Christmas 2 B: Christmas Continued

Dear Partner in Preaching,

There are so many themes worth exploring in the Prologue to the Gospel of John that it can be difficult to decide just where to land for a sermon. Do we make the connection between the first verse of John and that of Genesis, calling attention to John’s audacious claim to be writing a new Genesis? Do we let our gaze settle instead on the fourteenth verse, John’s Christmas story and the heart of the doctrine of the Incarnation?

Either of these elements of John’s magnificent “hymn to the Word” would make for a fine sermon on this second Sunday of Christmas. But I’m going to suggest two other verses, not as often focused on in my experience.

The first is John 5: “The light shines on in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” I love the confident note of hope this verse sounds. One the one hand, it is the declaration of a state of fact: light is stronger than darkness. At the same time, it is also a promise: even when it seems otherwise – and even the briefest scan of the headlines can make it seem otherwise – yet the light continues to shine and the darkness has neither overcome nor understood it.

There is an active, even tensive quality to this verse that strikes me as accurately capturing the life of faith. We live confident of the promise that light is stronger than darkness, love stronger than hate, and life stronger than death. Yet not only that is not always apparent in the meantime, but even when we believe it most confidently that doesn’t lessen the amount of struggle a faithful life entails.

The second verse is John 18: “No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.” What I appreciate about this verse is its stark honesty. No one has ever seen God. No kidding. We may want to, desire to, crave to, yet we cannot. And this seems never more apparent than during the times of our greatest need. Whether caused by illness, death, job loss, depression, loneliness, a sense of disconnection, or any of a manifold of other challenges this life entails, in times of great struggle we seem keenly, even cruelly aware that we are simply not able to see God.

Because of our limitations, God becomes human that we may see God. In Jesus, God becomes accessible to us. It’s what John Calvin called “God’s condescension,” the eternal and immutable God becoming finite and vulnerable in order to become truly available to us. And because we have seen God in Jesus, we are emboldened both to live with hope as well as share with others the hope that is within us.

I think this is why these verses grabbed my attention this year. Each year at just about this time, you see, I wish Christmas would last a little longer. We give Easter seven weeks, Pentecost three times that much, and even Lent and Advent six and four Sundays apiece, but Christmas is only twelve short days. And, truth be told, because of the shortness of our cultural attention span and the rise of New Year’s Eve as a significant holiday, Christmas barely gets a week of our attention before it is lost in the shuffle of resolutions and bills and all the rest. But these verses remind us that Christmas isn’t just a season, it’s a way of life. Christmas isn’t over when we reach Epiphany, it is only newly launched once again. While the season may pass, the hope and life it promises are just beginning.

Christmas reminds us of God’s decision to become one of us, to take on our lot and our life that we might have hope, and to share our mortal life that we might enjoy God’s eternal life. This is not merely a season or celebration, it is a promise that requires our active participation every day of the year. God’s condescension simultaneously glorifies human flesh and endeavors. Our lives matter to God. Our welfare is of tremendous importance to the Almighty. There is no worry too small, no challenge too great, that God is not eager to share it with us. Indeed, God is eager to equip and empower us to share our worries and challenges, as well as our joys and hopes, with each other. As because of God’s decision to come to us in a form we recognize, we are empowered to reach out to those around us.

So perhaps the opportunity before us, Dear Partner, on this second – and last – Sunday of Christmas, is to treat it as the first Sunday of a year where we emulate and actualize God’s activity to come among us in grace, mercy and love that the light might continue shining on in even the darkest of places. If so, than Howard Thurman’s wonderful poem “The Work of Christmas” might be a fit accompaniment to John’s Prologue:

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 flocks,
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 the people,
to make music in the heart.

Thank you, Dear Partner, for inviting us to begin the work of Christmas, to live the Christmas life. For this is a promise too good to contain to only twelve days. Blessed Christmas and a New Year of grace to you and yours.

In Christ,