Sermon January 3rd - 2nd Sunday of Christmas by Wilma Garing, Minister
Let us pray- Holy Father, we joyfully celebrate the birth of your Son and our Savior at Christmas. Come into our hearts, help us to feel the joy and light of His birth and share that Holy joy and light with others in this blessed New Year. Amen.
After reading the verses for our Gospel lesson today as I was preparing this sermon, I was suddenly reminded that the way John gives us this information seems like the beginning of a Star Wars movie. You know how the first thing you see when a Star Wars movie starts are words scrolling up the movie screen that describe what happened before the movie so that you will understand what is going on and understand it better. John seems to scroll way back to the very beginning, to tell us what happened with Jesus to help us understand. John goes back to Genesis and beyond, to tell us about the Baby in the Manger. And like in the Star Wars movies, John wants us to “Take a Far and Close Look at the Baby in the Manger.” John wants us to know that the Baby Jesus is the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God, and was with God in the beginning when all things were made. John tells us that in Jesus was life and this life was the light of mankind and this light is shining in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. And, like on the Star Wars movie screen, John lets us know what is happening, John says, “The Word became flesh and lives among us!”
When John talks about Jesus as the Word, it takes us back to Genesis 1. God is the One who created everything, and God did it with His Word. Have you ever really thought about the fact that God spoke creation into existence? All He did was speak and all was created, including us humans. God is an actual, powerful and intellectual Being. When God speaks, things happen, things take place!
John’s Christmas story is more than about the birth of a baby. John writes about Jesus as the Word, the Word that was present and participated in the creation of the world. John wants us to understand that Jesus’ existence did not begin when He was born in Bethlehem, but Jesus has always existed, and He always will.
And just like during Advent, today, we again read about light and learned that it is a primary image for God’s power to transform the earth and us in it. Think about this, our eyes are naturally attracted to light when it shines in the darkness. Remember the story I told in one of my Advent sermons, about the Boy Scout group that went caving? How when they reached the floor of the cave the scout leader told them to turn their headlamps off. The young boys were in total darkness and were afraid. But then the scout leader struck a match, the light from the match shone through the darkness and the boys were no longer afraid. That’s what Jesus has come to do for us living in this dark world - to provide us with the light of forgiveness and salvation and lead us out of the darkness of death into heaven itself. As we receive the gift of grace from God, He calls us to live as children of the light. And as we receive this holy calling, we have John the Baptist to lead us. In his Gospel, as John tells the story of the birth of Jesus, he leaves out a lot of important details. He does not mention shepherds, angels or the manger. But one thing for sure about John’s Gospel, you just cannot tell the story of Jesus without John the Baptist as the one to point us and guide us to Jesus. We are called to do the same thing as John the Baptist. Now we are the ones to point others to Jesus. We do this in the way we live our lives, when we feed the hungry, when we invite others to know Jesus, when we give comfort to the homeless and to the poor. When we allow the holy light of the Christmas season to shine through us in all we do and all we are, we are pointing to Jesus. John points to Jesus in the manger and says, “Here is your God, your creator, the one who has come into your world to rescue you by dying for your sins on the cross. This baby is your light and your salvation.
And now in this New Year, I think it is a good time for us to do an alter call. Okay, Okay, I know we do not do altar calls in the Lutheran church often. Although, an altar call was done a couple of years ago at one of our Southeastern Synod Assembly worship services. But what I am referring to is an “a-l-t-e-r” call not an “a-l-t-a-r” call. A-l-t-e-r means to change, to make different, to modify for a better fit. By doing an a-l-t-e-r call, I am talking about us changing and transforming ourselves to make our lives better, to make our lives more like Christ. Do we read our Bibles daily? You know it is so easy to read Scripture these days. We all have cell phone and can download apps that will give you daily Scripture reading. I have a friend who has a long list of people who he shares Bible verses and Scripture readings daily from a Bible app he has on his cell phone. He gets out of bed about 3:30am to get ready for work. At 4:00am he begins sharing from the Bible app on his cell phone to all the people on his list! What a witness this is!! I am very thankful that my friend has added me to his list. The people that he shares with then share with their friends and family. Talk about spreading the Gospel!! In fact, my friend works with the brother of Vallie Williford, a friend in our community, who passed away recently. My friend said he got a call from Vallie’s brother at 4am one morning and told him that he really needed my friend to send him some Scripture passages ASAP. He said he had just received word that his sister, Vallie, had just passed away. The app that my friend is using to share Scripture passages daily is what we are all commissioned to do, to spread the Gospel. Now, I ask, do we spend time in prayer every day? When is the last time we looked at our lives and asked God to remove our harmful habits? I do not want us to think of this as a New Year’s Resolution but let us think of this as a prayer to God who is with us as we travel through this world. Our prayer can be, “Lord, guide me in your ways, and remind me that, though you freely forgive my sin, that it is not a license to sin. In this New Year, draw me close to you, through daily Bible reading, through daily prayer and guide my paths in every way.”
We need to get ourselves in a closer relationship with God and the Jesus He sent to redeem us as we receive the grace of God. Even in our reading from Ephesians today, Paul tells us not just who Jesus is but whose Jesus is. Jesus is the Beloved of God. Jesus is chosen by God before the foundation of the world. It is through this beloved Jesus, that we receive the grace of God and the forgiveness of our sins. This grace we are talking about is not a prayer before meals. It is the love of God made flesh in Jesus Christ. When we refer to the sacraments of Baptism and Holy communion as the “means of grace,” we mean that these are the instruments through which we receive the love of God. We join in with the John the Baptist in demonstrating the presence of God in Christ in our word and sacrament. We too are beloved. We are beloved children of God and hold worth beyond all measure. I am going to give each of you an assignment to do in the first week of the New Year. I want to take time to contact someone in our congregation and remind them of their worth to us. Remember, we are all beloved in God as we can face the future together.
Now, just a note in advance. This Wednesday, January 6th, is the Epiphany of our Lord. The feast of Epiphany concludes the Christmas season with a celebration of God’s glory revealed in the person of Jesus Christ. Like the light of the star that guided the magi to Jesus, the light of Christ reveals who we are: children of God who are claimed and washed in the waters of baptism. We are sent out to be beacons of the light of Christ, sharing the good news of God’s love to all people.
“The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.” Amen