Embracing God’s Gift of Love

A Sermon for the First Sunday after Christmas Day

Year A – December 29, 2013

David H. Knight, Priest Associate


Send to us your spirit, God, fill our hearts with gratitude for the gift of your Word made flesh among us, and strengthen us to live according to your will, in Jesus Name. Amen.

“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.”

In the church calendar, today is designated the First Sunday after Christmas Day.  We note that it is not just the first Sunday after Christmas, for we are still in the midst of the Twelve Days of Christmas, the Fifth day to be precise.  We have just celebrated with great joy the story of Mary and Joseph and the birth of the baby Jesus in a stable.  We have recalled once again how the cry of an infant shattered the stillness of that quiet night, and the world has never been the same. In the other gospels we hear the beautiful images of the manger and the shepherds and angels who surrounded Mary and Joseph at the birth of Jesus.  Today, however, the beautiful prologue invites us reflect once again upon what that holy night means.  It invites us to consider the world as both the earth that God created and  as the global community with whom God has spoken, and with whom God has worked since the beginning of time when the earth was formless and void  God counted the number of stars and called them all by their names.  God was at work before Adam named the animals of the field and the birds of the air. God said “Let there be light,” and God said that light was good.  The light shines in these December dark nights year after year, century after century.  It is the light of all the generations that have gone before us and of all the generations that will follow after us.  It is the light that lightens the darkness in this world.  It is the light that brings hope for all of God’s people.  As we hear in the Gospel today, 

 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word 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 is a wonderful image that comes to my mind as I think about a light that shines in the darkness in our present time and in a particular place.  This past summer, Jeannie and I learned from two of our dear friends who summer onMartha’s Vineyard about The Children’s Memorial at the Edgartown Lighthouse.  This is a lighthouse that for many years has guided ships through the darkness and stormy waters into a safe harbor.  Some years ago, the parents of a teenager in Massachusetts whose life was tragically cut short in a car crash, established a memorial in which parents and grandparents could place an engraved cobblestone at the base of the lighthouse in memory of their beloved child or grandchild.   Now the memories of three loved ones of families of St. Mary’s have cobblestones placed at this memorial on the Vineyard.  Their memorials join hundreds of others as a beacon of light leading ships through the darkness and stormy waters  to safety much as the light of Christ leads us through the darkness and stormy waters of our lives until you and I reach our safe harbor.

 Today we hear once again the words that speak to us of God’s most precious gift, how God came to us and lived among us.   As in the hymn we sing

 “For he is our life-long pattern; daily when on earth he grew.
He was tempted , scorned, rejected, tears and smiles like us he knew.
Thus he feels for all our sadness, and he shares in all our gladness.”  (Hymn 102, stanza 4)

Let us simply embrace that gift, for it is our delight so to do, yet let us also embrace that gift for all that it means.

 As we have moved through these recent days together, the words of the Bidding Prayer that we heard last Sunday in the Festival of Lessons and Carols still echo in our ears, We heard, “…let us remember before God those who rejoice with us, but upon another shore and in a greater light, that multitude which no man can number, whose hope was in the word made flesh, and with whom we for evermore are one.”  That hope that comes to us in the light that ultimately cannot be extinguished.  All the darkness in this world cannot overcome this light.  Yes, to be sure, that notion of a light that brings hope that cannot be extinguished seems mightily hard at times for us to comprehend in a world where natural disaster, violence, evil, and hatred create untold devastation.  It is sometimes hard even to comprehend the manner in which God ultimately brings hope in the midst of human suffering.  There is no easy answer.  How, we ask, can a loving God allow such devastation, such evil to exist?  As hard a question as that may be, comfort and hope as well are to be found in the recognition that the light shines in the darkness and the darkness simply has not ever, and cannot ever overcome it.  God has always worked on behalf of humankind and God continues to be present among us in the midst of all.  God has lived among us as a person  and has shared in our joys and upheld us in our sorrows.  We are children of God and God’s beloved Son, in whose birth we rejoice in these days, and in whose birth God calls us to respond.  As God works among us in the midst of all that is good, God also works among us in the midst of all that is evil.  In so doing God calls you and me to respond both with delight in the good that exists in this world, and with the conviction to collaborate with God to fight against all that is evil. Our Christian faith and our delight in the gift of the Word that became flesh and dwelt among us is not only about loving Jesus and knowing God, it is about living out in our own lives the implications of that love and that knowledge.  As the church, which is the community that gathers around Jesus, we must never forget what we are here to do.  We are here with Jesus to help the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers be cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead be raised, and the poor receive the good news, and to do so as circumstances in our own day and time demand.   To work with God who became flesh and dwelt among us, we must not turn away in fear from our call to speak out against injustice when we see it, to contend against violence in whatever form it takes in the world around us wherever we see it.  God calls us as a community that lives out the life and promise of Jesus in the world, to be a people bringing good news in our own time to a world that, in so many ways, is in the grips of evil, hatred, and violence, violence against one another, and violence against our planet earth.

 We hear once again this morning of the vision of the prophet Isaiah, a vision in which God calls you and me and God’s people everywhere to participate.  Isaiah says,

 “…the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all nations.  For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until her vindication shines out like the dawn, and her salvation like a burning torch.”

 And this is where you and I share in the responsibility of that vision.  You and I, as ones who follow Jesus must stand with those in need and with those who are victims of violence.  There will be those times we must redouble our efforts and renew our conviction to speak out against injustice.  We must commit ourselves to encouraging one another and our leaders to do the right thing when it comes to seeking justice, to ending violence, and to preserving this fragile earth, our island home.  Let us never waiver in our pursuit to seek the truth, come whence it may, cost what it will.  Let us never keep silent when called to speak.  Let us never rest until vindication shines out like the dawn, to use the words of Isaiah.  We as human beings are precious.  Our lives and our relationships with one another in this world are precious. God’s creation is precious. You and I are steeped in, and surrounded by, things that are holy. These things are holy in ways we now can only begin to comprehend. We hear in our own day the voices of those such as that of Pope Francis who is carefully trying to steer the church to a better place than it has been for decades.  With his powerful example of Christ-like love and with his bold challenge to economic greed and to hatred, he is calling each of us to live out in our own lives that vision of a church that serves the poor and changes the world.  And of course his voice is being scorned and rejected from some quarters, as was Jesus’ voice in his own day, yet he has the courage, nonetheless, to be faithful to God’s word and to speak out.  Thanks be to God for that. And may you and I follow his example of courage to speak out against injustice whenever we encounter it.

 Today we hear once again the words that speak to us of God’s most precious gift. Let us simply embrace that gift, for it is our delight so to do, yet let us also embrace that gift for all that it means for us and let not fail do our part to work with God as God calls us so to do in our own day.

 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.   Amen.