Christ, the Word of God, God is made known.
God broke through the silence and this breaking of God’s silence gives renewed hope to all who find themselves dwelling in places of silence; the silence brought by illness or loneliness, for those living with estrangement or for those living under oppression. The church finds her calling in being a hope-giving voice and in serving among those who experience alienation and hopelessness. Our task is to look at this world through the eyes of our Savior who loved it enough to become part of it. Our calling is to look for ways of bringing the joy of Christmas into the lives of those who know no joy. We are to be God’s messengers of Good News to the people who walk the streets of our neighborhoods and cities.
We already know who these people are, the poor, the hungry, the elderly, the infirm, the lonely, the sick, the insane and the dying. For these are the very people who have something very important to teach us about the meaning of Christmas; in them and in their lives we can see the child of Mary making his way to the cross, begging us to help him carry that cross. These are the people who will make sure that our Christmas leads from Good Friday into the light of Easter Day, because it is for us all that the eternal Word of God became flesh in the child of Mary, in Jesus Christ our Lord.
Across the centuries many have tried to become God, but only once did God become a man. This miracle ends the separation of humanity and God. As soon as we realize this miracle of God-with-us and open our lives and hearts to God, we enter into a new relationship, a relationship of intimacy with God. It is then we can recognize that Jesus has come to share our joys and pains, to defend and protect us and to suffer all of life with us. It is then we will be able to know God as our refuge, our stronghold, our wisdom, our helper, our shepherd, and our love because Jesus who loves regardless of where we are teaches us about a God who does the same.
So dear friends during and after this Christmas season let us not go back to business as usual but let us truly receive the Word into our lives allowing it to transform us into the loving life of God; allowing it to transform us into compassionate, caring, loving people, allowing it to take all our sorrows and turn them into joy. We are invited today to open our hearts and lives to the greatest gift of Christmas - the gift of Jesus, who is the reason for the season. May we find the real joy of Jesus in our lives this Christmas season. Merry Christmas.