A sermon for the First Sunday After Christmas, John 1:1-18
Almighty God, you have poured upon us the new light of your incarnate Word: Grant that this light, enkindled in our hearts, may shine forth in our lives; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
There is a beauty to the prayers that are written for our expression of faith in the Episcopal church that help to illustrate the words we hear in the readings assigned, and inform us in our putting faith through words into action. It is these prayers, these collects, that we read every week that can inspire and shape our faith through the way we express the word we have received, the foundation upon which we have built the church.
Prayer is a vitally important piece to our exploration of our faith.
There is a reason why we’ve committed this whole program year to focusing on various expressions of prayer, from prayers in and with creation, to praying with the saints (all saints), to preparing and creating space for prayer during this past season of Advent, we have already engaged in many different ways of connecting to God through our individual and communal expressions of prayer.
This exploration of prayer will continue into the new calendar year with learning about the traditions of Epiphany next Sunday, with prayer expressions of contemplation, lent, and more still to come.
Today, though, I want to focus in on this particular collect assigned for today, and explore the elements that go into it and how this prayer is a foundational element of our experience in understanding the birth of Christ for us and his presence, God’s presence, with us in this creation.
Today’s collect in particular inspires us in this moment of time where we are post-Christmas day and yet, very much still in it as well.
God has “poured upon us the new light of your incarnate word.”
We read in the opening verses of John’s Gospel today: “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.”
The light, the new light, the Word made incarnate, “shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.”
This one verse means a lot in our understanding of faith.
Light and darkness are constant themes throughout our scriptures and the tradition of our faith in understanding how our relationship with this creation is viewed through the lens of our faith.
This verse offers a place of solitude and comfort for many in their journey of faith.
There is a strength, there is a hope, that is encapsulated so fully in these few words, this one illustration of how Christ interacts in our creation, what Christ’s arrival in this world means for us in this creation.
Our collect today though, takes this comfort and solitude and hope to a different understanding and expression of faith.
“Grant that this light, enkindled in our hearts, may shine forth in our lives.”
Our call in faith and the exercise of that faith is not to simply take solace and comfort, to find personal hope within the light that shines, without fail, but to understand and exercise the reality that this light that has come into creation, the light that cannot be overcome by the darkness, is not solely in this creation, but is truly enkindled within us.
I love this word, “enkindled.”
It means inspire, but it is so much more than that word.
It is energetic, fiery, intense.
It paints the picture that not only does the light shine in the darkness, but through our lives, we magnify that light, we shine that light through the lives we live in when we live a life of faith, a life informed by faith, a life where no one can question whether or not we are a follower of Christ, because the light of Christ is undeniably shining forth in our lives.
I think sometimes we get a little lost in what it means for that light to shine forth.
I think we sit and wait and hope that the light will shine forth and guide us, lead us, make the path known.
We forget then, that the light is within us.
That through our example, the light shines forth.
That through our living into faith, of knowing faith, of knowing what it means to follow the call that Christ has left for us, that the light not only shines but is magnified by our example of faith.
In shining the light through us, through our faith, we have to show through both our words and actions the reality that word came down, was made flesh, and lived among us. And, in that action, that remarkable, undeserved, reality of connection between creation and God, there was a real change to how and what our faith should be molded upon and where that light should shine the focus upon.
When the Word became flesh and lived among us, the relationship between creation and creator shifted. It will shift again in Christ’s death and resurrection, but it has already shifted in the act of incarnation.
John writes, “The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”
Grace and truth come to supplant law.
Grace and truth come to create a new law.
Grace and truth let us know and hold in our hearts the reality that “Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian.”
The law gives way to grace.
The law gives way to truth.
The law gives way to the expression of the one light that can never be overcome by the darkness.
And, once more, it comes back to us to make that reality known in this creation. We know that the light has come, we know that grace and truth have supplanted the role of law as disciplinarian, and it is only through our faith, it is only through how we visibly practice our faith, that others can know and understand this reality as well.
When we engage in the practice of prayer, individually and corporately, personally and communally, we shape what and how we believe.
When we listen to and deeply know the words of the prayers that reflect upon and inspire us to reach the call that Christ has left for us through his life, through the scriptures and tradition that we have inherited, then we are truly enkindled in our faith.
When we are enkindled in our faith, we know the reality that “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it,” and we know that it is only through how we share our faith with the world that this reality can be known by all of creation.
That is our call in faith.
That is the charge we have.
And, because of Christmas, we can live this reality of faith.