January 3, 2016

Christmas 1

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.

Traditionally, the Sunday that follows Christmas is called a “low Sunday.” A “low Sunday” means that people who attended one of the “big” Christmas services earlier in the week are somewhat churched-out by the time Sunday rolls around again, and so we call a day like today a “low Sunday” because the attendance tends to be “lower” than usual.  

Another thing to know about “low Sunday.”  It is almost universal that the Rector is typically on vacation that day, and therefore doesn’t preach. As an associate Rector for almost nine years, I have plenty of old “first Sunday after Christmas” sermons in my folder.  Nine, to be exact!

Even though we are coming down from the proverbial mountain top of Christmas Eve and day, we are still in the midst of the Christmas season. We are actually only on the third day of the season, a day heralded in the song “Twelve Days of Christmas” as an appropriate occasion to give three French hens.  So be sure to pick up your French hens from the ushers as you leave today!

I get that even though we are only on Day 3 of Christmas, the world is ready to move on to the next lucrative, greeting card selling holiday – Valentine’s day.  But while the world is finished with Christmas, with all its “after Christmas sales,” Christmas is not finished with us. We still have nine days left.  And, low Sunday or not, today is Christmas.  So, Merry Christmas everybody!

This morning we hear the prophet Isaiah proclaim these words: “I shall rejoice in the Lord, my whole being shall exult in my God.” These are important words for us low Sunday Christians. We are here today to rejoice in what God has done in the miraculous birth of an infant boy long ago whose life changed the world and is still changing the world today. It is this child for whom the author of Galatians writes that we are all children of God through our faith.

It is this child for whom the author of John’s Gospel calls the very word of God. Another translation of these first few passages of John’s Gospel read as follows: “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a kind glory, like Father, like Son, Generous inside and out, true from start to finish.” That is Jesus, God’s clearest indication of God’s love for all humanity, and the extreme extent to which God is willing to join us and be with us and to live among us, in our neighborhood.

There are some who smugly say that if Jesus actually turned up at one of our churches, he would very likely be quietly and inconspicuously asked to leave by an usher or a priest. As much as we want to pay lip service to our love for a God who put on flesh to be with us and to know us, we are – if we are honest – often uncomfortable with such an idea.

We are afraid of God knowing us, because if God truly knew us, if Jesus really moved into our neighborhood, then he would know what we are really like. Do we really want to invite God into those places we don’t allow anyone else? Do we really want God moving into that neighborhood?

And yet – this is what Christmas is all about!  God moving in with us – living with us – knowing us for who we really are. Twenty-three years ago, when I was in high school,  I suffered a deep and debilitating depression of which I could see no end. I literally felt that I wanted to end my life. At the end of my rope, and by the grace of God alone, I was checked into a psychiatric hospital where for two weeks I looked very closely at landscapes of my psyche I had never examined before. Until that point, I believed a lie – a lie which stated I needed to be perfect in order to be loved by God. Which I could never be, and thus my depression.

In that hospital one Sunday night, I felt alone, scared, and afraid that my life had no purpose. In a room by myself, closed off from the world, something happened and God met me in that place. God set up camp in my dark and ugly neighborhood, and met me in my pain in a way I had never experienced before or ever expected God to do. Although this happened sometime in March, it was a Christmas moment, because God became incarnate – real – to me that day.

On that day God stopped being something superficial, something I associated with saccharine expressions of false happiness and joy. God took on skin, and met me in a place I didn’t allow anybody access to. Somehow God found it. For some reason God wanted to meet me there, perhaps because I needed to be broken before being made whole through the love of God.  Somehow God redeemed my low Sunday, and it became not a day of fear or shame, but a day that cast an indelible impression upon my spiritual journey.  Who knew!

So I rejoice this Sunday, whether low or not, that today is Christmas, meaning God will meet us where we are now, not where we think we need to be. Are we willing to trust that? I am trying, every day.  I hope you join me. AMEN.