Sunday, December 29, 2019
The Rev. Mark Wilkinson, Rector
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
First Sunday after Christmas 2019
Today’s gospel known as the prologue to John may be one of the most famous passages. I remember the surprise the first time I had to lead a Christmas morning service to discover that this was the passage. My first parish on Cape Cod though had a fairly large Christmas Day service and as the curate, guess who got to do that service on his own so the rector could spend Christmas Day with his mother in Connecticut. I found myself scratching my head about why is this used, both on Christmas Day and the first Sunday of Christmas? The simple answer is that it is all about the incarnation and teaches that Christ has been around from even before the start of creation as we understand it. This is what Fr. Richard Rohr refers to as the cosmic Christ. The one who was and is and is to come.
This year our presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s Christmas message was all about this gospel and then a wonderful old story that really explains why the incarnation. I want to use some of Bishop Curry’s thoughts and then the story.
Known as the prologue to John this passage is called by some the whole gospel in miniature. In the beginning we know from Genesis that the world was chaos, formless and also without light. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it. The light coming into the world is Christ. Not that Christ was created at that moment, don’t misunderstand me. That light is when the world first knew the Cosmic Christ. Bishop Curry wrote that it is no small coincidence that we celebrate Christmas, the coming of the light of Christ into the world in what is the darkest time of year in the northern hemisphere.
Jesus’ earliest followers were also living in a place of darkness, war, and repression as well as political and religious persecution. This message that darkness cannot overcome it is one of great hope. And that hope is the incarnation, Jesus coming into our world. We hear in our Eucharistic prayers words to the effect of when in the fullness of time God sent his son into the world to be one of us.
For me and my understanding of Incarnation all theology, the incarnation is just as important as crucifixion and resurrection. I believe that we need all three part, incarnation, crucifixion and resurrection to grasp the saving action of God and Christ. Jesus is that intrusion into our reality of God in human form. That is why when I hold up the bread during the Eucharist I say, “These are the gifts of God for the people of God. Take them in remembrance that Christ lived and died for you.” I add the word “lived” into that sentence for to me the incarnation is that important. BTW I can make that change since it says the priest may say this second line. That allows me to modify it and not violate any rubrics.
So why did God make this decision on the incarnation. First of all I believe that Christ became incarnate not to change God’s mind about us, but to change our minds about God and the incarnation is part of the plan. I also believe as the Franciscans teach is that Jesus was God’s plan A not some plan B that God had to create because of our sinfulness. Remember we say in the fullness of time God sent Christ to become human. He came when we were ready and needed him most.
There is a story that the old radio host Paul Harvey told one Christmas many years ago that illustrates this point better than anything else I can think of.
“There was once a man who didn’t believe in God, and he didn’t hesitate to let others know how he felt about religion and religious holidays, like Christmas. His wife, however, did believe, and she raised their children to also have faith in God and to believe in Jesus Christ, despite her husband’s disparaging comments. One snowy night, his wife was taking their children to a Christmas Eve service in the farm community in which they lived. She asked him to come, but he refused. ‘That story is nonsense!’ he said. ‘Why would God lower himself to come to Earth through a man called Jesus? That’s ridiculous!’ She and the children left, and he stayed home.
“A while later, the winds grew stronger and the snow turned into a blizzard. Sitting in his living room he heard a loud thump. Something had hit the window. Then another thump. He looked out, but couldn’t see more than a few feet. Bundling himself up, he ventured outside.
“In the field near his house he saw a flock of wild geese. Apparently, they had been flying south for the winter when they got caught in the snowstorm and couldn’t go on—lost and stranded on his farm, with no food or shelter. A couple of them had flown into his window, it seemed. The man was moved to compassion and wanted to help them. The barn would be a great place for them to stay, he thought. It’s warm and safe and there they could wait out the storm. So he opened the doors wide, hoping they would notice and go inside. But the geese just fluttered around aimlessly and didn’t seem to notice the barn or realize what it could mean for them. He went into the house and came with some bread, broke it up, and made a bread crumb trail leading to the barn. They still didn’t catch on. Getting frustrated, he got behind them and tried to shoo them toward the barn, but they only got more scared and scattered in every direction. Nothing he did could get them to go into the barn where they would be warm and safe.“
‘Why don’t you follow me?!’ he exclaimed. ‘Can’t you see this is the only place where you can survive the storm? If only I could become like one of them, then I could save them,’ he said out loud. Then he had an idea. He went into barn, got one of his own geese, and carried it in his arms as he circled around behind the flock of wild geese. He then released it. His goose flew through the flock and straight into the barn and one by one the other geese followed it to safety.
“At that moment, he stopped and considered what he had said moments ago. The words reverberated in his mind: ‘If only I could become like one of them, then I could save them.’ At last, he understood God’s heart towards humankind . . . and he fell on his knees in the snow. He had come to know the One who ‘became one of us just to save us.’ ”
Jesus’ incarnation, his becoming fully human, is all about showing us how to be fully human. As we seek to follow Christ we too are moving towards being fully human. The world has a long way to go and so do most of us, but as we move in that journey, that is how we are saved. Bit by bit and day by day. And as we follow that journey we bring a little bit more of the light of Christ into our world. And ultimately the darkness will never overcome the light.