SENT FROM GOD
William H. Joyner, Jr. The First Sunday after Christmas Day
St. Cyprian’s Episcopal Church Year C
Oxford, North Carolina December 30, 2018
Merry Christmas! ¡Feliz Navidad! Yes, it’s okay to say that, because Christmas lasts for twelve days. Remember the song The Twelve Days of Christmas? The twelve days begin, not end, on Christmas Day, and this is only the sixth day of Christmas – the six geese a-laying day of the song. So, still, Merry Christmas! Don’t take down the tree and end the celebration yet!
So, in today’s gospel, we have John’s Christmas story, the story about the Word made flesh, the Word dwelling among us. On Christmas Eve, we heard Luke’s story, and next week, we will hear Matthew’s story, and we are all familiar with them – they have a stable and Mary and Joseph and the baby and angels and shepherds and wise men. None of these are in John’s story – it’s a different story, but it’s the same story – the same story of God coming here to make a home with us.
This is a longer story than those of Matthew and Luke, because it stretches back to the beginning of time, and it stretches forward to us, to our time, and beyond. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” And though this Christmas story doesn’t have familiar shepherds and angels and animals, it’s the only gospel that has us in the story. “The Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory,” John’s gospel says. We have been there, we are there, we have seen “the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”
Just as in the Christmas plays our children take part in, we are participants in this Christmas story, because it is not only about God being born on earth, becoming flesh in Jesus, but also about God being born in us, about the Word becoming flesh in us. Jesus’ birth becomes our birth; his life becomes our life; his resurrection becomes our resurrection. We were made in God’s image, and God now takes on our image. In Jesus becoming like us, we have also become like him. “We have beheld his glory,” we hear in John’s gospel, not as bystanders but as participants, with an active role in God’s plan for salvation and reconciliation.
The beginning of this gospel is about God and Jesus the Word, and the end is about God and us. There is a middle part about John the Baptist that some scholars think should be omitted. But I think the middle insertion about John the Baptist is important: “There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came for testimony, to bear witness to the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness to the light.” What is important about John is in the first of these verses: he was sent from God.
John is standing there in the wilderness, with feet in two worlds. He is the last of the Old Testament prophets and the first of the New Testament saints. He is the forerunner and the baptizer, proclaiming not himself but someone coming after him, seeking not glory but repentance, not pointing to himself but pointing the way, knowing that something big is happening but not sure just what.
We are like John in many ways. Like him, we may not fully understand our role in this story, but we do have a role. Like John, we each have a foot in two worlds – a foot here, in the church, in the household of God, and a foot out there, out in a world into which the light still shines and into which we carry the light. We also each have a foot in two eras, as John did – the one behind us, passing away, and the age before us that we all have a part in creating. And what is important about John is important about us: like him, we are sent from God. The light that the darkness has never put out is in each one of us, according to the gospel. As we go out of the church, let us remember that it is still burning in us as we leave this place.
There was a man sent from God whose name was John, sent to prepare the way for the Word to become flesh. There was a woman sent from God whose name was Mary, sent to be the bearer of the Word. But there was also a man sent from God whose name was Harry, or Marvin, or Caleb. There was a woman sent from God whose name was Vickie, or Guillermina, or Francisca. There was someone sent from God who has your name, also sent to bear the Word and prepare the way. Like John, you are sent by God to bear witness to the light that darkness has never overcome.
There was a deacon sent from God whose name was Bill, sent to be for a short time among the people of Saint Cyprian’s, who wanted to help them prepare the way but who learned so much from them about what it means to be a witness in the world. There was a group sent from God, whose name became St. Cyprian’s Church, who are still making the presence of the Word made flesh a reality here in Oxford, who will never ever cease to be the people of God in this place, and who made for me a welcome home, a holy place during these last two years. I love you. I will miss you. I will pray for you. And I will never ever forget you.