Sermon: “1st Sunday of Christmas” (December 28, 2014)

Christ Episcopal Church, Valdosta
1st Sunday of Christmas, Dec. 28, 2014
Isaiah 61:10-62:3 / Galatians 3:23-25; 4:4-7 / John 1:1-18 / Psalm 147:13-21
Patricia Marks

In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. +

“In the beginning was the Word . . .” –what a verse to give a retired English teacher to preach on! I have loved words all my life. When I was around twelve years old, a friend of my father’s, a newspaper reporter, gave me his old Olivetti typewriter. That’s when I switched from wanting to be an archeologist to wanting to be a writer. And as I happily typed out story after story, poem after poem, I discovered that words are the building blocks of creation. With those tiny letters you give shape to an idea; you literally make something out of nothing.

So listen to John. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. . . . all things were made through him. . . In him was life, and the life was the light of all humanity.” When we read John, what we find is a new creation story. We all know the one in Genesis—

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth . . . . darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.

John invites us to enter that story in a new way. He calls us to look at our brothers and sisters in a new way. He calls us to look at ourselves in a new way.

Whenever I read “In the beginning was the Word,” I think of a pilgrimage I made to Ireland years ago. There, at Trinity College in Dublin, we saw pages from the Book of Kells, a beautiful 9th century manuscript of the Gospels, the pages carefully written and exquisitely decorated. It’s unforgettable. (I left some illustrations in the parish hall if you’d like to see it.)

Imagine what it would be like to touch those pages of vellum, a fine parchment, your fingers sliding over the deckled edges, the hallmark of hand-made paper. There, on that velvet-like surface, is the story of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Almost twelve centuries ago, monks on the holy island of Iona, off the Scottish coast, sat working by candlelight, lovingly shaping each letter, adding curly ends called serifs and the delicate traceries of a master pen. The shape of the writing is distinctive, so distinctive that it is like a signature. It is as if the writer, the artist, poured his spirit into the letters, calling them into being to move and dance together into words, to shout with joy and sing of the message of the Gospel.

Many of the pages in the Book of Kells are decorated, festooned with leaves and berries, angels’ wings and shafts of light. The deep reds and blues and greens, the gold leaf drawn from the treasury of the paint-box, all shine forth with exuberant life, rejoicing along the border of the page. This is but earthly stuff, just pen and ink and paper, after all; but the beauty comes alive out of sheer creativity.

When John writes about the Word, then, he is glorifying the greatest writer, the greatest artist: the Creator, the one through whom all things were made. “In him was life, and the life was the light of all humanity,” says John. But that infinite creativity that gave birth to all things—to the mudfish and the supernova, to strands of DNA and drops of rain—gave us even more. His Son: the Word incarnate. It is as if God were the calligrapher drawing on the finest sheepskin ever, His very being, his boundless love and grace revealed in that Son. The Christ, who comes to us as a flesh-and-blood baby—vulnerable, helpless, needing everything.

If you read the newspaper, you’ll discover that Christmas is over. The woodchipper is merrily shredding Christmas trees, stripped of lights and angels, after-Christmas sales are in full swing. But, you know, Christmas really isn’t over. I don’t mean just that as Episcopalians, we celebrate twelve more days of Christmas, ending at Epiphany, when the Magi visited the Christ child. No. I mean much more than that. Christmas isn’t over—and never will be—because each and every one of has grace upon grace inscribed on the very fiber of our being.

We have been given an amazing Christmas gift! It wasn’t what we expected; we could never have conceived of asking for it. Yet it is the greatest gift of all. It is a new beginning, a new creation that pours grace and truth into the world. God really knew what he was doing. What better way to show us how to behave to the rest of our human family, than to ask us to love that tiny child? It gives us a bird’s-eye view of how God sees us, his own vulnerable, needy children. And wonder of wonders, it evokes in us a human reflection of the divine love that created all things.

We have been given a priceless gift. It isn’t wrapped in festive paper or adorned with bows—in fact, it isn’t returnable. When Mary learned of this gift, she said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord.” When Joseph learned of it, he said “Yes, Lord, I’ll take Mary and the child into my home.” And John, testifying to the true light of life coming into the world, says, “to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God.” So all that remains is for us to say the word. “Yes, Lord. Here I am, Lord.”

So as we read John, we are invited to open the book of life, to see a creation filled with a glorious profusion of colors and designs, filled with the love and grace of the Word itself. There we find the light of life that reshapes and recreates us as living words—we who are often a chaos of tiny, quirky letters with minds of their own. We are invited into the story, invited into joining together in sentence and paragraph, chapter and verse; there we make sense of who we are, and whose we are.

By the light that shines in the darkness, we see the world with new eyes—Christ’s eyes. We are called by his grace and truth to welcome others into the story. We are called, every one of us, to be writers of the Word, called to bring peace and love and harmony; to proclaim the truth and to replace doubt with faith; to bring hope and light and joy.

That is what the Word has brought to us, the incredible gift of new life, the marvelous reality that Christmas is not over. Christmas is never over.

Hallelujah, says the psalmist; and I invite you to say it with me:
Hallelujah!

In His Holy Name. Amen.+