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First Sunday after Christmas

Dec 29, 2019

Passage: John 1:1-18

Preacher: Rob Donehue

Series: Christmas

Category: Christmas

Detail:

Sermon for First Sunday after Christmas (Year A - 2019)
December 29th, 2019
St. Anne’s, Conway SC (Lackey Chapel)

Isaiah 61:10-62:3 Galatians 3:23-25; 4:4-7 John 1:1-18

 

So y’all know what today is, right? It’s the day when my true love gave to me…FIVE GOLD RINGS! Couldn’t resist! It’s also a chance to shout out to everyone who still has their Christmas tree up - and to say, “Good for you!” There are 12 days of Christmas, so they are supposed to stay up as we continue to celebrate the birth of Jesus. So you have another seven days to go! 

I want to have a bit of fun with you all this morning because this morning’s Gospel lesson is perhaps my favorite section from scripture. If you’re not all that familiar with it, or if you’re hearing it for the first time, then I hope that you had a sense of delight as our deacon, Monty, was reading it out loud. Because it really is delightful. It tells us succinctly and beautifully about the significance of Jesus. It’s got poetry and theology and history and prophecy all wrapped up in just a few lines of text. I like it because it’s so serious and yet so playful at the same time. I know that the concept of scripture being playful might sound odd, but I think you’ll see what I mean - and I hope that you’ll go from here with a new appreciation for how the lessons we hear in church can be lively and, dare I say it, even FUN!

So, to jump in, I’d like to do a little word association with you all. So, let’s see if we can fill in the blanks. “On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…” (a partridge in a pear tree)

Ok, how about, “Little pig, little pig, let me in…(not by the hair of my chinny chin chin).

Now let’s see if we can work with a shorter clue.

“Hark the herald…(angels sing). Ok, let’s try one more…

“We the people … (of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union)

Great! You all picked up on it! So it’s possible to get a very short clue - even just a few words - and we’re able to fill in the rest because we are so familiar with what comes next. And the same thing is at work in the opening of John’s Gospel. As far back as John’s day, if you were a good reader of scripture, and you heard the lines, “In the beginning,” you would have automatically jumped to the conclusion that the full line would have been, “In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep…” So John’s Gospel begins with a playful allusion to the biblical creation story. And the point there is that John’s Gospel is setting the beginning of the story of Jesus not in a manger in Bethlehem, but even before creation. Jesus, the Word of God, was there and it all happened because of him. And it’s assumed that we’ll make the jump to the biblical creation story as well…so that we’ll be surprised and delighted when John takes a different track and says, “In the beginning…was the Word, and the word was with God and the Word was God."

There is a kind of delightfulness in taking something familiar and changing it up in a new way that doesn’t detract from the familiar. For instance, if we go back to filling in the blanks, 

What goes around… comes around. How about, What goes around…is a wheel. 

Where there’s smoke…there’s fire. Or “Where there’s smoke…There are smokers.” 

Time flies…when you’re having fun. Or, “Time flies…when you throw a clock out the window.”

And John’s Gospel is basically doing the same thing! 

Ok, one last fill-in-the-blank. “Let's start at the very beginning. A very good place to start. When you read you begin with… ABC… When you sing you begin with… Do, Re, Mi.” If you think about this instruction, there’s something wonderfully restful about it. For all of the wonders of literature and music; all of the intricate details you can find in the works of Shakespeare or Mozart, you might think that you’d have to work for ages to understand it all. But the building blocks of even the most complicated poem or symphony are ABC and Do Re Mi. Simple.  

And the opening lines of John’s Gospel remind us essentially of the same thing. He’s saying, let’s start with the basics and find rest in one simple truth. Jesus is the Word of God from before all time. Before the work of creation began. Before the complexity of the world existed, there was the Word. Simple. 

As I’m sure we all know, the holiday season can seem like a mad dash of frenetic activity. We spend most of December getting ready for Christmas and the end of the year. There’s decorating and shopping to do. We prepare meals and plan for holiday parties. We send Christmas cards and make an effort to get in touch with loved ones we haven’t seen in a while. And by the time we get to December 25th, it can seem like we’re utterly spent. But it doesn’t let up! The days that come in between Christmas and New Years often involve going to visit relatives or making our way back home. In short, for many of us the holiday season can involve a tremendous amount of busyness and work. And as a result, many of us don’t get a chance to rest in the gift that we celebrate at Christmastime. 

And that’s why I think that the lines from John’s Gospel are so good to hear at this time of year. Because I find the lines, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” very restful. - and I hope that’s not just sleep deprivation… They remind us that we can step back from all of the complexity of life that seems to crop up around the holiday season and go back to the beginning; to the very basic truth that what we celebrate at this time of year is the timeless and enduring reality that the Word of God became one of us. 

         There’s nothing we did to make that happen; and nothing we can do to change it. There are no parties we can throw that will make it any more real; no decorations we can put up that will make it any more special. All we’re asked to do is receive the gift with restful gratitude. That’s the wonderful thing that John’s Gospel reminds us of as we reach the end of the year. 

       So I hope that in the remaining days of this year, you be able to rest and ponder the gift that we celebrate at Christmas. And I hope that you will be able simply to delight in the fact that the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. To that end, I’d encourage you to reread the opening of John’s Gospel a few times over as a reminder that you can step outside of time and go back to the beginning. Which is a very good place to start.