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Sermon: "How are you 'Christ-massing?"

Sermon preached at St. Margaret’s, Woodbridge (VA) on December 31, 2017.
1st Sunday after Christmas; Year B (RCL): Isaiah 61:10-62:3; Psalm 147; Galatians 3:23-25; 4;4-7; John 1:1-18

"And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory,
the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth."

So, how was your Christmas? Today is the 31st of December and I've already had more than enough people ask me, directly and through Facebook, "How was your Christmas?" And while I understand what's being asked, I also hear the assumption that Christmas is over. But as our church calendar rightly reflects, there are Twelve Days of Christmas. It is a not only a day. It is a season. The Season of Christmastide. Until the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6th. But already in some homes, trees have been taken down and dragged to the curb, decorations have been packed away, and leftovers have been thrown out.

I mention this, not to criticize or judge, but really in recognition that we're mostly 'event-driven' people. We tend to live our lives from one event to the next. And if you don't agree with me, I invite you to look at your calendar. I've looked at mine. It is mostly a schedule of events. Go here next, do that afterward, get ready for this, on and on. Our days are so full of events and appointments, should there ever be a day or two when there's nothing scheduled, we say things like "I have nothing going on that day," or "I'm not doing anything that night." It's as if there's no life, nothing to learn or discover, little to nothing to experience during those non-event times. Thankfully, St. John's Gospel has a different understanding of Christmas, life, and humanity.

"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."

Such intense power in so few words! John has caught the sweep and wonder of the history of salvation and shared it in hymnic form. All through the prologue of this Gospel, John sets forth the career of the Incarnate Word in simple, powerful phrases – “the light shining in the darkness,” “became flesh and dwelt among us,” “full of grace and truth,” “declaring the Father,” some “did not receive Him,” but others were “born of God.”

This, for St. John, is the Christmas story and it is set in the context of creation -- "In the beginning." Creation is not an event of the past, but rather it is the ongoing life of God with God's people. St. John echoes and continues the story of creation from Genesis, "In the beginning God said, 'Let there be ...' and there was ..." Land, sky, vegetation covering the world, living creatures from the waters, birds of the air, creatures creeping along the face of the earth, and humankind made in the image and likeness of God. This prologue is far more than an introduction to the Gospel. It really us a dramatic summary, a revelation, of all that will take place throughout the earthly ministry of Our Lord.

Christmas is God continuing to give life to God's people. "And the Word became flesh and lived among us." St. Gregory of Nyssa says Christmas is the "festival of re-creation." It is God giving God's own life to God's people. It's as if God said, 'Humanity should see my face. I want them to hear my voice. I need them to feel my touch. They should see and smell my sweat. I want them to live their life. I want them to know my life.' "And the Word became flesh and lived among us." This is God in the flesh; the divine human - holy humanity.

This festival of re-creation is God's celebration of humanity. It is God entrusting God's own self to human beings, to both you and to me. It is God's reaffirmation of the goodness of humanity. It is the sharing and exchanging of life between God and you and me. The Son of God became the Son of Man so that all might become the people of God. Divinity was clothed in humanity so that humanity might be clothed in divinity.

How beautiful is that? Imagine what that means for us. It means we are holy and are intended to be holy, not as an achievement on our own, but as a gift from God. This is the true gift of Christmas. We have been given the power to become children of God. This happens "not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God." "And the Word became flesh and lived among us."

God sees humanity as the opportunity and the means to reveal God's own self. Yet far too often, we use our humanity as an excuse. "I'm only human," we declare, as if we are somehow deficient. We fail to see, to believe, to understand that in the Word becoming flesh and living among us, that we are God's first sacrament. Human beings are tangible, outward, and visible signs and we are called to become carriers of God's inward and spiritual grace.

I wonder if you ever imagined yourself as a sacrament? Have you ever looked at someone across the street and said, "Hey, look! There's the sacramental image of God?" No? Why not? Why do we not see that in ourselves and each other? After all, "The Word became flesh and lived among us."

In the Jewish tradition, rabbis tell a story that each person has a procession of angels going before them, crying out, "Make way for the image of God." Imagine how different our lives and world might be if we lived with this as our reality and the truth that guides our lives.

Everywhere we go, the angels go with us announcing the coming of the image of God and reminding us of whom we are. Who we are and whose we are. That is the truth of Christmas for us. It is also the Christmas truth for the person who lives next door, for those we love, for those we fear, for those who are like us and those who are different, for the stranger, and, dare I say it, for our enemies also. "And the Word became flesh and lived among us."

The implications are profound. It changes how we are ourselves and one another, the way we live, our actions, and our words. It means that Christmas cannot be limited to an event. Christmas is a life to be lived, a way of being. It means that Christmas should be properly understood "as a verb" rather than as a noun. So maybe we should stop asking, "How was your Christmas?" Instead, we should be asking, "How are you 'Christ-massing?" Are you recognizing the Word become flesh in the lives of others? Do you see the procession of angels going before you and hear their voices?

Within this gospel’s profound words lies the simple message that God is revealed in a human person. Though we may try to understand how the Word existed with God from the beginning of time, the wonder we celebrate at Christmas is that the Word continues to dwell among us. Christ comes among us in the gathered assembly, through the scriptures, in the waters of new birth, and through the sacraments of bread and wine, the Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Through these ordinary, yet extraordinary gifts, we receive the fullness of God’s grace and truth.

It is impossible for us humans to use our natural capacities to see God as God – whether through theophanies, those magnificent manifestations of the Divine, or visions, or reason concepts. At best they are only fleeting and partial. But we are called to praise God that in Jesus we may know God!

"And the Word became flesh and lived among us." The Word became flesh and has never ceased living among us. The Word was made flesh and will never cease living among us. So, make way -- wherever you go, whatever you do, whoever you are with -- make way for the image of God. I pray that you and I, that we as the people of God will always, and in all ways, Christmas our ways through life.

Let us pray:
O Gracious God, you spoke, and your Word became flesh, breathing a new song of joy and praise in our world. Grant that we may bear the good news of your salvation made possible for us through your son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, and empower us to proclaim your promise of peace to the ends of the earth. AMEN.