People of God, we’ve made it this far. This is the day. This is the last Sunday before the first day of Christmas. Six shopping days are all that’s standing between this moment and Christmas morning. This is the day for concerts, and baking, and wrapping… And if you’re feeling swept up in all the glittering glorias… If your own heart is soaring with the music of the stars… you are not alone.
Especially after the canceled and distanced celebrations of last year, for many of us, this is the year — this is the day— to deck all the halls, and ring all the bells, and summon the reindeer. Blessed are you who feel the magical sparkle of Christmas! Blessed are you who laugh—
This is the day. About fifty-three hours are all that’s standing between this moment and the longest night of the year. If you are grieving… If you’re living through the days when you can’t stop crying, or if you wish you could cry and the tears won’t come… you are not alone.
Blessed are you who mourn. Blessed are you who weep now for you will be there for the turning. Tears will turn into laughter, darkness will make a way for the light, and you’ll be there to see it! It’s just— there’s still right now.
Right now it can feel like everybody else is filled with Christmas cheer. When you’re grieving at Christmas, it’s easy to find yourself left out. It’s almost like the holidays are a spectacular game of musical chairs. Hurry up! Find your people, grab a chair before the music stops! And for all the ones who manage to do this, that’s terrific. But what about the others?
The way the world tells the story, there’s no part for an old gray duck in the nativity.1This is a reference to the Children’s Time earlier in the service. We shared a nativity made of ducks who all have Official Roles in the story. Except for one gray duck… There’s no place for sorrow at Christmas— unless maybe God is coming into the world to change the story. Maybe there’s more room than we know…
Today the scripture Bill read is the overture launching the entire Gospel of John. Some scholars say this first passage is really a poem. Some scholars say this passage is really a love song, and I happen to think those scholars are right.2One example is this commentary by Craig A Satterlee: https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/christmas-day-nativity-of-our-lord-iii/commentary-on-john-11-14
In the beginning, darkness covered the face of the deep, then the Holy Spirit took a breath, and that’s when the LORD began to sing. The Word of God sung the world into being! Now everything living is made of the singing of God…
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The Word was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through the Word, and without the Word not one thing came into being. What has come into being was life, and life was the light of all the people. And the Word of God is the love song the Holy Spirit sings into all creation. And the Word of God is Jesus.
See what happened was the LORD our God looked at this world, and loved this world. When God saw the violence, it broke his heart. That’s when God decided to come into the world to go with us. She sent us her son, and when we killed him, he got up from the dead. Now when we break apart and kill each other, God keeps coming into the world. The Holy Spirit gathers up the broken pieces in their own hands, and Here, they whisper, You know what. We could take this and make it into something beautiful…
Now right in the middle of this opening love song, we bump into the heart of all the trouble: Christ was in the world, and the world came into being through him, and the world did not know him. He came to his own —to his own home— and his own people did not accept him.
In keeping with the Narrative Lectionary, after next week, we’ll be spending the next few months walking through the Gospel of John, so I do want to warn you. All through this book, you’ll hear the striking contrast between insiders and outsiders. But that’s not even what’s most important. If I had to name the most important feature of the Fourth Gospel, I would say—
the whole thing is in motion, and that’s really weird.
Usually when we study the Bible, we’ll choose a snippet of scripture and examine it like it’s a still photograph. But the Gospel of John is not a collection of still photographs— it’s a movie! Imagine trying to understand a movie by studying still shots from assorted scenes. Sure, you’ll get bits and pieces of the story, but the life of the film is in the energy between the actors. It’s in the action! It’s in the music.
If I’m onto something, what matters is not figuring out that these people over here are insiders while these people over here are outsiders. What matters is that all through the Fourth Gospel, the insiders keep going out, the outsiders keep coming in. How is all this coming and going possible? What’s the source of the fluidity that lets a Samaritan woman speak to a Jewish man or a dead man come back to life? It’s like there’s got to be some kind of mystical door between worlds that makes a way for all this splendid crossing!
The problem is, all through the history of the Church, instead of becoming fascinated by the door, Christians have latched onto the project of determining who’s in and who’s out. We sort out orthodox versus heretics, believers versus unbelievers, the right kind of Christian versus the wrong kind of Christian.
We have taken a mystery and made it into a test. We have taken a love song and made it into a doctrine you better agree with, or else. We’ve taken our faith and made it into a horrifying game of musical chairs where you better get a seat before the music stops, or else. And as long as I have anything to do with the Church, I will work on repenting from this sin because here’s what I know—
As soon as I think I’ve got it figured out… As soon as I decide that my lunch table is reserved for every Christian who believes in advocating for the vulnerable, and resisting oppression, and pursuing liberation— So Don’t sit here, white supremacists! Don’t sit here if you’re transphobic! Don’t sit here if you care more about money than people! As soon as I get it all clear in my head who’s allowed to sit with us and who better not, that’s when somebody comes up to me and says: Um, excuse me, Isn’t Jesus sitting over there? Why is he sitting with them?
That’s the first thing. Whenever I think we’ve got ourselves sorted correctly into us versus them, you can absolutely believe that Jesus will make it his mission to join up with them. Whenever there are insiders and outsiders, Jesus keeps finding the outsiders.
And so it is. If you are grieving, this is good news. If you’re feeling like all the world is having a Christmas party, all except you, well, you’re in exactly the right place to get found by Jesus. Acknowledging your depression or your deep pain, that does not mean you are doing Christmas wrong. Feeling what we feel is how we are human, and Jesus has come into the world to find us in the fullness of our humanness and go with us. And holy are your tears.
Whenever there are insiders and outsiders, it’s a safe bet that we’ll find Jesus warming up to the outsiders, that’s the first thing. The next thing is this: The work of Christ is not keeping the insiders in and the outsiders out. Exactly the opposite. When we think there are walls, leave it to Jesus to find the door and stand and knock.
All through the Gospel, there’s a stunning fluidity between worlds. Heaven pours into the earth like the water that turns into wine. Divinity spills into humanity. Life gets mixed into death, until life comes back to life. Light breaks into sorrow —leave it to the grieving ones to help all of us see! There’s a mystical door between outsiders and insiders, and in the Gospel of John, Jesus says to the people: I am the door.
See what happened was the LORD our God looked at this world, and loved this world. When God saw all the division and the violence, it broke their heart. That’s when God crossed the border between heaven and earth, between darkness and light. The Holy Spirit moved between worlds in order to go with us, in order to show us that we can do this too. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen the glory of God, grace upon grace upon grace…
Let those of us who are filled with the joy of Christmas fling open the door and welcome those who weep. This is how we will welcome Jesus. Let those of us who are overcome by sorrow get ready for the light to break forth.
And look, whatever you do, don’t let anybody tell you that our faith is a game of musical chairs. Here’s how you know it’s not: We can always add more places to the table. We can always wait for the ones who are furthest away and moving the slowest. And when it’s God who’s singing a love song to creation, well, the music never stops. Our sorrow will turn into singing. The light will keep on breaking. The grace will keep on going… Thanks be to God.
|↑1||This is a reference to the Children’s Time earlier in the service. We shared a nativity made of ducks who all have Official Roles in the story. Except for one gray duck…|
|↑2||One example is this commentary by Craig A Satterlee: https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/christmas-day-nativity-of-our-lord-iii/commentary-on-john-11-14|