holy cross sermon for christmas 1, year c, 2012

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.”

I believe today’s Gospel lesson is the straightest talk in the Bible about who Jesus is.  These few sentences of God’s revelation speak most directly about what’s going on with and in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.  Its as though the Holy Spirit calls a time-out in the course of the Biblical narrative, sits us down, and says “Look, here’s what’s going on.  Here’s the skinny.  No more prophetic figures.  Nor more opaque witness to God’s plan.  HERE IS THE WAY THINGS ARE.  In the beginning was the WORD, and the WORD was with God, and the Word WAS God….”  This passage in John’s gospel is a glimpse behind the curtain of the universe.  In this passage we catch sight of what God and his relation to the universe.

These are beautiful, powerful words.  They are words full of mystery.  When I was at Yale, I had a very dear friend named Robert.  Robert was a professor of Political Philosophy at the University.  He was a Jew and an atheist.  But in the course of his work, he became interested in how Christ is meant to be a representative of God to the people, and of the People to God.  And pursuing this interest, he fell in love with the passage from John’s Gospel which we have just read.  He read it over and over, savoring the rhythms of its tropes in the King James Version:  “and the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not… and of his fullness have all we received, and grace for grace…”

In the middle of Robert’s research and his meditations on this passage, he developed an aggressive brain tumor.  Over the months it became clear that he would not survive, and he moved back to England, where he had grown up, to die.  Shortly after Robert moved back to England, a dear friend of mine had a layover in London on her way to Africa, and she went to Cambridge to visit Robert.  During the course of their visit, Robert asked to receive the Sacrament of Baptism.  He renounced Satan and all his works, and declared to my friend that he believed in Jesus, and she poured water over his head in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  A day or two later, Robert died.

I know Robert’s conversion was the result of his meditation on this passage from John.  He was seduced by its mysterious beauty, and that beauty was for him a springboard to the TRUTH of what God has done in Jesus – that the divine Word, who was in the beginning with God, through whom the universe came into being – that this Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.  And Robert beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.  Robert believed in him, and by him was given power to become a child of God.

God has revealed himself in Jesus.  When we look at Jesus, we look at God.  When we meditate on Jesus, we meditate on God.  When we consider the miracles and healings of Jesus, we consider the power of God.  No one has ever seen God.  But Jesus Christ, the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, HE has made him known.

Being a Christian, most fundamentally, means believing what God has revealed in Jesus, and then living out of that belief.  That’s what it means to “live by faith” (Gal. 3.11).  At the end of the day, it means patterning your whole life according to the teachings of the Gospel.  This kind of life is the life of a child of God.  Its what Saint Paul is talking about in today’s epistle reading when he says:  “Now before faith came, we were confined under the law, kept under restraint until faith should be revealed.”  Because the Word was made flesh, we now know what it is to be given totally to God, because we see it in Jesus.  And WE live for God when we order our lives toward Jesus, when we are oriented toward him, when we make life-choices out of consideration for what he has revealed.

Often when we hear talk of “obedience” we think of being governed by rules; we think of  servility or dogmatic legalism.  But that’s not what’s going on here.  The opportunity of living a life for Jesus, patterned on what he reveals, is the opportunity of life IN him, and the life that is in him is eternal.  In him was light, and the life was the light of men.  Life in him is life indeed.  As Paul says in the final verses of today’s epistle, life in Christ, the life of FAITH, means the opposite of servility: it means freedom, it means coming into your inheritance as a child of God, it means no longer living under the threat of divine judgment and retribution.  Life in Christ means being able to call God “Abba, Father.”  God isn’t just God anymore; in Christ he is a benevolent, all-loving, all-merciful, all-forgiving FATHER, who loves us, who seeks us, who provides for us, and who calls us home to be with him forever.

Today’s reading from Isaiah speaks in figures about the life God offers us through trust in Jesus.  For in him our vindication goes forth as brightness, and our salvation as a burning torch.  Our vindication is there for all to see, and in him all the authorities of the earth may see our glory.  We are called by a new name, for we are Christians, named for the Christ, which the mouth of the Lord has given.  In him we are a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of our God.

In the end, that is the wonderful thing: that God has not only revealed himself in Jesus, but that he has GIVEN HIMSELF TO US in Jesus.  The plenitude of divine grace and truth and light and life revealed in Jesus becomes ours as we become his.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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About Fr Will

Fr Will Brown is rector of Holy Cross Dallas
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