Preached by the Rev. Canon Renee Fenner at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, December 27, 2009.
They say it was a ‘silent night, a holy night, all was calm, all was bright’ when He was born. The Babe lay sleeping in a manger all nestled in hay with animals round about. They say that there were ‘certain poor shepherds in the fields’ watching their flocks when angels broke the silence of the night announcing the birth a newborn King. The angels lit the night sky as they sang their ‘Glorias’ and then they beckoned the lowly shepherds to “go tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere”. They say that three kings or magi came bearing gifts. They came having traveled ‘field and fountain, moor and mountain’ following ‘a star of wonder, star of night, star with royal beauty bright.’
The hymns and carols of Christmas so wonderfully familiar to many of us flesh out the story of Christ’s birth. They are beautiful- reflecting the traditional stories given to us in both the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Yet those are not the stories of a humble birth that we heard on this first Sunday after Christmas. In John’s poetic gospel there is no story of Mary’s ‘yes’ to the angel Gabriel. There is no telling of the journey to Bethlehem or of visitors coming from far and near to worship the Child. But John’s story is still a Christmas story. And in this story we are taken to another place. “In the beginning.” In the beginning before there was time or space, a time before the heavens were created and the earth was formed. John writes, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” All things came into being through the Word. The logos, Word that John speaks of is the Christ whom we worship this day and everyday.
Throughout John’s entire Gospel he urges us to see Jesus as the Divine One or as theologian Sandra Schneiders says, “the personal manifestation of God in this world.”* “The Word became flesh and lived among us” wrote John. Yes, God chose to live with humanity-in the midst of human weakness, suffering, confusion, and pain. God chose to live with humanity-in the midst of poverty and hunger, injustice and selfishness. God’s most precious gift, the Babe of Bethlehem was no ordinary human being as we know for He, Jesus of Nazareth, was and is the light that shines throughout the darkness, who brought with him grace and truth, hope and love. It is He, Immanuel-‘God with us’, who came and walked among us and who showed us how to live in this world. It is He, the Son of God, who suffered, died and rose again in order that we may have life abundantly. “God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”
We hold on to that truth this day, on this day in particular as we gather together for Eucharist once again and as we remember a man dear to many of our hearts. Many of you have heard by now that our brother and friend, Corporal Dennis Englehard of the Missouri State Highway Patrol, was killed on Christmas morning. Dennis died in the line of duty as he was assisting a motorist along the highway. We are indeed saddened, many of us still in shock by his sudden passing, but we reminded this morning that Christ walks with us, with Kelly, and with the rest of Dennis’ family and friends, in the midst of this darkness. And we as people of faith, as a resurrection people, an Easter people, know that death is NOT the end but only the beginning of everlasting life.
The society and the world in which Jesus lived were so much different than ours and yet the world is still pretty much the same. It is still a world in need of transformation and in need of God’s love and God’s most precious Gift is one that keeps on giving even in today’s world. The Word, Christ is with us still even in the midst of hunger and injustice, in the midst of sin and despair, in the midst of suffering and pain, of loss and uncertainty-even death. And it is through the Word made flesh, Jesus that we come to know our God and know God’s will in our lives.
This morning, I invite you not only to come to the Word. I invite you to be the Word to each other, to those you know and those you don’t know. I love what our Provost Mike Kinman says whenever he presides at this Table. When presenting to us the Bread and Wine, the Body and Blood of Christ, he never fails to remind us of the words of St. Augustine to “be what you see-receive who you are.” In others words, we are to be Christ’s hands and feet in this world. We are also to be God’s heart.
Perhaps some of us went over our Christmas budgets or maybe had to cut our giving by half but you know what? There is something we can give all year round. To your family and friends, to guests and strangers alike, be the light of Christ. Bring with you God’s grace and truth. Bring with you a message of hope and God’s unconditional love. In fact, “go tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere”-on your job and at school, on the playground, here at church, and wherever God’s people are gathered. There is no greater gift that we can give.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” May the love of God Incarnate in Jesus empower us, as God’s sons and daughters, to make Him know again and again in this world for only then will the true spirit of Christmas last the whole year long.
He rules the world with truth and grace,Amen.
And makes the nations prove
The glories of his righteousness,
And wonders of his love,
And wonders of his love,
And wonders, wonders of his love.
* Sandra Schneiders, Written That You May Believe, page 13