Pastor Annabelle P. Markey
Year A – Second Sunday of Christmas
Community Lutheran Church, Sterling, VA – January 5, 2020
“In the beginning of the New Year was the resolution, and the resolution was with me, and the resolution was me. It was in the beginning of the New Year with me. All things were to happen through the resolution, and without it, not one thing was to happen. What happened through the resolution was a lack of long-term change, and that lack of long-term change was the plight of all people. That plight shines in the New Year, and the New Year did not overcome it!”
Yes, this is the sad reality for so many of us who make resolutions at the beginning of the New Year. How many of you have made a resolution? We’re only a few days into 2020, but on average, how well do you fare with resolutions? Most people give up on them before January is even over. Less than 25% keep them up longer than 30 days and only 8% accomplish them. Ouch… Creating new habits is difficult, but it makes me wonder, what are our resolutions founded on? Are they founded on careful reflection and consideration of the past year or based on things we think we should do because “they’ll be good for us” or “everyone else is doing it?” The suggestion from the experts is to set goals instead because they are specific rather than broad or vague. The more specific and granular you can get, the more likely you will be to see results. If something is meaningful to you and you can see results, even slowly, you’re more likely to stick with it.
All of this makes me ask, “as we enter the new year what goals might revolve around our walk with Christ?” 55% of resolutions are health-related, but how many are related to discipleship? Today is the last day of the Christmas season. We are still in a time of reflecting and ruminating on the God who becomes human. But what if our goal for 2020 was to live in this truth everyday? How would that change us?
John’s well-known Gospel begins with the same words the Scriptures begin with: “in the beginning.” Through this poetic beginning, John establishes that Jesus is the Word – not just like a spoken word, but the Logos. In Greek thought, Logos is the divine principle of reason that gives order to the universe and connects the human mind with the mind of God. Jesus is the one who is this connecting point, ordering chaos, giving meaning, and bringing together the divine and human.
This God – this divine Word – who has been from the very beginning takes on flesh and lives with us. In doing so, this Word brings life – real, abundant, everlasting life to all who wish to have it. Jesus, the divine Word, brings light, enlightening and brightening everything he touches. Like a beacon shining in the darkness, he provides a way of seeing even when everything around us is shrouded in hopelessness, confusion, disarray, turmoil, and madness.
John even borrows imagery from the Hebrew Scriptures, saying the “Word became flesh and lived among us.” Literally, “God pitched a tent” among humanity just as God tabernacled with God’s people in the wilderness. God moves in among us, unafraid of taking on all it means to be human. All the emotions, questions, fears, struggles, doubts, worries, pains, and joys. In Jesus, they meet and converge – fully human, fully divine. But why?
“From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” Out of the abundance of God’s steadfast love and faithfulness to God’s beloved children, we have all been given grace upon grace. Because God is good and loving, we are welcomed, loved, and forgiven.
Jeff and I went to see the hit musical “Come From Away” on Friday night. It’s about the 38 planes grounded on Newfoundland on September 11. In the blink of an eye, this town of around 9,000 residents transformed into a makeshift home for 6,595 passengers and crew who were stuck in limbo, unable to fly into America. Schools, the Lions Club, and churches all housed people. Everyone chipped in to cook and transport people, pharmacies filled needed prescriptions, residents brought food to the hockey rink which became a giant refrigerator, and others even took care of the dogs, cats, and two Bonobo chimpanzees in transport. Locals provided phones and Internet access so passengers could let others know they were safe and find out about their loved ones. Even more moving, residents opened their homes, gave clothing, towels, and comfort to displaced people who couldn’t contact loved ones. A community formed on that lonesome island in the middle of the Atlantic. Out of tragedy, horror, and necessity, people came together. Newfoundlanders and “come from aways” – outsiders – were united in grief, confusion, worry, hope, mutual consolation, and sharing stories.
In Jesus, God came from away, entering into our lives unexpectedly, suddenly, and mysteriously. Out of the tragedy of our continued turning away from God, he chose to be grounded among us in order to show us the love of God the Father. As John writes, “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.” Jesus comes to us to show us the overflowing love of the Father’s heart. But do we respond like Newfoundlanders with hospitality to this divine “come from away” in our lives? Do we go over and above to put Jesus front and center?
If we made that a goal in 2020, it would have a profound effect on our lives because it would reorder everything. And, even if setting goals is difficult, we excel at setting limits. God, I want you in my life when I need your comfort and forgiveness. But don’t push me to go and interact with the homeless person who smells bad. Dear Jesus, I need you to heal my loved one who is sick and struggling. But don’t ask me to pray for the person who keeps hurting me. Holy Spirit, give me a sign as to what you want me to do. But don’t make me uncomfortable along the way.
Jesus is close to the Father’s heart and, in the Holy Spirit, dwells with us, showing us this kind of close relationship with God. Later in John’s Gospel, we hear about “the disciple whom Jesus loved” reclining on Jesus’ bosom at the Last Supper. He was shaped by Jesus’ relationship with the Father. But you, too, are that disciple whom Jesus loves. You, too, can be close to the Father’s heart. That is the gift Christ has come to bring.
Jesus is among us. He will enlighten and illuminate our lives, shining his bright light into those darkened corners of our souls we might prefer he avoid. And his love and light will force us to look at those uncomfortable, messy, heart-breaking situations in the world, even if we’d rather avert our eyes. Shootings in schools, churches, and public spaces. Attacks against our Jewish siblings and Antisemitism on the rise. Mounting tensions between Iran and the US. Horrific wildfires raging in Australia. We will look at them not with eyes of despair, apathy, or despondency, but with eyes of faith that see the crucified and risen Christ present in each of those places and in each life. We will ask how to pray for those situations and how we can serve. We will take heart and take action. We will find we understand what it means to be close to the Father’s heart. Because God has drawn near to us, we can draw near to God. We will discover being close to the Father’s heart means with caring for others.
I can’t tell you what resolutions to make for the New Year. Or even what goals to set. But I challenge you to consider what incremental, sustainable changes you might make to help you welcome the God who has come from away, who dwells with us, in your daily life in 2020. Maybe that means reading and meditating on a verse of Scripture daily or over a week. Maybe it’s setting a reminder to pray at noon each day, pausing to breathe in and breathe out, and say “God, thank you for always being with me.” Maybe it’s volunteering your time to serve others. Whatever it is, may this be a blessed year of welcoming the Word who lives among us. Amen.