Advent 4 – Better than Christmas

December 17, 2017 | John 1: 1-14 | Rev Nancy Talbot

 

“Better than Christmas” John 1: 1-14

Just as surely as Christmas comes around every year, so does the annual controversy surrounding the Starbucks Christmas cup design. There was the year Starbucks was criticized by conservative Christians for having too many secular symbols on their Christmas cups, things like reindeer and trees. Then there was the plain red cup controversy because apparently it’s offensive to Christians when a Christmas cup has no symbols on it. And then there is this year’s cup which has brought us what I think is one of the best controversies of all. This year, Starbucks has been criticized for their “gay agenda” cup due to the two gender-neutral hands joined at the top of the cup. All of which begs the most important question for us to be asking at this time of year which is of course: what kind of Starbucks cup would the baby Jesus drink out of?
All joking aside, the narrowness of this conversation is what makes many of us shy away from aligning ourselves with our Christian brothers and sisters not just at this time of the year but all year. It seems some people are so focused on what went on in the stable at this time of year that they have lost the point of the story the stable is meant to tell. For those of us who appreciate a broader interpretation of the Christmas story, this morning we have before us what are possibly the most expansive words about God and Jesus found in the scriptures, the reading that is commonly known as the prologue to the Gospel of John.
Unlike the writer of Luke’s version of the Jesus story, the writer of John’s Gospel does not start his story about Jesus with Mary and Joseph and an infant born in a manger on a star filled night with angels singing Gloria in Excelsis Dea to a group of frightened shepherds. Unlike Matthew’s version of the story, there is no King Herod in John’s account of the beginning of Jesus’ life, no wild star, no Magi, no escape into Egypt until it is safe for Mary and Joseph and the baby to return to Nazareth. Instead, the writer of John’s gospel starts his story about Jesus in the very beginning, the beginning of all time and all history.
For the writer of John’s gospel, Jesus is bigger than the baby born in Bethlehem and even better than Christmas. For John, Jesus is what’s become known in our day and age as the Cosmic Christ, the pattern on which all things have been created and the agent through which they are created. For John, in Jesus we see the fullness not only of God, but the fullness of who we are and how we came into being. Theologian Bruce Sanguin would say that John’s Gospel tells us that the intelligence, compassion and empathy exhibited by Jesus represents what at the very heart of reality. He is not an exception to the norm; he is a reflection of what is true about us and about all of creation.

If that sounds very lofty to you, that’s probably why we gather around the story of what happened in the stable at this time of year because it’s so much easier for us to relate to a little baby in a manger. But for the writer of John’s Gospel, what’s at the heart of Christmas, is not just what’s at the heart of those who follow the Christian path in life, its what’s at the heart of all humanity and all creation and it’s this lofty way he begins his story that points to all of that.
I’ve wondered if you’ve noticed what question we ask one another at this time of year possibly more than any other question. It’s the question “who will you be spending Christmas with?” We also ask each other where we will be spending it, but more often than not even when we are asking each other the where question we’re really referring to the who question. Are you going back home to be with family? Will you be gathering at your brother’s house or your cousin’s this year? In our home this year, the question of who we would be spending Christmas with hit a bit of a feverish pitch about a week ago as we awaited a response from friends we had invited to dinner. What were we going to do if they said no? Who else would we invite?
Who would we spend the holiday with? No one should be alone at Christmas. It’s a deeply held belief we have isn’t it?
Why do you think that is?

Over the centuries as various individuals and schools of thought have interpreted the meaning of the Christian faith, one of the questions we have struggled to answer is the “why Jesus?” question. Some answer the question by saying God sent Jesus to save us from our sins. Others say God sent Jesus to save us from death. The writer of John’s gospel seems to be saying the purpose of Jesus birth is to serve as a window so that we might see that God, the sacred; the holy is with us, among us and has been with us from the very beginning of time.
Who will you be spending Christmas with? It’s the question of being with one another that is at the heart of our Christmas celebrations because that’s what’s at the heart of the Christmas story, Jesus the word made flesh, love with skin on, here among us, here with us. That is how John begins his story. In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God. John refers to Jesus as the Word, sometimes translated as wisdom, and actually suggests that Jesus is “light” with skin on. He then he goes on to say that this same light that came into the world through Jesus, is also in us, it is the very force of life within us. And it’s not just in those who call themselves followers of Jesus, it’s in everyone and every living thing. It’s just that Jesus is the window through which some of us come to understand ourselves in this way, children of God, full of the same light that was within Jesus. It’s this light that connects us to one another and to every living thing. As science has confirmed, we are all stardust.
I think that’s why we long to be with one another at this time of year, as hard as being with one another may be sometimes, because we were made to be with each other, as God is with us.

So we go home to spend time with the relatives some of us can barely tolerate at any other time of the year; and we fill our giving tree with socks and gift cards because we know the story of those who are living on the streets is also our story; and we give dictionaries to new Canadians to somehow try to say to them we are here with you in this strange and foreign land and we are not so very different from one another. And we know our Christmas celebrations won’t be perfect and we try harder than we should to make them that way but only because to really be with one another is harder than it sounds. But we know it’s how we were meant to be. And if you ever do find yourself alone this time of year or feeling lonely despite the company, you are keeping, you might want to remind yourself that the longing that you feel is a holy yearning, a reflection of what lies at the heart of all creation and perhaps you will not feel so lonely after all.
That’s why Jesus came according to the Gospel of John, to remind us God is with us, we are not alone and to show us we were made for one another.
Back in 2013 in the weeks before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission arrived in Vancouver I asked Jen-Beth Fulton if she would take me to meet Leonard George, elder and former chief of the Tsleilwatuth Nation. I knew I couldn’t participate in the TRC hearings without taking the very small step of walking down the street and meeting face to face with those in my neighborhood who had been directly affected by the residential school system.
Leonard said many wise things that day but there’s one very simple story he told that I want to share with you today. It came to me as I was reading about John’s words about the life that is in Christ being the light of all people. He told us about an interfaith gathering he had been invited to attend years ago as the spiritual leader of his community. At the end of their time, they gathered in a circle and each one of them lit a candle. And then Leonard turned to each one individually and said, “This light I am holding in my hands is the same light you are holding in your hands. We are the same you and me. We are all connected to each other and to the Creator.”
That’s what’s so wrong with the whole Starbucks cup controversy because it’s so divisive at a time when we are meant to be about coming together, being at one with each other, at a time in our world when we desperately need to come together. What’s at the heart of Christmas is so much bigger and so much better than Christmas itself. It is about God, the source of all life, the light that fuels the expansion of the universe itself being with and within us, all people, each
creature in every time and every place.

I want to invite you now to take a moment and think about who might be wanting you to be with them this Christmas. Which individual, which community is wanting to be seen, known, and acknowledged by you. And then, if you’d like, come forward and light a candle for them as a sign of your intention to reach out and be with them this week, if only in your thoughts and prayers.

 

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