Suzanne G. Roberts
Sermon for First Sunday after Christmas, December 31, 2017
Isaiah 61:10-62:3; Galatians 3:23-25, 4:4-7; John 1:1-18; Psalm 147
As I was driving home from Biddeford Friday night the traffic was slowed due to the weather and I had extra time to listen to the radio. I was listening to the evening news, alternating, as I often do, between feeling exasperated and defeated, when my ears perked up at an intriguing human interest story. The radio station announced that in anticipation of the end of this year and the beginning of a new year they had invited people to call in and leave a recording in which they told the story of their biggest regret from the year 2017. Now none of these recorded regrets were dramatic confessions—mostly they fell into the category of missed opportunities for connection with or compassion for others— but the piece made me think; what would I say was my biggest regret of the year 2017? And, after naming it, and because I am the kind of person who goes to church in sub zero weather, what is God asking me to do about this regret?
Today Christians all over the world are still celebrating Christmas, and in today’s readings we are invited to remember what it is that makes us Christians—what it is that sets us apart from God’s other children—and that is our belief that Jesus was both fully human and fully God. We believe that in Jesus God became incarnate, or became actual human flesh. We don’t say this out loud very often, and perhaps we don’t even think about it very often, but when Jesus was born in a barn behind an inn in Bethlehem God actually became a human being. John might have put it more poetically when he wrote, “the Word became flesh and lived among us”, but the concept is the same—God became a human like you and like me. So, what does God becoming human mean to you? Does it mean anything? Does it change your life or the way that you live it? How?
Most people no longer spend much time thinking about the concept that God became human in Jesus. Popular culture has reduced God to nothing more than a symbol, an idea; possibly a proof for an argument or a litmus test of someone’s “goodness”. We don’t remember, we no longer know in our guts, that God chose to become one of us, and this is really a shame. It is a shame because when we forgot that God became human we lost our most intimate connection with God. When we forgot that God became human we lost our family connection with God—we no longer remember that we are children of God and sisters and brothers with one another. When we forgot that God became human we forgot what the incarnation really means: that God loves us so much that the only way to show it was to become one of us. God chose to become weak, God chose to become frail, God chose to become vulnerable, and God chose to become human, like us. That is the amazing paradox about our God, who is so powerful that his Word and Breath brought all things into being, at the same time our God also knows how it feels to be hungry and tired, to be held safely in a mother’s arms, to cry at the death of a loved one, to laugh in the company of friends, to love, to suffer, to be ridiculed and hated, to die. John told us today that God’s grace and truth came through Jesus Christ; another way to think about this is to say that God embraced humanity through Jesus in the best, most visible, most tangible way possible, through his very body.
The incarnation is a revelation of a truth about God and about love—true love cannot exist without vulnerability. The baby that we celebrate today, frail and dependent upon others for everything, recognizes these same qualities in each of us, and through this shared fragility and humanity reaches out to each one of us with the gifts of grace and truth and forgiveness. Don’t be too quick to turn away from the manger and to set your eyes upon the New Year. Don’t be afraid to approach the baby with your regrets and your failures, the things that you have done and the things that you have left undone. That baby, born in a barn, wrapped in shreds of cloth and laid to sleep in a feeding trough represents infinite possibilities, infinite love, infinite forgiveness, and infinite opportunities to start over again, all through the grace of God. AMEN