First Sunday after Christmas
December 30, 2001
The Gospel: John 1:1-18
Sermon:
The Rev. Dr. William H. Morley

The Gospel:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. And 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. (John testified to him and cried out, 'This was he of whom I said, 'He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.'") From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father's heart, who has made him known.

John 1:1-18


Sermon

First Sunday after Christmas - December 30, 2001

St. John 1: 1-2: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God... and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace (unconditional love) and truth."

One of the great pleasures I most enjoy about the Christmas season are the wonderful stories that come out of people's lives as they experience the "meaning of Christmas"-- its joys, its sorrows, its inspiration, its bewilderment, the tears of thankfulness for the love and hugs from family and friends, and the laughter that comes from not taking the seasonal traps of Christmas (excluding the birth of Jesus) all too seriously.

Let me offer several stories to illustrate my point about how stories help to drive home important life's messages:

One of my favorites was written by a pastor from Roxboro: Once there was a little boy who was REALLY mean. No matter what his parents tried, he continued to be self-centered, selfish and well --- mean. Christmas was coming soon, so the little boy, in his usual selfish way, made his "Dear Santa" letter - 12 pages of gadgets and toys!

When his parents saw the monstrous letter, they were outraged. His father picked up the little boy and carried him to the living room, setting him firmly on the floor in front of the family's nativity scene. "l want you to sit right here and look at this scene until you remember what Christmas is all about. Then you must write a letter to Jesus."

So the little boy sits there a while and then returns to his bedroom. Finding paper and pencil, he begins to write: "Dear Jesus, if you bring me all the presents I want, I will be good for a whole year." Then he thinks for a moment and tears up the paper. He writes again: "Dear Jesus, if you bring me all the presents I want, I will be good for a whole week" but once again he tears up the paper. The little boy quietly leaves his room and returns to the living room looking intently at the nativity scene. He gently reaches down and picks up the figure of Mary. Returning to his room, he places the figure in a shoebox and sets the box in the back of his closet. Then he writes another Letter: "Dear Jesus, if you ever want to see your mother again..."

Here's one about a Nativity scene at Christmas: Just a few days before Christmas, two ladies stood looking into a department store window at a large display of the manger scene with clay figures of the baby, Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, the wise men, and the animals. Disgustedly, one lady said: "Look at that, the Church trying to horn in on Christmas!"

In an effort to be more practical at Christmas, the wealthy woman said to her loving husband: "Dear, this year let's give each other more practical gifts like socks and fur coats!"

Here's one on buying gifts: Two ladies met after not seeing each other for over 25 years. It was obvious that their financial situations were totally different. The first lady had married a man of modest income and together they had concentrated their efforts on raising a family. The second lady had married a man of wealth and business importance, and her life was one of cocktail parties, dinners and various other social activities. It so happens that their chance meeting place was a local shopping center mall during the last few hectic days before Christmas. After a few minutes of reminiscing over their childhood days, they discovered that they had very little in common to talk about. In an attempt to continue some form of conversation, the socialite stated: "Isn't this last minute Christmas shopping terrible. The crowds of people in all the stores and there never seems to be a descent selection of gifts to buy for all my friends. " To which the first lady answered: "I'm just here to pick up some wrapping paper. I'm a fairly well organized person, and I bought all of our presents back in October. Now I can relax and just enjoy the Holiday season with my family."

"It sounds like you are well organized," replied her old friend, "But tell me ... how in the world do you know in October who your friends are going to be in December?"

Or, on another shopping center note: a young boy was taken to a busy shopping center to see Santa. After waiting in line for what seemed like an eternity, it was his turn to sit on the fat man's knee. After the usual "ho, ho, ho's" and "what is your name" questions, the boy was finally asked what it was that he wanted for Christmas. "I would like two toy trucks," replied the lad. "And, I want two teddy bears, two remote control cars, and two video games." "Well", replied the Santa, "that certainly is a tall order to fill. Do you mind telling me why you want two of everything?" The little boy had obviously prepared himself for this question, because he answered without hesitation: "So I can share!"

Of course, let us not forget that there are really meaningful stories as well. One of my favorites is entitled, "A Brother Like That" (by C. Roy Angell). Paul once received a new automobile from his brother as a pre-Christmas present. On Christmas Eve, when Paul came out of his office, a street urchin was waiting around the shiny new car, admiring it. "Is this your car, Mister?", he asked. Paul nodded, "My brother gave it to me for Christmas."

The boy looked astonished. "You mean your brother gave it to you, and it didn't cost you nothing? Boy, I wish ...

