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Sermon preached the First Sunday after Christmas Day on December 30, 2012 at Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill in Alexandria, VA.
RCL, All Years:  Isaiah 61:10-62:3; Psalm 147; Galatians 3:23-25, 4:4-7; John 1: 1-18


    In the Name of God: Father, Son, And Holy Spirit.  Amen.    

    If you don’t know already, I’m here today to tell you that God wants to pour out God’s richest blessings and fullest favor upon all of us each new day.

    We all need to hear this because sometimes we get so preoccupied by the busyness of this world that we miss out on all that God intends for us.  

    So again I tell you.  God wants to pour out God’s richest blessings and most full favor upon us every day.

    Sometimes, when we see all the hardships and pains that this world can inflict upon its people, we can feel a little more than guilty if we think we have been blessed.  

    When someone says they’re fortunate to have a new whatever, whether it be a job, a relationship, a child, or even a car, it is!  It’s a blessing!  Maybe its a meal on the table, or clothes on their back, or a roof over their head, or gifts under a tree.  Those are!  They are blessings!  

    We should help others to see and know the blessings in their lives and ours.  If you feel you must boast, then boast in the goodness of God.  Tell anyone and everyone about how good God is to God’s people.  

    We exchange gifts at Christmas because we remember that gift that God Almighty gave us in his Son, Jesus.  That was a precious gift that came shrouded in flesh.  As human as we are, yet still fully divine as God is.  Wrapped in swaddling clothes.  Lying humbly in a simple manger.  In Bethlehem.  

    But just as amazing as God’s gift is to us, Jesus offers us a gift as well.  

    Grace.


The gift that Jesus gives us this Christmas is Grace.

    And today’s Gospel shows us the origin of that grace: “From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.”  (John 1: 16) 

    The loving purpose of God to create, care for and bring into right relationship with himself the whole cosmos, was expressed once in history in a human life who is the Son of Man.  The divine mind and will of God became incarnate in Jesus Christ.  Without this true light, our world would grope in darkness, and, when the Light came, God’s own ancient people who may have been expected to accept him, received him not. 

    But what we have received from the Incarnate Word was not simply a sight of a bodily presence, or the sound of his words in what he taught, but an actual sharing in who and what he is, including his nature in its fullness.

    But what is this Grace?

    An on-line search on the word ‘grace’ yields many different definitions, explanations, and interpretations.  The Collins Word English Dictionary’s first entry stated “elegance and beauty of movement, form, expression, or proportion.”  Later, after six other entries, #8, specifically associated with Christianity, says:

  a.  The free and unmerited favour of God shown towards humankind;
  b.  The divine assistance and power given to man in spiritual rebirth and sanctification;
  c.  The condition of being favoured or sanctified by God;
  d.  An unmerited gift, favour, etc. granted by God.

    God’s grace is unmerited favor which means we can do nothing to earn it.  We cannot work for it, and we cannot change God’s mind about it, no matter how hard we might try.  God pours out God’s blessing on us, not because of what we do, but because of who God is.

    Christ alone is the source of grace and truth, which he now freely shares with his people. Grace is not a once-given and once-received gift or act of kindness.  It is continually renewed giving and receiving, communicated by the personal relationship which the Incarnate Word, Jesus Christ, made possible.

    The word John uses for fullness is a wonderful word - pleroma - which means “that which fills” or “full to overflowing.”  The Greek literally reads, “Grace instead of grace.”  It means the sum of all that is God.  In Jesus, we find the totality of wisdom, and power, and love from God.

    Each blessing is the foundation for a greater blessing.  God’s grace is given to His people continuously and is never exhausted.  Every wonder leads to a new discovery; different gifts of grace for differing times in life.  

    We can turn to Jesus with any need and find that need supplied.  We can approach Christ with any ideal and find that ideal realized.  Beauty, knowledge, courage are all found in and through Jesus.  In Jesus, the man who is conscious of his sin will find forgiveness of his sin and the strength to become a better person.  “The spring of divine life” becomes available to all of us through Jesus.

    All through life we are constantly receiving grace instead of grace, for the grace of Christ is triumphantly adequate to deal with any situation we may face.

    Days of prosperity call for one type of grace and days of adversity call for a different type of grace.  We need one kind of grace to bear our burdens and another kind of grace to bear the burdens of others.

    What grace have you received?  What blessings have you felt?  What grace have you been?  What blessings have you offered?  Have you seen grace or blessing active in the world?  I know that grace and blessing has been felt and received, that blessings and grace have been given, and that the fullness of God in Christ is known to all of us.

    I have known the fullness of God through warm welcomes and wonderful receptions, and broad smiles and lovely flowers that have brightened our home and lightened up many hospital stays for others.

