Sermon, Christmas Day III, 2022
In the magisterial opening of John’s gospel, John describes a great cosmic darkness into which life and light come—the Word made flesh, Jesus.
Ultimately, what difference does the coming of Jesus make to us several thousand years later? Why should we care?
Because as John points out, the world does not care. The world did not know Jesus, and does not know Jesus now.
So I ask you, “Why should we care? Why should we accept this Word into our lives?”
Because as St Athanasius says, “For the Son of God became man so that we might become gods.”
That is, we can only be what we are until we come across Jesus, and if we receive him, then our lives begin to expand, not only on this earth, but out into eternity.
As John puts it, “For all who receive him, who believe in his name, he gives the power to become children of God, who are born not just as flesh and blood, but born of God.”
That’s why the coming of Jesus makes a difference, and why we should care. Because receiving Jesus draws us into the life of God, into eternity beginning now, into love and into light, even in the darkness that surrounds us.
When we choose to become children of God, our vision changes. God gives us the great desire to see into the essence of the universe, to see into the essence of God’s creation, and to see deep into the hearts of one another.
Newborn babies are very sensitive to bright light. Their pupils are small, limiting the amount of light that comes into their eyes.
But as their retinas develop, their pupils widen and allow more light into their eyes. And, as Kierstan Boyd says in her article about the vision development of newborns, “they can see light and dark ranges and patterns.”
We human beings tend to limit the amount of light that comes into our eyes as well, limiting our vision to what fits into our limited world views, that is, until we become children of God.
Then, our “children of God” retinas develop, letting in more and more of God’s light. We can distinguish more clearly the light and the darkness and the patterns of light and darkness in our own lives and in the lives of those around us.
And as children of God, we gain the ability to see the light in others that is mostly hidden to all except to God.
As we see into the essence of things, we now see light even in the darkness of our lives. We see light in the lives of others. We can look into the light with no fear of being blinded. We realize that the light we are seeing is the light of love itself.
And so, our ability to love deepens. We gain the capacity to love ourselves as God loves us, and to love others as God loves them.
As we love with God’s love, the light of that love helps to push away the darkness of our own shame, and the darkness of hatred that is so much a part of our world.
To see light is to see God’s love at work in the world, and to see the potential of God’s work in the world—to see beyond the years into the mighty eternally transforming power of God’s love.
And as children of light, we become part of God’s work of love on this earth.
When we become children of God, God also gives us new hearing. We can hear God speaking in the sounds around us. We can hear the meaning of sounds.
When we hear people shouting with rage and hatred, we now can hear in their raging the interior voices of fear that drive the hatred. We can hear loneliness in the silence of the neglected.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow could hear God’s voice in sounds. My reference is an article written by Dennis Rainey. Longfellow lived from 1807 to 1882 and was a well known poet in his time. He is still known today for his poems. But what I didn’t know about Longfellow was that his life was filled with great tragedy. In a horrible accident, his wife’s dress caught fire. Longfellow tried to put out the fire with his own body, but his wife was killed by the flames. And then, only two years later, in 1863, one of Longfellow’s sons, Charlie, joined Lincoln’s army. The Civil War raged as the country fought a war with itself.
On December 1, 1863, as Longfellow was eating dinner with his family, he received a war telegram letting him know that Charlie had been severely wounded and might be paralyzed for the rest of his life.
On Christmas Day, this widowed father of six, with a war raging through the nation, and his oldest son nearly paralyzed, heard the bells of the churches pealing. As Justin Taylor writes, Longfellow felt a war within his own heart. He could see for himself that there was no peace on earth. He could hear the destructive sounds of war, and yet, the sound of the bells promised peace on earth, goodwill to all. As Longfellow kept listening to the bells, he heard something beyond the sounds of the bells themselves. He heard the sound of hope in the midst of despair.
And so Longfellow wrote “I heard the bells on Christmas Day.” This poem is a testimony of this child of God’s ability to hear in the sounds of those Christmas Day bells the hope that we can hear as children of God,
the hope we hear in a sleeping child’s soft breathing, the hope of a kind word spoken into fear or sorrow, the hope that can rise in our hearts when we listen to music, the universal language, hope even in the sound of bells,
hope beyond the hatred and division of our times, hope that we someday, even in our differences, will all be one in God’s love.
The love and the hope that we experience as children of God change us into better people as we continue to grow in God’s love.
And so we find ourselves wanting to share that love and hope, because God’s love and hope for this world are too great to hoard—we cannot contain the immensity of either.
God’s love and hope flow through us out into the darkness of the world, and we become witnesses, like John the Baptist, who testified to the light and glorified God.
We children of God become the messengers that announce peace and bring good news. With God we bare our arms and fight the injustices around us. God gives us the power to offer the comfort on God’s behalf, the comfort that can come only from God, because we know that God is in the world and is always coming into the world in new ways, and bringing love, light, and new life.
And through the years, as God sustains our hope and enriches our love for God and for one another, the light of God’s love in our lives will shine ever more brightly.
God will set us, God’s children, on fire with love that can and will shine out with God’s radiance. And this fire of God’s love brings life and the light that illumines and transforms our minutes and our hours into the nearer presence of God in and through our love for one another. We can see and hear and know that we too are part of the eternity of God’s love.
And so 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.
And so, yes, we care, these thousands of years later, that a baby has been born, and that angels are singing, and that shepherds are telling the good news of all they have seen and heard, that a star is shining, and that Mary is pondering all of these things in her heart.
For unto us a child is born, and if we choose to follow him, we too will sing, and tell out the good news, and shine and ponder it all, and get reborn for the love that never ends.