A Sermon for the First Sunday After Christmas, John 1:1-18
We’re greeted this morning with an alternate take on the birth narrative from the Gospel of John. And there’s an important turn of phrase in this Gospel lesson that is also reflected in our reading this morning from Galatians. It is the shift from a place and focus on law to one of grace and truth. This is the reason for Christ to come among us. This is the message that Christ brings to us, that Christ, through his life, ministry, teachings, and ultimate death and sacrifice, connects us to in our relationship with God. It is a new understanding of how we as the creation are connected to God. God is no longer the disciplinarian. God is no longer the setter of law, of a strict order that we must follow, a law that we are enslaved to. Rather, we are the children of God. There is grace, mercy, forgiveness, the level of which we cannot ever comprehend. We are loved deeply as a child, for God has sent God’s only child, a son, to be one of us, to walk amongst us, to know and understand what it means to be a part of creation.
It is also a new understanding of how we as the creation are expected to connect to one another in this creation. How we are to take this understanding of our connection to God, our connection as children of God, accessing this relationship through the cry of Christ in “Abba! Father!” Our relationship, our connection to one another is forever changed in the reality of Christ being with us. No longer are we subjects under a law, manipulating and focusing solely on whether or not we meet the standard put before us for our own personal validation or verification that we meet that standard. Now we have a responsibility to one another because we are family. If we are all children of God through Christ, then we are all siblings with one another. And sure, sometimes sibling rivalry means we don’t always get along with each. Sometimes siblings do things that leave you shaking your head at best, deeply hurting at worst, but they’re still our siblings, we still care about them, we still hope that they will reconnect with that grace and truth that has come to us in Christ, that they will understand the love that is always present if we seek forgiveness for the hurts we have done and forgive those hurts that were done to us. That is what we do each Sunday when we confess our sins. That is our hope each Sunday as we come to this table to share from the same bread, the same cup. To connect once more as a family.
This new understanding of connection to one another is possible because the Word, the Word that has existed since the beginning, the Word that was the law, has been made flesh. And, in being made flesh, there is a change in the understanding of that law, that Word. The law has shifted from being a pronouncement, a standard to rise to. The law, the Word, has become relational. The Word enters into relationship with the creation. An understanding is created as to what it really means to be in this world as the creation. An understanding is formed, because we enter into relationship with the creator, and from that relationship we’re informed of what it looks like to be in relationship with one another.
Today, we seem to have lost a lot of this understanding, at least when it comes to being in relationship with one another. There is such a strong focus on: THE LAW. The law says this. It is illegal to do that. The law protects us. The law keeps us safe. The law is our guide, our shepherd. The law is our disciplinarian once more, keeping us in line, so that we might be safe. Grace and truth have become signs of weakness. They are ignored in favor of what the law says. They are conveniently forgotten so that the law may stand stronger. This is not the great hope that God had for us, for our potential, in sending Christ to be with us. The law has been propped up by those who are rich, powerful, so that they can attain more wealth, more power. The law has been manipulated so that those who are most affected, are expected to defend it even more. So that the questioning of the law is deemed as ludicrous, as anti-society, as anti-God. However, in holding up the law as the end all and be all, we have pushed Christ aside, we have created a world where there is no room for Christ to walk amongst us once more. Where a “War on Christmas” isn’t about whether or not we are losing what Christ has taught us, what it really means for Christ to be born for us, but rather whether or not we’re allowed to force our neighbor, our sibling in creation, to bend to our will, to bend to the law that we have decided should rule all. In holding up the law, we have lost what has really happened in Christ’s birth, we have lost that sense of relationship through connection, we have lost the understanding that comes in being eternally connected to one another through Christ, through God.
We have become so focused, too focused, on what is right versus what is wrong, on what is legal versus illegal. We’ve even allowed our government to redefine these categories so that they can continue to benefit a select few at the expense of a vast many, at the expense of the last and least among us, at the expense of our siblings in Christ, in God, in creation, at the expense of those we are explicitly called to be helping, not turning our backs on, not building walls between. We have forgotten that we are all interconnected with one another. We have forgotten that we all access the same God. Whether we are worshipping God in Mexico, in Syria, in Palestine, in Central and South America, in Africa, Europe, Asia, we are all accessing the same God. Even if we focus solely on Christians throughout the world, we don’t act like loving siblings with our Christian siblings spread near or far.
This is why Christmas is so important. This is why we hold Christmas for twelve days. So that we will be reminded as to what is truly to be accomplished in this radical and reality-shifting act by God. Christ is born to us once more. Christ comes to walk amongst us once more. Every year we are reminded of this. Every year we are tasked with making this reality known. Every year we are tasked with seeing that this event has changed everything. In the Word being made flesh there is a radical shifting in our place in the creation, in our role in the creation. We are now interconnected with one another as family. We are responsible for one another, as family.
It doesn’t matter if we like each other or not, much like the families we all live in, we are stuck with each other, including the extended family with that weird cousin or the loveable but somewhat unreliable uncle (to name a couple stereotypical archetypes). And, in being stuck with one another, we are responsible for one another. We are responsible for helping one another. We are responsible for defending one another. We are responsible for loving one another the way that God loves us, with grace and truth, with mercy, with understanding. We are all just trying to make it in this world. To be happy in this life. And together, as family we can accomplish this. Together, as family, we can welcome grace, truth, love into the world.
If we allow the disciplinarian focus of the world, the (man-made) law of the world to continue to dominate, we will continue to push our understanding of family aside and push forward with policies and practices that are designed to harm, designed to separate, designed to control and rule over another. Policies that literally have separated families and seen innocent children die in our care from a lack of care.
This is not our role, to be the disciplinarian. This is not the hope that God had for us in sending the Word to be amongst us, incarnated in the flesh. This is not the best of creation, the hope that is inherent in our beings. Rather, this is the worst of us. This is us turning our backs on each other, and turning our backs on God, turning our backs on the gift that has been given us in Christ walking amongst us. It’s high time we stop doing this. That we accept that our relationship with God is found in our connections with one another as siblings, for we are all children of God, through Christ.
This is our call this Christmas. To stand up for each other as family. To stand up for those who are being subjected to laws designed solely to punish, to separate, to make other, to keep the rich, rich, and the powerful, powerful. Our call is to tear down these systems of law and replace them with the new relational understanding of the creation that we have been given access to through Christ. To welcome one another. To be family to one another. To love one another.