The First Sunday after Christmas
Isaiah 61:10-62:3, John 1:1-18, Psalm 147 or 147:13-21
The first week of Christmas is over; many have put their trees away, cleaned up the decorations, and life moves toward the New Year. If you go to the store this week and wish someone a Merry Christmas you will likely get a very odd look. I know this from personal experience. Most people in our country start Christmas near the beginning of November and those who hold out often start Christmas the day after Thanksgiving. Yet there are 12 days in which we celebrate the Feast of Christmas beginning on
Christmas Day. Hence the song the 12 days of Christmas my true love gave to me . . .
I’m not sure why we are willing to pack Christmas away so quickly. Maybe it is because we start so early, but I think this act is in steep contrast to what John is trying to tell us. Christ’s birth, in a manger and through the Virgin Mary, seems to hardly be a significant part of John’s Gospel account. We go from verse 18 when “No one has ever seen God” right into John the Baptist’s testimony. For this Gospel writer, Christ was before time. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” No annunciation to Mary. No traveling to Bethlehem. Jesus, the Word, was in the beginning before time and Christ has been part of creation ever since.
In the poetic language that John uses, we find that Christ’s incarnation is important even though it is almost overlooked. “And the Word became flesh and lived among us.” John says that Jesus had to become flesh because without him becoming human we did not know him and we did not accept him.
John carefully and beautifully shows us how the two great ages – our world bound by time, and eternity– coexist in the person of Jesus.[i] Our time is not separate from the time of creation or even the time to come. Through Christ, we are bound together into eternity.
This is Good News. Christ came into our world to redeem it from all darkness and evil. Jesus showers his light into the world but not everyone accepts it. He showers the world with his light so that we can absorb this light, much as we may enjoy absorbing the warm sunshine, by a pool, on a lovely summer’s day. But Christ’s light is different. We can spread this light and shower it on others as well. Through Christ and the Good News, we can let this light shine where others attempt to pull down the shades and block it from entering; or where we want to block it from entering the darkest corners of our lives. Exposing our dark places, the skeleton in our closet, to the light of Christ is even harder than bringing this light to others.
To do this, to shine this light forth is not easy and it is risky. We cannot relegate Christ to Christmas and Easter. We cannot reduce Christ in our lives to Sundays. The light of Christ is not meant to be packed away in boxes with our holiday decorations. We are not to confine it and only to let it out when we desire. We are to shine forth with the light of Christ, so that everyone can see it flowing from within our own being. And for us to shine brightly, we have to open our hearts and souls to let the light into the deepest parts of our being. Then we will experience the outpouring of joy and love that Isaiah is speaking of.
Through God, we are recreated as a new being. Isaiah says,
"I will greatly rejoice in the Lord,
my whole being shall exult in my God;
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation,
he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels."
When reading this poetry, Isaiah’s joyfulness initially comes from the people returning to Israel from captivity and then the rebuilding of the Temple. But what we ultimately see is that this love and joy overflows into life itself. Isaiah can’t contain this joy. It naturally spills over, from person to person, until it “springs up before all the nations.”
Christ didn’t become human because he needed to suffer and die; but he did. Christ never turned his back on the pain and suffering that we inflicted upon him. He could have used his power to avoid any of this incarnate pain, but he didn’t. Christ came to the world so that we could see his glory. He came to you and to me so that we all can “receive, grace upon grace” and so we can begin to know God.
We enjoy this season because we know “How good it is to sing praises to our God.” And when we are with our friends and family we know “how pleasant it is to honor him with praise” Don’t pack away Christ this year. Don’t tuck him away in a closet or even in your heart, but be free to let him spill out of you and flow into all whom you meet.
[i] The Rev. Canon Frank S. Logue, Christ doesn’t belong back in the box, 1Christmas 2014