(sermon note: 12-19 sermon note)
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. 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. (John testified to him and cried out, ‘This was he of whom I said, “He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.”’) From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.
This morning’s reading reminds me of the one about a man who was on his deathbed speaking with his wife. “Helen,” he said, “we’ve been through so much together. Do you remember when the shop burned down, and we lost everything of value we had in this world? We had to start over from nothing, but you were by my side.” His wife solemnly replied, “I remember, dear.” “Helen,” he continued, “when our son was killed in that terrible car accident, I was heartbroken. I didn’t think I could go on, but you were by my side.” His wife began to softly cry, “I know, dear.” “And now,” the man went on, “I’m about to leave this world. In my final moments, where are you?” His wife sobbed, “Right here by your side, dear.” “Helen,” the man said, “I’m beginning to think you might be bad luck.”
Looking back on his life’s tragedies, that man could have easily focused on the blissful closure that awaits him in death. No more tragedies, with or without his beloved wife by his side…what a relief that prospect could have provided him! Instead he opened himself to yet another new beginning, a new way of thinking about his life’s tragedies. Of course, no man has the right to blame his life’s tragedies on his loving and faithful wife! To do so, well, is foolish and laughable to say the least…
Aside from blaming his wife for his life tragedies, that man’s opening of himself to a new beginning was commendable. Indeed, we as Christians have a strong and well-supported belief that death is not an ending but rather a beginning. Death does not have the final say. Jesus revealed this to us when he conquered death and rose to new life. There is life after death! New life! This is the gospel of the resurrection, that new life springs forth from death, that life conquers death, light defeats darkness. We believe this and confess this every year when we celebrate Easter and Jesus’ resurrection. With Christmas less than a week away, I suppose we should probably focus on Jesus’ birth rather than his death and resurrection but the two events are deeply interconnected, birth and rebirth. Life wins out in both events of Jesus’ life! But getting back to a reflection on the importance of new beginnings.
New beginnings are important for the simple fact that they provide hope for our lives. We all need hope to help us get through the hard times. In various ways, our readings throughout this Advent season have deliberately reminded us of our need for hope. The prophet Jeremiah was tasked with encouraging the exiled Israelites to resume their lives in the foreign land: plant gardens, raise families, go about life as if they were in their homeland. The prophet Ezekiel similarly encouraged them to cling to their lost traditions so that they can revive them when they return to their homeland. The prophet Isaiah encouraged the Israelites by reminding them of the covenant God made with David long before them to always be with him and his people. God’s ways are not our ways but his word is a mighty word that will bring them joyously home. All three prophets were empowered to instill hope in a God’s despairing people. Hope IS important! Hope keeps us going when all seems to be lost. Hope kept the Israelites going when they felt all was lost. God is always with us no matter where life leads us and God is always loving us.
This week’s reading reminds us of how God has been with us since the beginning. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.” Almost sounds like that great comedic sketch, “Who’s on first?” The Word was with God and was God?! Is the Word on first or second?! What’s going on here, John?! Of course, it makes a little more sense if you substitute Jesus for the Word. Then you just have to wrap your mind around the mystery of the Trinity! Jesus was at the beginning, with God and was God. Makes sense, yes?! Well, it’s a mystery that has befuddled the greatest of minds for over 2,000 years, a mystery that I’m uninterested in resolving today or any day. I’m okay with mystery in my life. I’m okay with living by faith! I know living by faith has become wildly unpopular these days when everyone is so eager to solve the mysteries of this world. I learned a long time ago that mysteries only beget mysteries, that even when you solve one mystery there’s likely another one lurking around the corner. You can easily drive yourself crazy trying to solve all mysteries. It’s much more harmonious and fruitful to be at peace with the existence of mystery in this world. God wants us to live by faith!
Sooooo, in less than a week we get yet another chance to live by faith. Jesus and all the hope that he brings will be born into our world. Do you believe it? Do you want to believe it? Do you believe our world deserves the hope and love of Jesus? These are questions we should ask ourselves at this time each year. With the birth of Jesus comes a new beginning, an opportunity to lay our year’s burdens on him and head into the new year refreshed and encouraged much the same way the exiled Israelites were. In Jesus, God’s awesome and mighty power is most clearly revealed to us. God’s Word is made flesh and we know just how powerful his Word can be. It brought all things into existence! It created and continues to create new beginnings. The book of Hebrews has us confess, “by faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.” (11:3) Our world was created from love and hope! What an amazing truth to confess! In Nehemiah, we heard the prophet Ezra cry out to the Israelites who had returned from their exile, “You are the Lord, you alone; you have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. To all of them you give life, and the host of heaven worships you.” (9:6) Ezra knew who God is, a source of new life and new beginnings, and he rightly gave his thanks and praise.
A new life and a new beginning can be found in Jesus. Heading into this Christmas week, let us be especially thankful for the new hope that can also be found in him. Friends, we made it through another year of pandemic changes and God so graciously provided for us. God will continue to provide as He always has, both graciously and abundantly. Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.