This is the sermon the Rev. Canon Linda Taylor preached at the diocesan worship service for the First Sunday after Christmas, December 27, 2020.
Christmas 1 – December 27, 2020
Isaiah 61.10-62.3; Psalm 147; Galatians 3.23-25; 4.4-7; John 1.1-18
Homily preached by the Rev. Canon Linda S. Taylor
In past years, most of us began our celebration of Christmas on Christmas Eve—frequently beginning with an afternoon children’s pageant. We would have heard a version of the story of Mary and Joseph and their journey to Bethlehem. We would have heard the story of the birth, and certainly we would have sung the carols. We would have watched as Joseph encountered the angels and the innkeeper. We would have seen Mary holding the baby. The manger would have been filled with straw, the star would have been shining, and if we shaded our eyes against the glare of present time, we might even have seen the cows and sheep huddled together, filling the stable with warmth against the cold Judean night. We would have watched the shepherds arrive and the wise ones in generations-old robes and crowns bringing their gifts.
When the story was complete, we would have shared the peace and told each other how marvelous the children had been. We would have rejoiced at hearing the story once more and at the sight of God’s gift to us in the children of our community. Then, after we came to the altar to share the bread and the wine, we might have gone to the parish hall to share Baby Jesus’ birthday cake.
And later that night, some of us would have come back to hear the story again, with candlelight, fewer distractions, and a lot less laughter. And on Christmas morning, some of us would have come back yet again to continue the celebration of the birth of Jesus. It was easy to find ourselves and our own stories in the nativity we celebrated in past years.
This year is different. This year, many of us wanted to let Christmas pass without notice. Others couldn’t wait until Christmas Eve to begin celebration. This year, many of us have needed to find a reason to rejoice—a way to touch life as it was before COVID entered our lives. Decorations began to appear long before Thanksgiving.
Thanks to folks who found ways to bring us music, comforting words and the joy of children, most of us were able to find ourselves and our own stories in the nativity we’ve celebrated over the last weeks. There has been music that connects us to celebrations through the years. There have been Blue Christmas services that acknowledged our grief and reminded us of hope. There have been Christmas Eve services by candlelight in our homes and Christmas morning worship in our pajamas. There have been drive-by posadas and Holy Communion shared from individual and family altars. And there have been virtual pageants! Pageants with participants ranging from the cows and sheep grazing in the gardens of the National Cathedral to children participating from home: angels dressed in white T-shirts and sheep wearing tan. An almost four-year-old angel dancing with delight in front of an empty stable. Families telling the story and singing the carols. And my personal favorite: a child in a Sharky costume snuggled against a child dressed as a sheep.
New approaches to beloved traditions have helped us connect with the nativity story this year.
But today’s gospel is different:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of people. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.
This gospel is not the stuff of which pageants are made. There’s no room for cute and cuddly in John’s words, no room for swaddling cloths and carols. This is not a story filled with images to help us imagine how it might have been in that moment when the Word came into being. There are no easy handles to help us connect our own human experience to the magnificent simplicity of this creation in the time before time.
This story has no Mary suffering the fatigue of the last heavy days of pregnancy, tugging at our heartstrings with her youth and courage. There’s no Joseph guarding mother and child. No shining star, no waiting manger—no awestruck shepherds or rejoicing angels. There is only the awesomeness of the beginning in which the God of all that was and is and will be brings forth the light—the moment when God gives birth to the light of the world.
We humans whose lives are bound up in our stories—the stories that bring clarity to our lives and help us to understand each other—we humans may have difficulty embracing this story without people.
And perhaps that’s why John tells us the story in this way. To help us remember that we are not the central actors in this drama. To remind us that God and the Word are greater than our hearts and minds can even begin to imagine. To remind us that we are the creatures, not the creator.
But there is a story of humanity here—the story of the light and the darkness which touches each of our lives, no matter who we are. In the darkness we meet the pain and sorrow and loss that is an inescapable part of the human experience of life. And as we look back on this year that’s ending, we remember the seemingly unending difficulties in our lives.
We remember living with the pandemic and experiencing its impact in the ever-increasing numbers of those who have died, in the loss of jobs and in the lengthening lines at food pantries. We remember the loneliness of isolation and the struggle to restructure our lives around work and school. We remember the loss of close connection with those we love and with our friends, neighbors and colleagues. We remember the fear that has become part of our lives. We remember division in our nation and in our church. We remember civil wars—people dying in famine—and other deaths born out of hatred and fear. The list goes on and on and on. And we add to it our memories of the moments of sorrow in our own lives as individuals and families.
We remember the pain, sorrow and grief. But we have come together with the help of our digital devices today and every Sunday to remind ourselves of the other part of this story. We come to hear the good news that the light continues to shine and will not be overcome. We watch and listen and sing and pray to remind each other by our faces and in our stories that God is with us in our world.
And today we are called to people this story, to be Mary and Joseph carrying the Word. We are called to be the shepherds watching in the cold night for the hope that surely comes. We are called to be the angels announcing the great good news that God is with us.
We—you and I—are called to bring the witness of our lives, the witness of our own stories into the world. And we are called to bear witness to the ageless truth of the love of God that brought us into creation. We are called to bear witness to the light that is never overcome, even by the most difficult times of our lives.
Thanks be to God.