2021 Christmas Day Sermon
Word before all ages, for the ages by Pr. Rodriguez
“What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.”
In the name of the incarnate Word, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Merry Christmas! I want to first share with you the joy and love I have in my heart as I celebrate new beginnings with you this weekend: my first Christmas as a Pastor (and your Pastor) and a baptism tomorrow morning (my first one at Christ the King). My devotion for Christmas from St. Romanos the Melodist, 5th Century reader at the Hagia Sophia, captures best sense of sharing a new beginning at the manager: Bethlehem has opened Eden; come, let us behold it. We have found delight in secret; come, let us receive it (Stanza 1, Kontakion on the Nativity of Christ). Think of the beginning of the Letter of John as he describes this delight from Bethlehem as, “that which was from the beginning, which we had heard, seen with our own eyes, touched with our hands (1 Jn 1:1).” John sees the entire scope of Jesus’ life, from his beginning at the manager to freshness of the resurrection garden, as touching transcendence.
Touching transcendence. The transcendent in our fragile, weary, yet joyous experience. Transcendent weighed down by the snare of poverty and systems. Transcendence grasping and embracing us. Gandhi, in his book The Message of Jesus Christ, makes this point about the transcendent claim on our lives in Jesus: Because the life of Jesus has the significance and the transcendency to which I have alluded to, I believe that he belongs not solely to Christianity, but to the entire world. The subject of our sermon, “Word before all ages, for the ages,” focuses the character of the transcendent Word in Christ as he touches upon the particularity of our experience. I want to sustain our attention on this text from our Gospel according to Saint John, chapter one and in particular in verse 4 when John writes, “What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.”
Separated by centuries and peoples, Mohandas Gandhi and John both experienced the snare of systems and the fragility of our experience. Both experienced the cruel oppressors rod as spiritual anguish, as dealing with same old narrative of Imperial Might. John knew of Rome’s ever tightening grasp from Patmos. Gandhi saw the extent of Viva Britannia, the Nuova Roma, from his beginnings as an attorney in South Africa. In such conditions, it is easy to fall into nihilism or skepticism about even the goodness of tomorrow. Gandhi grasps this sense poignantly: when one observes blood butchery….or the misery and suffering prevalent in every corner of the world….pestilence and famine…and war. How can one speak seriously of the divine spirit incarnate in man?” How is transcendence touching anything but minds seeking ethereal delights? Gandhi turns to Jesus’ life, “as the key of his nearness to God; that he expressed, as no other could, the spirit and the will of God.” Gandhi beheld Jesus as setting forth a way of non-violence for his age and for all ages to imitate. Jesus’ reign of peace would bloom in its fullness when, “the impulse for good and a compassion that is the spark of divinity” shine through all people, for all people. This is a principle for our own existence. We have seen, heard and received the glimmers of such a light in many and various ways; in the struggle for freedom in this country, in the welcome of migrants, in the vaccination efforts amongst vulnerable populations. Words from a sage for ages.
John perceived the span of Jesus’ life with him as ordering the very fabric of the cosmos; the transcendence in time for all time. John defined the span of Jesus’ life as Word; a dwelling amongst broken people, bringing grace upon grace. Word. Logos for our Greekies in the crowd. Logos was the ordering principle of reality during John’s time. The world was made by rationality and ordered for rationality. Philo and other Hellenistic authors understood Logos as the Speech God uttered at the creation of the world. God said let there be light and it was through Word that the worlds were formed. In seven days, God brings forth goodness out of chaos; rhythm and life from what was not. John beholds Jesus’ ministry and life as inseparable from Word. A Word not of Rationality but of Compassion. Jesus brought forth mirth and glad tidings to his cousins when he turned water into the wine at the wedding. In a word, Jesus healed the royal official’s son while near Capernaum. He fed five thousand by the sea of Galilee after he had spoke a word of thanks to God. He spoke new life out of death when he commanded, “Lazarus, Come out.”
Mirth. Healing. Life. John speaks of Jesus as the Word precisely because he had experienced Jesus as ordering a new way of life, a way of Mirth in sorrow. Healing in brokenness. Life out of death. That’s why John says of Jesus that, “What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.” Jesus is life because during his life on earth, people experienced him as Word, creating all things new. When Word in Christ creates all things new, we see God’s glory, filled with grace for us and truth in its fullness. From the new manager, the new born light, the glory of God, shines with transcendence-enveloping life’s messiness. At the cross, the eternal weight of glory bends the universe towards the life-giving Word. Let’s be honest for a second. We did not imagine an outdoor Christmas day service. We did not imagine the reports of lockdowns. We did not imagine the long lines at testing. But there is a Word before all ages for our age. Jesus, the incarnate Word, born of Mary in the lowliness of the stable has become our helper. The, our Word, offers himself as the food of compassion; compassion that embraces us and transforms us through faith to be compassionate. This is our soul’s delight, to be made anew in the light of this Word dwelling in the particularity of our brokenness. Here our God becomes helpless and hopeless like us. St. Romanos put this great paradox of the Word best: Now the Mother’s Father at His will becomes her Son; and now the Infants’ savior as a Babe lies in the manager. Amen.