Sunday, December 25, 2016

No Finish Line for the Light of Christ

St. Paul’s Church in Bergen, Jersey City
December 25, 2016

Christmas Day
Isaiah 52:7-10
Psalm 98
Hebrews 1:1-12
John 1:1-14

No Finish Line for the Light of Christ
            Merry Christmas!
            We made it!
            Merry Christmas!
            I say we made it because this morning usually feels to me like we’ve reached the finish line after running a marathon – and it definitely feels like that to me this year - and I bet a lot of you feel the same way.
            A lot of hard work went into preparing for our beautiful services last night. 
            Gail spent many hours rehearsing with the choirs and everybody in our Christmas pageant.
            Susan had many more bulletins to prepare and Vanessa went into overdrive to make sure that this place looked its best.
            The altar guild has had to work overtime polishing and refilling and ironing and all the rest that goes into making our worship beautiful.
            Last Sunday a bunch of parishioners spent a couple of hours greening the church, making this space even more attractive than usual.
            It’s a lot of work.
            And, so many people have spent so much time shopping and wrapping and cooking and all the other stuff that goes into making a nice holiday for family and friends.
            In fact, I’ve learned to not schedule special programs and events during Advent because lots of people are pretty much overwhelmed, overwhelmed with holiday preparations on top of all of our other everyday responsibilities and worries and sorrows.
            On top of that, for some of us this is a particularly hard time, a time when we’re aware of who and what we’ve lost: loved ones who have died, broken relationships, our health, our employment and financial security, our sense of meaning and purpose.
            And, as we’ve been preparing for Christmas, the world has also been reflecting on the year that is almost finished, a year that many will be happy to see go, a year when we learned just how bitterly divided we are, when we heard and saw things in our national life that most of us never could have predicted or even imagined, when we discovered that we don’t understand each other, don’t know each other, don’t like each other and definitely don’t love each other.
            So, this morning it definitely feels to me at least like we’ve reached the finish line.
            We made it!
            Merry Christmas!
            As we do every Christmas morning, this morning we heard the Christmas story according to the Gospel of John.
            John doesn’t tell us anything about no room at the inn or angels appearing to shepherds or about the newborn baby placed in a manger.
            No, John takes us back to…
            “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 overcome it.”
            Just like the story of Mary and Joseph and shepherds and sheep and “wise ones” that we saw retold in the pageant last night, John’s cosmic Christmas story never loses its power and beauty, no matter how many times we hear it.
            But, this year in particular what I’ve been thinking about is how Mary and Joseph and Jesus and the shepherds all of the other New Testament people lived during a terrible, terrible time – lived in a blood-soaked land ruled by a brutal empire.
            I’ve been thinking about how all four of the gospels were written during terrible times, when the Jewish people were under attack and seemed to lose just about everything, including the Temple itself, the center of their universe.
            And, you know, the opening of John’s Gospel that we heard this morning, what’s called the Prologue, was probably one of the last parts of the gospel to be written, most likely in the early Second Century.
            By that time, the Jewish people and the earliest Christians had endured so much suffering, so much loss, so much bitter division, and so much fear, and yet after all of that, the Evangelist can write the good news, the best news of all, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”
            The light shines in the darkness and the darkness does not – cannot -overcome it.
            There is no finish line for the Light of Christ.
            The world did its worst to Jesus, but on the first Easter God raised him from the dead.
            The world did its worst to the people of Israel and to the early Christians and yet they remembered and retold and passed on their stories, trusting in God and being the light in a very dark world.
            The light shines in the darkness and the darkness does not – cannot -overcome it.
            So, after everything we’ve been through it may feel like we’re at the end of a marathon, out of steam, barely crawling to the finish line.
            It may feel that way, but, of course, it’s not the finish line.
            There is a new year ahead, which, no doubt, will be filled with challenges and opportunities, losses and blessings, sorrows and joys.
            Our marathon, our journey together, continues.
            So, it’s very good news that there’s no finish line for the Light of Christ.
            There’s no finish line for God’s love.
            So, my prayer is that, first, we’ll all get some rest, but then as we begin the Twelve Days of Christmas, we will open our hearts even wider to God’s love.
            My prayer is that as we begin a new year, we will allow the Light of Christ to shine in and through us, allow the Light to shine in and through us as we welcome absolutely everybody, as we feed the hungry, as we stand up for those who are being picked on, as we refuse to hate, as we give away more of ourselves in loving service to those in need.
            It’s Christmas.
            We made it!
            God is with us.
            The light shines in the darkness and the darkness does not – cannot -overcome it.
            There’s no finish line for the Light of Christ.
            There’s no finish line for God’s love.
            And, that is something to celebrate.
            Merry Christmas to you all!