What Child Is This?
St Paul's Episcopal Church
Christmas I; The Feast of St. Stephen
Dec 26, 1993
Lessons for Christmas 1: Is 61:10-62:3; Ps 147; Gal 3:23-25, 4:4-7; John 1:1-18
Lesson for The Feast of St. Stephen: Acts 6:8-7:2a,51c-60
Read the Acts Lesson on the steps and talk extemporaneously on Stephen, the first Deacon and first martyr. Go to pulpit for the prepared sermon.
What Child Is This?
Let us pray: Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in us the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and we shall be created. And you shall renew the face of the earth. Amen.
Practically every preacher of the Christian Gospel, I think, secretly is both excited and terrified at the prospect of preaching on the 1st Sunday after Christmas.
There are at least two reasons for this.
First you wonder if anyone at all will actually show up (terror), and secondly you have to be humbled by the pure majesty of the lessons assigned for this Sunday (excitement). In our tradition, the lessons are always the same for this Sunday, regardless of whether we are in year A, B or C. Come with me for a moment, now that we're already here, and let's experience some of the excitement together.
The lesson from Isaiah tells us that God has "clothed us with the garments of salvation...covered us with the robe of righteousness." I really love this particular metaphor from Isaiah. God has given us clothes.
As when Adam and Eve are expelled from the garden, God made them clothing from skins, so now Isaiah says God has made us; us, the heirs of Adam and Eve; us, the heirs of sin; has made us new garments, garments of salvation and a robe of righteousness. These new clothes that God has given us are not to be some sort of magical bullet-proof vests but spiritual vestments that surround our souls, not our bodies.
The Isaiah lesson ends with prophesies, "God will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all nations." Whenever the Bible talks of righteousness, it often does not mean that we shall suddenly become perfect, quite the contrary. It often means that we will come to recognize our own flawed humanity, that we will come to recognize our need for a savior, that we will come to accept the free gift of grace from God, and that God will stand ready and willing to accept us with open and unconditionally loving arms.
What Isaiah is prophesying is that someday all nations, all humanity will recognize their need for a savior, their need for new birth, and that God will be ready for us when we are ready for God. It will be when all nations finally concede their need for salvation, it will be then that every nation will experience righteousness and break out in praise to God.
In the letter that St. Paul writes to the Christians at Galatia, he speaks, as always, to us as well as to those to whom he wrote originally. We are, after all, no less new Christians than those men and women of Galatia 1900 years ago. Paul tells us that, since the birth of Christ, things are radically different. God, the author of our salvation, has come onto the stage of life, "born of a woman", Paul says, to be mysteriously both fully human and fully divine. As a result of this Incarnation and the subsequent life, death; and resurrection of Jesus Paul says that we are to be slaves no longer but the true adopted children of God. We are brought in this mysterious intersection of God into history to a new relationship with God.
This new relationship is to be personified in the word that Jesus himself used, "Abba", "Daddy". God is to be our Daddy, we are to be "no longer slaves but the children and, if children, then
also by God's own act heirs."
Read John 1:1-18.
"In the beginning was the Word: the Word was with God and the Word was God." John's Gospel begins with this magnificent hymn. The words of this hymn sound so familiar to us but often leave us
puzzled and wondering. It is as if John wanted us to scratch our head and read it again and again. Much of the New Testament seeks to answer the rather important question, "Who was Jesus?" John's Gospel is no different. John has an answer to that question, and he gives us that answer directly, immediately, and with force. "In the beginning was the Word: the Word was with God and the Word was God."
"Who was Jesus?" "What Child Is This?", the carol asks. John's answer is that Jesus was the logos of God, the Word of God and that this was almost more than any Jew or Greek could comprehend. The logos, the Word was Light, says John, and had been from the beginning. John goes on to proclaim that those who accept this light will be given the power to become children of God, to be born anew, born from above, born again, into a new relationship with God, heirs as Paul told the Galatians, wearing the clothes of salvation and the robe of righteousness as Isaiah foretold.
John tells us that Jesusis more than the manifestation of the creative force of God, He is the flesh and blood likeness of what God is really like, the essence of the creator and redeemer God. John tells us that Jesus is more than the rigid and sterile law of Moses the law giver or of first
century Judaism; Jesus is the Word! Jesus is the light, not a light but the light; the Light that overcomes all darkness, even the darkness of our minds, perhaps especially the darkness of our minds.
This Light will overcome all darkness, the darkness of narrow and petty grievances, the darkness of painful wounds and deep tragedy, the darkness of false piety, un-forgiveness and the darkness of fear which afflicts us all individually and collectively.
"Who was Jesus?" "Who is Jesus?" "What child is this?"
"What Child is this, who in a manger lay? Could He be the one who has come to bring salvation to the world? Could He be the one who will set us free? Could He be? Could He be? Could He be the one who has come to set me free from my sins? Could He be the one who would set me free to be me? To be me?" Wiley Beveridge
YES, SAYS JOHN! Yes, it could be and is. "In the beginning was the Word: the Word was with God and the Word was God. Indeed from his fullness we have, all of us, received--one gift replacing another, for the Law was given through Moses, grace and truth have come through Jesus Christ. No one has seen God; it is the only Son, who is close to the Father's heart, who has made him known."
Sing, "What Child Is This" by Wiley Beveridge with the group, A New Song.