Sunday, December 30, 2018

1 Christmas

Dec. 30, 2018

John 1.1-18

+ Today, this first Sunday of Christmas, is one of those somewhat forgotten Sundays. Nobody pays a whole lot attention to the first Sunday of Christmas. It’s somewhat of a “low” Sunday. It feels a bit anti-climactic, after Christmas Eve and Christmas day.

But I like this Sunday, maybe because it’s kind of a forgotten, neglected Sunday. I like is especially because it always reminds me of that beautiful hymn we sang today, “In the Bleak Midwinter.”

After all, we are in the bleak midwinter. This is it. And nobody knows the bleak midwinter better than us, here, in Fargo, North Dakota.

What a lot of people don’t know is that the words to that hymn were written by an incredible poet.

Christina Rossetti.

Rossetti was the sister of a Dante Gabriel Rossetti, who was much better known in his time as a leader of pre-Raphaelite literary movement in England. Christina was the forgotten one. The unmarried sister who quietly wrote poems at home, she was also the superior poet. She was a devout Anglo-Catholic Anglican and a bit of recluse.

Think of her as kind of Anglo-Catholic Emily Dickinson.

And although, during their lifetime, Dante Gabriel was more famous, 125 years after her death, it is Christina Rossetti’s hymn we are singing today.

She was also my mother’s favorite poet (well, hopefully after me) In fact my mother requested that Rossetti’s “When I am dead, my dearest” be printed in her funeral program.

When my mother died, 11 months ago last Friday, the poem and hymn “In the bleak midwinter” spoke strongly to me. I played a wonderful version of it by the Indie band Animal Collective over and over again in those weeks after she died.

Yes, I know that it is a Christmas hymn, and my mother did not die in the season of Christmas: But let’s face it. That opening stanza speaks loudly to us who live in the bleak midwinter for months on end:

In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan;
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
Long ago

And let me tell you, it also speaks very loudly to anyone who is going through a mourning “hard as iron.” Grief is truly like a terrible bleak winter, no matter what season may be outside.  So forgive me if you see me tear up today when it’s sung.

The other reason I love this Sunday is that, for us Episcopalians, in our lectionary for today, we get this incredible reading from the first chapter of John.  I know. It’s hard at first to grasp our minds around this reading.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

Maybe we just don’t “get” it. And that’s all right. Like “In the bleak midwinter,” it too is a poem. And like a poem, we have to make it our own for it to really mean something to us where we are, right here and now.

For me, as you have heard me say many times, I don’t like beginnings. Whenever I get a new biography of someone, you will see me skip to the end, or the middle.  I never enjoy the beginnings very often. I realize that probably reveals way too much about me psychologically than I care to admit.

As this year runs down and the new year begins, our thoughts naturally turn to beginnings.  We think about that New Year and how important a new year is our lives. It heralds for us a sense of joy—and fear—of the future.  All of a sudden we are faced with the future. It lies there before us—a mystery.  Will this coming year bring us joy or will it bring us sadness?  Will it be a good year or a bad year?  And we step forward into the New Year without knowing what that year will hold for us.

But, the fact is, at the very beginning moment, we can’t do much more than just be here, right now.  We need to just experience this beginning.  And we can’t let anxiety about the future take hold.  We just need to be here, right now, and take part fully in this new beginning.

That’s what beginnings are all about, I guess. That one moment when we can say:

“Right now! This is it! We are alive and we are here! Now!”

And we all know that just as soon as we do, it’ll be past.

In our reading from John this morning, it’s also one of those moments.  In that moment, we get a glimpse of one of those “right now” moments.  It seems as though, for that moment, it’s all clear.  At least for John anyway.

We encounter, the “Word.”

God’s Word.

Now to be clear, the Word of God here is not the Bible. The Word of God is always Jesus.  And this is an appropriate way to begin the Gospel of John and to begin our new year as well.

It is a great beginning.  It sets the tone for us as followers of Jesus.  God’s Word was there in the beginning.  God spoke and creation happened.  

And God’s Word is here, now, in our beginning.  And in God, we experience a beginning that doesn’t seem to end. God’s Word comes forward and becomes present among us in a way we could never possibly imagine.

God appears to us in the Gospels not as God in the Old Testament, cloaked behind pillars of fire or thunderstorms or wind.

Instead, God’s word, God’s wisdom, God’s essence became flesh.  God’s voice was no longer a booming voice from the sky, demanding sacrifices. God voice is now the Word spoken to us gently.  God’s Word spoken to us in this beginning moment, is a word of Love.

The commandment this Word of God tells us of is a commandment to love.  Love God and love one another as you love yourselves.

This might actually be one of the few times when I actually enjoy the beginning of a story.  Maybe the true message of Jesus is that, in God’s Kingdom, that beginning keeps on and on, without end.

In God’s Kingdom there is constant renewal.  In God’s Kingdom it is always like New Year’s Day—always fresh, always full of hope for a future that does not end or disappoint.

As we prepare to celebrate 2019, this is a great way to live this beginning moment.  In this beginning moment, let us think about beginnings and how important they are for us personally and for our spiritual lives.  And let us do what we can to be the bringers of new beginnings not only in our own lives, but in the lives of others.  With this encounter with the Word, we, like John, are also saying in this moment, this one moment is holy.  

This moment is special.  This moment is unique and beautiful, because God is reaching out to us. In our grasping of it, let’s make sure it doesn’t wiggle away from us. Let’s not let it fall through our fingers like sand. Or snow.

This holy beginning moment should stay with us.

Always new.

Always fresh.

Always being renewed.

We’re here.

Right now.

We’re alive!

It’s the future.

The Word, God’s Word, has come to us.  It’s incredible, really!  This moment is a glorious and holy one.

So, let us, in this holy moment, be joyful.  Let us in this holy moment rejoice.  And let us, in this holy moment, look forward to what awaits us with courage and confidence. Amen.

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