    We have seen grace upon grace when book bags and backpacks enveloped our chancel space in August for students who were heading off to school. 

    I have visited folks in their homes, shared lunches at Goodwin House, and have been witness to some who are commissioned with ‘May our hands carry Christ’s Love into the world,” to take the Body of Christ to others.

    Of course, October was full of pumpkins which tested our backsides and gladdened the spirits of others, along with sweets and savories that fed and satisfied.  Even Sandy could not dampen the good works of the Patch, and the outreach now possible from the fruits of your labors. 

    Even this month, gift upon gift, and bag after bag, each bigger than the last, were brought down that aisle to our altar to fill this chapel with Christmas cheer.  

    Yet the fullness of God, and grace upon grace, is not Immanuel’s alone.

    We’ve seen it in the incredible response to those who were affected by superstorm Sandy and as people have rallied around the community of Newtown, CT.  I saw it in the VTS community when student leaders gathered provisions for Thanksgiving dinners and delivered them to New York.  I remember the gift of a canopy provided to shield votive candles lit for each shooting victim while individuals who stood vigil to keep the light alive endured whatever weather came.

    I had hoped soon to celebrate a friend of mine that I’ve know since high school.  Robert Egger is the Founder and President of L.A. Kitchen, which opens in 2013. The L.A. Kitchen will professionally recover fresh food, focusing on fruits and vegetables, which it will use to deploy a new culinary arts job training program for men and women coming out of foster care, or older men and women returning from incarceration.

    Robert pioneered this model during his 24 year tenure as the President of the  DC Central Kitchen, the country’s first “community kitchen,” which used food donated by hospitality businesses and farms to feed the hungry on the street and in shelters.  

    After high school, Robert had planned to open the biggest, baddest nightclub in Georgetown.  But following his epiphany experience while feeding the homeless on the streets of the Nation’s Capital, Robert opened the DC Central Kitchen in 1989, and since that time, DCCK (a $10 million dollar a year, self-sustaining, social enterprise) has produced over 26 million meals and helped 1,000 men and women gain full time employment. The Kitchen operates its own revenue generating business (Fresh Start Catering), as well as the Campus Kitchens Project, which coordinates similar recycling/meal programs in 33 colleges or high school based kitchens.

    A wondeful humanitarian and an intense political activist, among the many accolades and honors Robert has garnered over time, include being named an Oprah Angel, Washingtonian of the Year, a Point of Light by President George H.W. Bush, and one of the     Ten Most Caring People in America, by the Caring Institute. 

    My friend Robert and I regularly joke about being one to the other a “righteous  street-preaching brother dude.”  He, for me, reflects the fullness of God here working on earth now, sharing grace upon grace through his wonderful works and beautiful example. 

    As I began crafting this sermon for today, my father-in-law Grafton was dying from Stage IV melanoma.  My mother-in-law Elesa, likely due to the stress and sorrow of this long ongoing illness, was having difficulty remembering things well from day to day, if not hour by hour.  Consequently, my wife Chrissie received multiple phone calls each day where she repeatedly tried to help her mother recall the circumstances of their lives and the realities of their days.

    Yes, I have seen grace upon grace through Chrissie, the Heart Of My Heart, as she has ministered to her father, mother, siblings and the wider family.  I am inspired by her compassion, which is borne from the fullness of God, and known through the grace that Jesus Christ gives to us all.  I knew the fullness of God Thursday morning after Grafton had died.  God filled me and Jesus graced me with the calm sure presence needed to offer prayers at the time of death by phone to my mother-in-law and her hospice companion, as they stood over Grafton’s body.

    God came in human flesh to be as one of us among us to win humankind to himself.  God could have made us with an instinct to do God’s will; but God chose instead to give us the power and ability to decide for ourselves our attitude toward our Creator.  But God is a spirit; and we are hedged in by the limitations of our material bodies, and have a scant idea of what a Spirit is.  So, the Creator came to his creatures as one of them to give them an idea of the kind of being He is.  In that fullness, and through that grace, God is like Jesus and Jesus is like God.

    It is not only Christ’s position of preeminent authority which makes Him central to everything.  He is the One who supplies all the needs of his people.  “From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.”  “We all have ...” means ALL OF US, even those who did not experience Christ in the flesh.  

    I like Eugene Peterson’s interpretation of John 1: 16 in The Message ~ “We all live off his generous bounty, gift after gift after gift.”  

    So one final time I will tell you.  God wants to pour out God’s richest blessings and most full favor upon all of us each day.  Through the coming of Christ into this world, from the fullness of God, with grace upon grace, God really is able and truly wants to pour out his goodness upon everyone with one gift after another.  May God’s grace be with you always, and with those you love, and those who love you.

    Amen.