Christmas Day; John 1: 1-14
“Jesus is the reason for the season.” A popular catch phrase, meant to remind us that Christmas is not all about sales and glitter and food and presents. I was reminded the other day that some would claim that the tilt of the earth on its axis in the reason for the season. While that comment was intended as the comeback of the secular to the religious, my friendly neighborhood secularist was not wrong. Obviously, he is not wrong from a scientific perspective. The tilt of the earth on its axis is, in fact, largely responsible for the seasons. But he was not even wrong from a religious perspective.
According to former Episcopal Bishop Frederich Borsch, “There is no evidence of any kind regarding the date of Jesus’ birth. His nativity began to be celebrated on Dec. 25 in Rome during the early part of the fourth century (AD 336) as a Christian counterpart to the pagan festival, popular among the worshipers of Mithras, called Sol Invictis, the Unconquerable Sun. At the very moment when the days are the shortest and darkness seems to have conquered light, the sun passes its nadir. Days grow longer, and although the cold will only increase for quite a long time, the ultimate conquest of winter is sure. This astronomical process is a parable of the career of the Incarnate One. At the moment when history is blackest, and in the least expected and [least] obvious place, the Son of God is born…”
John would not have known of Christmas celebrations – they started long after he was gone, and they probably wouldn’t have made much sense to him in their current form – but he did know about the importance of light.
Yesterday evening we heard the familiar Christmas story from Luke’s perspective. It’s a beautiful story, complete with radiant, beaming new mother, attentive, caring father, cherubic infant. The angels sing and the shepherds keep watch, and all the world sings God’s praise. The images and emotions evoked are warm and tender and loving.
John, however, is not a storyteller. John is a mystic. John is a poet. John is not a romantic.
John begins his Gospel earlier than any of the others. Mark begins with John the Baptist. Matthew tells us of Jesus’s genealogy, Luke carefully places Jesus’s birth in place and time. There’s good evidence that John had access to Mark, Matthew and Luke’s materials. He knew about the wise men and the sheep and the sweet baby and all the rest. But, for John, that is not the beginning.
John begins at the beginning. Before Genesis. When Christmas really starts. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. As the Rev. James Ligget says, “using language evocative of Genesis, John begins by talking about the Word of God — the Word of God here is God in action, God creating, revealing, and redeeming. The Word was with God, and the Word was God.” And then he tells us the birth story. In nine words. “And the Word became flesh and lived among us.”
With matter/energy transformations, time warps and tense shifts to give nightmares to physicists and English majors alike, John describes the indescribable. The Word that was before the beginning. The Word is with God. The Word is God. The Word is the true light. The Word is flesh, but through the Word made flesh, people of flesh might become children of God.
And so, as we pass the solstice, and our days grow longer (if not necessarily warmer), we celebrate the coming of the Light. God in Christ is with us still – the Word is eternal, the Light remains. If we open our eyes of our hearts to the light, we see God in the everyday – in shoveling snow, and in folding laundry, in the feast we share here and in dinners alone, in good-morning kisses and in good-bye hugs, in the moment we look into the eyes of one of the world’s outcasts and know that person is a child of God. As one commentator says, “It is why we aim to live the Christian life by not only talking about it or thinking about it, but by doing it—why our prayers are not only those of the heart, but those of the hands and the feet. (KIMBERLY BRACKEN LONG) May we live always in Light. May the light live always in us. Glory to God!