Friday, December 29, 2006

1st Sunday After Christmas (RCL) Sermon

[Isaiah 61:10-62:3]
[Galatians 3:23-25;4:4-7]
[John 1:1-18]


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

We have waited, and we have watched.
These past weeks of Advent, we have watched and waited for the birth of Christ. We have overheard the angel Gabriel’s announcement to Mary that she would conceive and bear a son, and name him “Savior.” We have witnessed the excited meeting of two expectant mothers, Mary and Elizabeth, and we have added our own voices to their song of celebration. We have trembled with the shepherds in the fields, as angels announced tidings of great joy, and we have drawn near with them to the side of the manger.
We have watched, and we have waited.

Today, we hear the evangelist John tell the same story, from a profoundly different perspective. Whereas Luke zooms in, focusing on the family of Jesus in a very intimate way, John zooms out, -- way out, going all the way back to the beginning of the Cosmos. John reminds us that Jesus’ birth is not merely a human drama with God somewhere in the background, but the fruition of a world- and time-spanning drama, which goes all the way back to the beginning of time:

“In the beginning was the Word,” John tells us, “and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” While we may be tempted to over-sentimentalize the “little Lord Jesus, asleep on the hay,” John will not let us forget that this is the same Word through whom all things were made.

John’s heavenly perspective on these events conveys the same basic truth as Luke’s account: that “Word became flesh and lived among us.” But John’s way of telling the story assures that when we gaze upon the Christ child, we feel not only tenderness, but a sense of awe.

The Word, who was in the beginning with God, who was God, clothed himself in our humanity. The “light [that] shines in the darkness” became human, “dressed up,” as it were, in humanity.

Now, this in itself is awe-inspiring enough, an amazing thing; But the even more amazing thing is this: Christ wants us to join in this game of cosmic “dress-up.”
As he “put on” our flesh and clothed himself humanity,
he invites us to “put on” himself, and clothe ourselves in Christ.
As John tells us: “To all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God.”
The Son of God became human
so that we humans might become sons and daughters of God.
Christ took on our humanity
so that humanity might take on his divinity.

This idea of “clothing” ourselves in Christ, or “dressing up” as Christ, is found scattered throughout the New Testament. For example, Paul counsels the Romans:
“Live honourably as in the day, not in revelling and drunkenness, not in
quarrelling and jealousy. 14Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no
provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” (Romans 13:13a,13c-14)
Paul also tells the Corinthians that:
“Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust (that is, Adam), we will
also bear the image of the man of heaven (that is, Christ). (1 Cor. 15:49)
And, lastly, in the letter to the Ephesians:
Put away your former way of life, your old self, 23and be renewed in the spirit
of your minds, and clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the
likeness of God. (Eph. 4:22a, 23-24a)

There is a wonderful passage in C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity about this. Lewis writes:

[The Lord’s Prayer’s] first words are Our Father. Do you see now what these words mean? They mean quite frankly that you are putting yourself in the place of a son of God. To put it bluntly, you are dressing up as Christ. If you like, you are pretending. Because, of course, the moment you realize what the words mean, you realize that you are not a son of God. You are not like the Son of God whose will and interests are one with those of the Father: you are a bundle of self-centered fears, hopes, greeds, jealousies, and self-conceit, all doomed to death. So that, in a way, this dressing up as Christ is a piece of enormous cheek. But the odd thing is that He has ordered us to do it.
Why? What is the good of pretending to be what you are not? Well, you know, there are two kinds of pretending. There is a bad kind, where the pretence is there instead of the real thing: as when a man pretends he is going to help you instead of really helping you. But there is also a good kind, where the pretence leads up to the real thing. When you are not feeling particularly friendly but know you ought to be, the best thing you can do, very often, is to put on a friendly manner and behave as if you were a nicer person than you were. And in a few minutes, as we have all noticed, you will be really feeling friendlier than you were. Very often the only way to get a quality in reality is to start behaving as if you had it already.
Now the moment you realize “Here I am, dressing up as Christ,” it is extremely likely that you will see at once some way in which at that very moment the pretence could be made less of a pretence and more of a reality. You will find several things going on in your mind which would not be going on there if you really were a son of God. Well, stop them. Or you may realize that [there is something you ought to do.] Well, go and do it.
You see what is happening. The Christ Himself, the Son of God who is a human (just like you) and God (just like His Father) is actually at your side already at that moment beginning to turn your pretence into a reality. This is not merely a fancy way of saying that your conscience is telling you what to do. If you simply ask your conscience, you get one result: if you remember that you are dressing up as Christ, you get a different one. There are lots of things which your conscience might not call definitely wrong (specially things in your mind) but which you will see at once you cannot go on doing if you are seriously trying to be like Christ. For you are no longer thinking simply about right and wrong: you are trying to catch the goodness from a Person. It is more like painting a portrait than obeying a set of rules. And the odd thing is that while in one way it is harder than keeping rules, in another way it is far easier. – (from C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, IV.7; condensed)

This last point about “rules” is found in both the Galatians reading and the Gospel reading. Paul tells the Galatians that the law was “our disciplinarian until Christ came.” John’s Gospel says, “The law indeed was given through Moses; but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” The law here is being compared to a sort of tutor, useful for a while, but eventually no longer necessary. Or the law is like a set of training wheels on a bicycle; It serves a purpose while you are learning, but it's superfluous for those who know what they are doing.

In Christ, we can grow out of the need for a “disciplinarian” and grow into responsible heirs of God. No longer is ethics a matter of obeying a set of rules, but a matter of living with integrity—living into the Christlikeness God intends for us.

We have waited, and we have watched. One of the metaphors that Jesus used in his parables for watchfulness was the wedding, and the way guests eagerly watched for the arrival of the bridegroom. And just as the bride and bridegroom would be dressed up for the event, the guests were expected to be dressed appropriately.
Jesus Christ, the bridegroom, has clothed himself in our humanity; and his bride, the Church, has been clothed in Christ’s holiness.

As it is written in Isaiah:

“He has clothed me with garments of salvation,
he has covered me with the
robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decks himself with garlands,
as a bride adorns herself with jewels.”

We have waited, and we have watched—not only for our Lord’s birth, but also for his second coming, when he will be our judge. As we await Christ, the bridegroom of the Church, let us clothe ourselves in him, that we may be found dressed,
and waiting,
and ready.

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