He hesitated, and Paul knew what he was going to wish. He was going to wish he had a brother like that. But what the lad said jarred Paul all the way down to his heels, "I wish", the boy went on, "that I could BE A BROTHER like that."

Paul looked at the boy in astonishment, then impulsively asked, "Would you like to ride in my car?" "Oh, yes, I'd love that!"

After a short ride the urchin turned, and with his eyes aglow said, "Mister, would you mind driving me in front of my house?" Paul smiled a little. He thought to himself what the lad wanted. He wanted to show his neighbors that he could ride in a big automobile. But, Paul was wrong again.

"Will you stop right there where those two steps are?" the boy asked. He got out of the car and ran up the steps. A little while later, Paul heard him coming back, but he was not coming fast.

He was carrying his little polio-stricken brother. He sat him down on the bottom step, then sort of squeezed up against him and pointed to the car.

"There she is, Buddy, just like I told you upstairs. His brother gave it to him for Christmas, and it didn't cost him a cent. And someday I'm gonna give you one just like it. That way you can see for yourself all the pretty things in the Christmas windows that I've been trying to tell you all about."

Paul got out and lifted the little lad to the front seat of his car. The shining-eyed older brother climbed in beside him and the three of them began a memorable holiday journey. That Christmas Eve Paul learned what Jesus meant when He said: "There is more happiness in giving."

These stories relate to lessons each one of us has experienced by watching and observing others or we have learned from personal experience.

o Didn't we as a children dream about all the toys we wanted and put together a "big laundry list of things"; much less held our parents hostage by our constant demands of what would REALLY make us happy?

o Haven't we at some point in our lives envied those who had more resources at their disposal?

o Haven't we at times felt that the one special Christmas present we really wanted for Christmas would be just OURS and not something we HAD to share?"

Some of you may recall a television program called "Quantum Leap". It's in reruns now, but it was a series of episodes around a time travel experiment gone awry. Until his associates could figure out what has gone wrong, Sam, the principal character and a trained scientist, served as the guinea pig for the experiment, traveling in and out of different places and times. What made Quantum Leap different from other time machine stories is that Sam meets ordinary people and in ordinary places - the history of the era is only a backdrop. Not only does he enter their time and place, Sam also enters the physical body of the individual and becomes that person. Among the lives Sam has entered has been that of a black man living in the South during the 1960's Civil Rights Movement and a mentally retarded youth. Always conscious of his own identity "inside" the body he finds himself, Sam, with his awareness of history, psychology and technology, he is able to bring resolution, understanding, joy and peace to the lives he enters for only a few moments.

The mystery of the Incarnation is that God so loved the world that he made a "quantum leap" from divinity to our world and time. Athanasius of Alexandria explained the mystery of Christmas in these simple words: "Christ became what we are that He might make us like he is." In becoming human and making "his dwelling" among us, God becomes approachable to us. In Jesus, God's constant and unchanging love and compassion become real to us; in Christ, God calls us to give to others as totally and unconditionally as he has given to us.

St. John 1: 1-2: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God... and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace (unconditional love) and truth."

Saint John's vision of the beginning of the announcement of the good news of Jesus Christ is overwhelming. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is an eternal Gospel. Jesus is the Word, absolutely and with no qualification. It is here that the Gospel of Jesus begins - in the mystery of God before anything -ANYTHING - came to be. Before all things the WORD existed.

Let me be more succinct and clear about John's message: this WORD (Jesus) is not an attribute or expression of God. Independent and equal, the WORD (Jesus) is himself God and, at the same time, in the presence of God. John is not writing about philosophy. No! John is writing about a confession of faith.

When the season of Christmas (the celebration) passes away, the Christ of Christmas - the "Word made flesh" - remains with us. Now begins the work of Christmas:

FIND THE LOST
HEAL THE HURTING
FEED THE HUNGRY
FREE THE ENSLAVED
REBUILD NATIONS
BRING PEACE TO ALL

o TELL YOUR STORY OF THE GOOD NEWS OF JESUS AND HOW HE IS LIVING AND ACTING IN YOUR LIFE AND MINISTRY

Finally, as you watch the major bowl games in the next few days, and the announcers show an "instant replay"... let it be a reminder to each of us: everyday of the year should be an "instant replay" of Christmas: the glory of the Son coming from the Father, filled with enduring love." And if we truly believe, as St. John wrote that the Word, Jesus, existed before anything that was made was made, we too can share a ride in that Big Automobile to Heaven's gate.

 


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