Text: John 1: 10-14
“And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth.”
In a few days, on January 2nd, my son C will turn 25. A momentous birthday! And even though it has been a quarter of a century, I remember the moment of his birth as if it was yesterday. I remember the twenty hours of labor and a difficult delivery, I can see him, wiggling in the doctor’s hands, and looking at me and his father with the same skepticism and challenge that is still in his face, 25 years later. And I can remember the joy that filled my heart to bursting, the tears in our eyes, his father’s momentary weak knees, the bliss of the moment, as if it was yesterday. It was a gift, one that remains with me in my memory and in C's presence still.
After his birth, exhausted and happy, I fell asleep, dreaming of all the possibilities that awaited my little newborn son in the years ahead.
A few hours later, I woke up. The morning light streamed through the window. It couldn’t be possible that it was time for me to wake up – I was still so very tired – but the nurse was bringing C in for feeding. There I lay, sweaty and lumpy and swollen. Parts of my body that I hadn’t even known about before hurt. A lot. My head ached from the spinal block I had been given. As the nurse gave me the baby, and as that baby latched on for his first feeding, I realized that the blissful dream that had filled my head just a few hours before was being obliterated, replaced by the reality of this child, attached like a leech to a tender portion of my anatomy. It dawned on me that this was the start of decades of him being attached to me either figuratively or literally. Oh, my. What had I gotten myself into?
Don’t get me wrong. I desperately wanted and loved this child, but the reality of motherhood suddenly was a whole different thing from my fantasy of motherhood.
There is that moment when we wake up…the morning after the night before. The pleasure of that night-time celebration is replaced by the prickly fact of the next morning, and the work that awaits us.
Those of you with little children may know that morning-after feeling all too well. You may have gone to a lovely Christmas Eve service, put the children to bed as they dreamed of Santa Claus, and were shocked by that five a.m. wake up call. “Mommy! Daddy! Santa came!” You dragged yourself out of bed – you had been up until one a.m. assembling the new bike – and went downstairs, as the children tore through the gifts under the tree. In what seemed like forty-eight seconds, every gift was unwrapped, the children had already had one fight over who got to play with the new game system first, the living room was a shambles of torn wrapping paper and ribbons, and a long day was ahead. There was work to be done. Not just the clean-up of the detritus of the gift-opening, but perhaps a meal for extended family to be cooked, or a long drive to another relative’s house. Before anything else, though, you need to cook breakfast.
It’s the morning after the night before, and there is work to be done.
For those of you without children, it might be a slightly different story. Perhaps you’re planning a New Year’s Eve party, elegant, with great wine or champagne, delicious food, exquisite decorations, laughter, music…and you will wake on New Years morning with a sour stomach and a headache, knowing when you go downstairs there will be dirty glasses in the sink and the sour smell of the trash you really should have put in the garbage can before you went to bed….a morning of clean-up, perhaps a call to a friend to apologize since you inadvertently offended him with your silly teasing the night before. Work to be done, the morning after the night before.
Once we’ve unwrapped the gifts, once we’ve thrown the party, there is work to be done.
So, too it is with this gospel of John that we are hearing this morning. The remarkable thing about the Gospel of John is that, unlike the other three gospels, John gives us a synopsis of the whole story in just a few verses right at the beginning of the tale. It’s worth repeating:
He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth.
Talk about the Cliff’s Notes version of the entire story of our Lord! Jesus Christ, one with the Father Creator, who came to earth….and those who should have recognized him, the great gift of the incarnate God, did not know him. But some did recognize him, and those who did became the adopted children of God.
This extraordinary Christmas gift, this God made man who lived among us, this incomparable joy. How could anyone not accept him?
Perhaps it’s like the Christmas gift we receive that’s so precious that we put it up on a shelf, for fear we will break it. Or that we want to save for a special occasion – I’m thinking here of the discovery that I made after my mother’s death, when I was cleaning out her home to prepare it for sale, and saw a number of gifts I had given her, beautiful soft nightgowns, silk scarves, lambskin gloves, still wrapped in the tissue paper from the gift box, saved for “good” as she would have said. It saddened me that she never got to truly enjoy those gifts as I had intended when I gave them to her. It felt, in that moment, like a waste of a good gift, even though I knew she appreciated the gift, to keep it wrapped up in tissue paper in a drawer, rather than to feel that whispery silk around one’s shoulders, that soft lambskin on one’s hands.
No, we believe that gifts demand their use, demand a response. When the little girl opens the beautiful American Girl doll under the tree, we say, “Let’s call Grandma and say thank you for that pretty doll.” When the little girl’s cousin comes over for Christmas dinner, we say, “Why don’t you and Hannah play with your new doll and your other things? You know how to share.” And when the little girl grows older, you and she decide another little girl, perhaps not so fortunate, would love to have a doll like this, loved and cared for by one girl, then passed along to another, and you donate it to a charity that will find a good home for this precious gift.
Gifts demand a response, and that is the overarching message of these few verses from the Gospel of John. On Christmas, we received a marvelous gift, Jesus come among us, to perfect our relationship with God by perfecting our relationship with each other. Jesus is a gift who demands to be used daily, vigorously, with the same passion and love with which he was given to us. It is the morning after the night before, and we have work to do with this great gift we have received.
We have a choice. We can be blinded by the brilliance of this gift, intimidated by it, misunderstanding its demand, and so we wrap it in tissue paper and tuck it away in the drawer, forgotten, unused. We can hoard it, not sharing it with others who would benefit from its wondrous light and warmth. Or we can put it to use, in so many ways. We can let the light of the newborn Christ suffuse our hearts and souls, and let the warmth of that light translate into good works, to being Christ’s hands and feet in this hungry and troubled world. We can tell those who do not know the story why that light shines within us, so they too can share the gift, and pass it on.
Gifts demand a response. Gifts should not be ignored. That dishonors the giver as well as the gift. The morning after, having said our great “thank-yous,” we have work to do.
So what will your response be? Will you carry the message of our gift, our newborn Lord and Savior, into the world? Will you share that light, that message, those works that affirm the joy we feel in knowing Christ? Or will you be among those who, in denying the insistent song of the gift, turn away from the adoption that gives us new life?
We have a choice. What will yours be?