John 1:[1-9], 10-18
Greetings to you, my brothers and sisters in Christ, on this, the Second Sunday of Christmas; a Sunday in which we in the church are focused, one last time this year, on the gift of the child born in Bethlehem. Our crèche is still sitting, now, so close to Epiphany with the Magi approaching the stable, right here, front and center. Tonight has long been known as twelfth night, the eve of Epiphany, and according to the old English Christmas Carol, “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” we are preparing to receive the gift of twelve drummers drumming.
Meanwhile, though we may find ourselves in the Christmas season, waning as it is, the rest of the world has already moved on. The year has turned – and we are already several days into a new year, with new challenges and new possibilities. Merchants are displaying Valentine’s Day wares. You’ve probably already hung your 2014 calendar, you might be in the beginning stages of gathering your documents together for tax season, and you’ve probably even made your New Year resolutions, if you do that kind of thing – and as we are only five days into the New Year, so far, chances are you’ve even kept the resolutions you’ve made – so far.
I’ve seen an AT&T commercial a few times in the past couple of weeks. In it, there is a man sitting at a pint-sized table with a group of small children in what looks like a preschool or kindergarten classroom. He begins a brief conversation with the children, asking an open-ended question – a really risky thing to do with small children, as I have learned the hard way in children’s sermons over the years.
In this ad, the man begins by asking, “Is it better to be more reliable or less reliable?” Of course, the kids all answer, in unison, “More reliable.” So far, so good – I’m sure this is the answer that man is looking for, given that it is a commercial for AT&T, after all. Then he asks the kids, “Why?” One little boy answers in all sincerity, “So you can keep your New Year’s revolution.”
“A New Year’s revolution! Oh no! What are you going to do?” the man asks, in mock alarm at the thought of kindergartners in revolt. (Which, I admit, is a pretty scary thought!)
The boy then answers, “I would have more time to eat jelly beans this year.”
Relieved, the man responds, “Oh, so it’s not so much a revolt, more just like you eating things that are bad for you.”
“Yeah,” answers the little boy, nodding.
“I can deal with that,” the man responds.
This commercial gave me a chuckle at first, but then I got to thinking about the intersection of these words - resolution and revolution – in the Christmas story. Let me explain.
As Christians, we know Christmas not just as a holiday or festival, but rather as a time that witnesses to a reality that permeates our whole life. While God’s love for God’s creation and people has not changed from the beginning of time, in the birth of the savior, God’s tactics for how that love is made manifest not only changed but ignited a revolution.
In the past, God resolved to love, provide for and accompany God’s holy people into the Promised Land in a covenant relationship. And when the people’s sin and corruption and betrayal repeatedly broke that covenant, rather than cut them off forever, God did something revolutionary; God resolved to save God’s beloved from sin and death by entering the world in fleshly form. And God’s revolutionary presence in the world upset things so much that, in John’s words, “his own didn’t know him……they did not accept him.” Instead, they killed him and hung him on a cross. But God’s revolution in Christ Jesus prevailed in victory over death and the grave in the resurrection of Christ.
Our revolutionary reality is that in Christ, God inhabiting human form, God taking on flesh, makes us new. David Lose writes, “God has become flesh, entering a world of sin. God goes to the cross and dies. God becomes our dust so that we are given God’s life and resurrection. The sacred enters the profane and the world will never be the same.” That, my friends, is revolutionary. And it is balm for a world thirsting for peace and for justice.
For while it is still true that through God’s love we are given all we need to live and to love in harmony with one another and with God’s whole creation, sin persists. We find ourselves in conflict, broken, disappointed, defeated, and wandering. The Old Testament text from Jeremiah today reflects experiences of the people of God in the time of exile, but it also describes our own condition: devastated and lonely, lost, experiencing life filled with zigzags, detours and derailments; we find ourselves stumbling, staggering, and falling down. Yet unfailingly, God responds to our overwhelming need, and guides us back to brooks of refreshing water through baptism, where our mourning is turned into joy.
In our gospel text today, John’s Christmas confession extends beyond the baby born in a lowly stable and wrapped in cloths and laid in a manger. It is the belief that he existed before creation and comes to us and lives among us now; that he was always and is always participating with us as we explore what living as heirs of God’s magnificent reign of love means in our lives. In Christ, God is revealed. In Christ, God becomes known. In the Word, this incarnation of God born of Mary, Jesus the Christ, God’s revolutionary stand is burned into the history and life of the world.
As we gather today, we still have the nativity scene here to remind us of the Christmas story that we heard on Christmas Eve. That story includes a baby in a manger, parents traveling to Bethlehem, angels, shepherds, and a star. Later, it includes the magi, too. In our gospel text today, John gives us a version of the Christmas story as well. In John’s rendering, the attention shifts from Jesus’ birth story, to ours. For in this text, we are reminded of our birth as children of God – that, Jesus came into the world so that we – you and I might become children of God.
In John’s telling of the Christmas story, there is no baby, no manger. There is no report of parents traveling to Bethlehem. There are no angels, no shepherds, there is no star nor report of magi bearing gifts to greet the newborn king. This is no historical account of the birth of Jesus Christ, the messiah. Instead, in the gospel of John, we get a statement of faith about God’s incarnation, “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only begotten son, full of grace and truth.” And it is through this Word, the only Son of God that the fullness and true extent of God’s love becomes known to us and is shared with the entire cosmos, and it changes everything.
For those facing despair, the Word gives us cause to take heart and realize that we are not alone, and that these trials will not overcome us. The revolutionary Word of God is a word of hope for all people. The revolutionary Word of God, whose coming has made us children of God, refuses to allow our lives to be dominated by the trials we face, nor by the circumstances in which we find ourselves. It will not allow us to be identified by the clothes we wear or the color of our skin; it does not count our age or gender, accomplishments or sexuality, the measurement of our intellect or bank balance. God’s revolutionary Word became human and entered the struggle of human life as love incarnate, as God’s inclusive word of compassion, forgiveness and reconciliation with and for a fallen world. Revolutionary indeed.
Kae Evensen writes, “Our lives are messy stuff but God entering every corner of the world means that there is no place God is not: the linen cloth that held the Christ child becomes the Veil that has been torn, and from it we are unbound. Jesus is in our midst. Now, sins are forgiven, wounds are healed, the dead will rise.”
What is ordinary now bears the extraordinary, revolutionary promises of Christ. Promises like unconditional love, salvation, grace and mercy extended to all people.
As God’s resolution for the salvation of humanity took on the form of revolution with the birth of Christ, as God joined intimately with the whole of humanity, God invites each of us to join the revolution as well. We are called as children of God and heirs together in Christ to share the love of God within this world in which we live. Jesus comes into our midst calling us to revolution as well. We are invited as children of God to resolve that we will follow in the Way of Christ, forgiving, healing, and disturbing the status quo that denies the reality of God’s sovereignty. To follow through on this resolution means that we will revolt against all forms of slavery, oppression, discrimination, injustice, poverty and hatred.
On this Sunday and every day may it be our resolution to actively take part in the revolution of God in Christ. In this most powerful, meaningful, transformative revolution, led by God and demonstrated in the live, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, let us bear witness to the miracle that takes place not only in a stable in Bethlehem but each and every day within the hearts of every child of God. May we declare with every sound of the drum that as we have received from God grace upon grace, we resolve to dedicate our lives to the peace, equality, love, mercy, and care for all of God’s creation and for all people.