1st Sunday after Christmas 12-30-18 John 1:1-18
I am so grateful that, before I was able to read for myself, my parents often read to me. One of my favorite childhood memories is of my sister and me in our matching flannel nightgowns, sitting on either side of my mother while she read Little Women aloud to us. All three of us cried when Beth died. That’s what words can do. The power of words and stories to shape and move the world remains holy mystery to me.
So you can guess how this word-lover pastor feels about today’s Gospel reading: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word WAS God!” The Word was God! Love of words equals love of God!
But I must acknowledge that there are times when words just don’t cut it. There are simply no right words to say when someone loses a child. Or a spouse. Or a parent. There is no way to explain what it feels like to be forgiven when you don’t deserve it. And though many have tried it, no one can really put words around the splendor of a sunset over the ocean or the night sky in a dark woods. Sometimes there really are no words.
Perhaps that is why God sent Jesus, the Word, in the form of a pre-verbal baby at Christmas. God sent a Word that couldn’t speak any prophecies or preach any sermons, that could only wail and grunt. God sent a Word that required 24-7 attention and devotion—a Word of vulnerability and tenderness, a Word of hope to an embattled world, to the ruins of Jerusalem. God bared a little tiny arm that proclaimed profoundly all God wanted to say about power.
Now, Baby Jesus does not mark the first time God spoke a Word to the world. God has always been on speaking terms with us, even when the reverse wasn’t possible. “In the beginning was the Word….” It was a Word from God that set the planets spinning in their orbits, that created the duck-billed platypus and the Venus flytrap. It was God’s Word that spoke to Moses from the burning bush and to Joseph in his dreams. It was God’s word that the prophets uttered over and over to the people when they wandered away from God and from one another. God’s Word permeates all of history, all of life.
But in time people forgot to listen to the words, or they grew weary of them. And because people had grown deaf to the story of God’s enduring faithfulness and tenderness toward us, God told the story again, this time through a wordless baby. A love story that only the pitter-pat of beautiful little feet could tell.
Jesus’ beautiful baby feet were not exactly like other human feet. Oh yeah, probably they had ten toes and all that, but these feet could speak! They delivered good news! These feet proclaim peace to the war-torn regions of the world, relief to those who feel oppressed, hope to those who worry and comfort to those who sit in darkness. Without a word, this Word is a Word for the World!
And it is a Word for you. A Word of God’s nearness not only to the global family, but also to whatever war rages inside of you, inside your family, your relationships, or your community. This is God’s Word, and it’s so magnificent that no other words can speak adequately of it. It is a light that shines in the darkness, beyond any description of it.
Some of you may not be able to glimpse that light right now. Some years it just happens like that. The earth has been ravaged by fire and flood, earthquakes and tsunamis. Our nation is still reeling from a year filled with all manner of violence—the kind perpetrated by lawbreakers and by law-makers. And perhaps closer to home, maybe some of you were grieved by an empty chair at your holiday table this year. Or maybe you or someone you love is troubled or sick.
Some of you may not be experiencing the wonder of Christmas at all. You may feel like you’re still stuck in Advent, still waiting. Yes, the blue paraments have been changed to white, but you may still be yearning for the promise to arrive. Maybe you did hear the angels to sing, but their harmonies seemed to be only for others, not for you. Just so many more words without meaning.
Of course, many of us did experience a Merry Christmas. There are some among us who heard the Word whisper—“You are my beloved child; with you I am well pleased.” Or shout, “”Nothing can separate you from my love!” Or sing in myriad carols. Or maybe we felt the Word in the wordless wonder of a hug, a tear, a sense of beauty.
And yet our joy cannot be complete, because we know that our experience of Christmas peace and goodwill is by no means universal. So how do we speak of the joy of a Christmas, when there are so many experiences of it? How do we celebrate a baby coming with families who are mourning the death of their children? Or who have experienced a miscarriage or stillbirth? What do we say to people whose dreams have died, or whose hope is aborted?
In the face of grief, we may find ourselves dumbstruck. We may be angry that God has allowed terrible things to happen. Maybe we utter the only words we have to utter on such occasions to God, who surely knows what to do with them. Maybe we don’t speak a word. Maybe we hold hands and cry a little, as God must have done with Mary as she groaned with labor pains on Christmas Eve—or with Joseph, reeling from his new responsibilities.
I think it’s useful to remember that sometimes babies are late. The calendar may indicate that Jesus was due on Christmas Day, but perhaps this year there’s a different schedule. Maybe it is not yet the fullness of time for some. Maybe this pregnancy will last a little longer. Maybe the Word will arrive on some Tues. afternoon in February.
This is the Good News: eventually the Baby will come, as babies tend to do. God always keeps God’s promises, so hang onto the assurance that beautiful feet are on their way to you, bringing you good news of great joy. There will be a day when your heart will break into song.
The presence of God has come, is coming, and will come again. If there is silence today, that can be good and right and holy too. Eventually those little feet will come pattering toward you. The Word of God is a word of hope and of grace. And even if it’s just a sigh today, there will be a day when you will again hear exuberant singing. Because this is certain: the Word is a Word for you. For unto you a Child is born. On you the light has shined. All the cacophony of the universe cannot drown out this Word, the very heartbeat of God.
Merry Christmas—today or someday.
Here’s the audio recording of the sermon. TO LISTEN, in the SoundCloud window below, CLICK (or double-Click) the red button with the white arrow pointing to the right. If that does not work, then click on the “Sermon 12-30-18” name of the sermon.