The Living Christ

Sermon Preached December 31, 2006
Church of the Transfiguration - Palos Park
1 Christmas - Year C

I spent the second half of this week in Wausau, Wisconsin where 6-9 inches of snow covered the ground. The pine tree branches were weighted down with the white stuff, roads were ice covered and slippery and, in my opinion, all was as it should be in late December. I always struggle to find Christmas when I look around and see green blades of grass, crocus pushing out of the ground, and new buds on the trees. I don’t fare too well in Florida at any time of the year, but I will always remember the one time my family decided to spend Christmas with my grandparents in Vero Beach as the greatest disappointment of my childhood. Somehow, unwrapping a shiny new sled under the tree only to realize I wouldn’t be able to use it for at least a week just didn’t cut it for me. “O, the weather outside is frightful, but the fire is so delightful” or “Dashing through the snow in a one-horse, open sleigh” - my imagination simply falls short in times like these.

At breakfast on Friday, my niece, Olivia, asked me “what are you going to preach about on Sunday?” I responded, “that’s a good question! I’ll probably say something about Jesus . . . and throw in a thought or two about Christmas.” Her response was typical 4th grader, “well, duh!” She’s usually a little more profound than that. My sister was a bit more helpful. She suggested I talk about the let down of the week after Christmas after the rush leading up to the day.

The snow, conversation with family, and the inevitable return to the not-so-white suburbs of Chicago provided the backdrop to my reading the Prologue to John’s Gospel throughout the week. I was grateful for the white Christmas around me. And, I have to confess, just the thought of returning to the dull greens and browns of suburban Chicago was a bit of a downer. But all of this formed the backdrop to the words from John’s gospel washing over me.

John writes, “He was in the world, and the world came into being through him, yet the world did not know him.” John’s gospel takes out the shepherds and the wise men, there are no angels or bright stars, there is no manger, no mention of Mary and Joseph. All that which we think of as the Christmas story is stripped away in this gospel and what we are left with is “the Word became flesh and lived among us.” And to have this reading one week after we’ve celebrated the birth of a baby Savior is perhaps exactly what we need to remind us that “the incarnation binds Jesus to the ‘everydayness’” of our experience.”[1] And that everydayness of our experience includes our moments of boredom – our experiences of let down and disappointment – as well as our experiences of joy and elation. Our everydayness includes grieving for those who are no longer with us and celebrating the lives of those who are with us only a few times a year. Our everydayness includes our annoyance at those with whom we work and live and play. And our everydayness includes accepting that there simply is no snow in the Chicago area this December. Through the incarnation, God enters this everydayness that is our lives. And it is through the incarnation that we recognize that God shares in all of these intimate, earthy, and very real bits of our humanity.

I read Thich Nhat Hanh’s book, Living Buddha, Living Christ, this week. In it, he offers a very simple exercise:

“Breathing in, I calm my body.
Breathing out, I smile.
Dwelling in the present moment,
I know this is a wonderful moment.” [2]
These simple phrases repeated while you concentrate only on your breathing remind us that we can only live in the present moment and, according to Hanh, this is our most important task – to simply “be in the present moment, to be aware that we are here and now, that the only moment to be alive is the present moment.. . . and to enjoy the present moment.”[3] Wherever you and I are in the present moment, we can know with certainty, God is with us. Whenever you and I live in the present moment, those around us can see Jesus living within us. The living God, the living Jesus – this is the power of the Christmas miracle. One commentary expressed it this way:

“The incarnation changes God’s relationship to humanity and humanity’s relationship to God. The incarnation means that human beings can see, hear, and know God in ways never before possible. . . . The relationship between divine and human is transformed, because in the incarnation human beings are given intimate, palpable, corporeal access to the cosmic reality of God.”[4]
And in the season of Christmas, all we are asked to do is to accept Jesus.

Tonight or tomorrow, many of us will engage in that age-old practice of making New Year’s resolutions, making choices about how we will live our life in the New Year. Top on the list for most of us will be to lose weight and to quit smoking. But whatever our resolution, a common supposition undergirds nearly all of them - something is lacking in us; we are not good enough as we are. And, so we make choices to change ourselves, to make ourselves more acceptable. But rather than the New Year’s resolutions we make that are largely about what we don’t like about ourselves, the incarnation calls each one of us to make a different kind of decision for our lives. Our celebration of the incarnation during Christmas invites us to choose once again to accept or to reject Jesus Christ. To all who accept Jesus – to all who choose to make a positive response to the God who loves us unconditionally – today’s gospel promises, we will be given the “power to become children of God” and “From his fullness” to receive “grace upon grace.” God accepts us. We respond by accepting God.

Noted Latin-American theologian Gustavo Gutiérrez says of acceptance - “Acceptance is the foundation of communion among human persons.”[5] The proof of this, he continues, “is expressed by the very fact that the Eucharist was instituted during a meal. For the Jews a meal in common was a sign of fellowship. It united the diners in a kind of sacred pact.”[6]

What will you decide? Will you accept or reject Jesus Christ? This morning, as we take communion together, I invite you to make anew your decision to accept Jesus as the Christ. I invite you to make anew your decision to accept those around you – with all their quirks, with all their differences and dissimilarities, with their hurts and their joys – to accept those around you, as they are - as brothers and sisters in Christ. I invite you to accept the living Jesus and to live into God’s gift to you – “grace upon grace” –through the Word made flesh.

“Breathing in, I calm my body.
Breathing out, I smile.
Dwelling in the present moment,
I know this is a wonderful moment.” [7]

[1] Gail R. O’Day, “John” in Luke; John, Vol. 9 of The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary: A Commentary in Twelve Volumes, edited by Leander E. Keck, Thomas G. Long, et. al., (Nashville, Abingdon Press: 1995), p. 526.
[2] Thich Nhat Hanh, Living Buddha, Living Christ (New York: Riverhead Books, 1995), p. 16.
[3] Hanh, p. 17.
[4] O’Day, p. 524.
[5] Gustavo Guitiérrez, A Theology of Liberation, 15th anniversary edition with a new introduction by the author, (Maryknoll, Orbis Books: 1988), p. 113.
[6] Gutiérrez, p. 149.
[7] Hanh, p. 16.