St. Aidan’s Episcopal Church
John 1: 1-14
There’s a sign hanging outside my office door. It has just two words: Begin anywhere. It was a gift to me from a parishioner friend with whom I’d been visiting in the final year of her battle with cancer. She gave it to me just before she died and I treasure it as a gift from her and as God’s message to us all.
To begin anywhere is to leave behind you all that you need no longer for the journey ahead. To begin anywhere is to create a new beginning of anything….any relationship, any activity, any degree of faith. And on this Christmas Day, we have an opportunity to consider our own potential and possibility to begin again.
Most of us, like most of the rest of the world, find ourselves with a particular need to get Christmas right. At least, that is probably most true in our Western society. We want it to be perfect. Norman Rockwell perfect. Hallmark perfect.
We want things to be the way they were when we were most happy, even if that memory is less than our imagined Rockwell imagery.
For some of us, finding the perfect Christmas becomes harder as life progresses. Things change, people change, environments change, there may be disappointments or regrets or deep loss and we feel all these more profoundly when we know that for many, Christmas is a time of great joy and gladness.
Sometimes it seems we have lost the way to Christmas….aren’t sure how to find it again….have forgotten what the joy and gladness feel like….and we long to feel them again. We want to begin again.
To begin again means that we must give ourselves the gift of permission to let go of some past memories that seem too painful. They do not have to be kept in a locked box or in darkness deep within our souls. God has given us control over how and when we let them go and when we are ready to replace them with new memories.
John’s Gospel isn’t concerned with what has happened in the past. Rather than reach back to shepherds abiding in the fields, he begins by reaching forward into the essence of this Christmas day…..proclaiming Jesus as Word and Light, come from the beginning of time and now entered into the world, to light the way for all our own new beginnings.
The Light of Life came into being in Bethlehem, heralded by prophets and angels and by God, wrapped in bands of cloth in the manger of a stable, yet noticed only by a few of the faithful. So too, a growing awareness of new life and light is birthed in our souls, almost unnoticed and yet very real, wrapped in our personal longings to find peace and contentment in our daily living.
Just as God has shown us in the incarnation story, the decision to begin again means to take action….and to become part of creation itself. We sort out our traditions and our memories and…. as we decide which we wish to keep and which we are ready to leave behind, we know, that all these, too, will change with the times and circumstances which come to meet them. We are not creating change for the sake of change itself, we are simply following a path toward a particular and compelling Light, which by its very presence, urges us to keep moving forward to discover new beginnings.
This is the first Christmas of my life that I have been alone. After a multitude of decades of family, friends, marriage and children. And for me, like many of us, the years have accumulated Christmas memorabilia: ornaments signifying special events or interests, décor spanning lives and times now gone by, but no less significant. I pondered whether I should bother to pull all those old boxes out just for me, my somewhat disinterested dog and my aging cat. Well, I did. And I sorted out what will stay and what must go to the children or to the church, or to some organization that would appreciate receiving some Christmas cheer. I put up lights in a different way than in the past and bought a little Christmas tree, one third the size than usual and I watched with awe as it sank into its giant tree stand which was so needed in Christmas’s past but clearly not necessary now. I did not decorate the tree with all the ornaments gathered over the years….just the ones that give me particular joy, and I added two new little glass dairy cows, reminiscent of the cows I knew as a child and perhaps much alike those watching over the manger… now come to my home this year and two paper angels arrived, too….adding to the scene. They have led me to try to find and collect other characters from the Christmas story….Mary and Joseph, the shepherds, sheep, maybe something that looks like and innkeeper, and, of course, some dogs.
They don’t mention dogs in any of the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ birth, but you can’t tell me they weren’t there.
In these conscious steps to begin again, I learned that to find joy in Christmas, I didn’t need to paint the same picture that had hung so long in our family psyche. By letting go of some of yesterday from my heart, space has been made available for the Light of Christmas to enter …in a new way.
To follow the Light, means that we can let go of the need to please the world with a façade of happiness that may not be real, and begin to deeply embrace true joy which comes from faith in the Word that was in the beginning and has no end. We are invited to celebrate this day within the boundaries of our own authenticity and we are able, through the arrival of the Light, to find joy in the gift of that discovery.
The world longs to discover the same. The world clings to Christmas as a means of expressing a desire for hope and peace in a world that is starved for it….and that desire for goodwill carries within it a deep-held wish that the Spirit of Christmas could last for more than one day. The world senses a deep need to rid itself of all that is dark and evil and to replace it with light and good. We see an embodiment of this in Christmas lights around the world….the entire world lights up as much as it is able…from a simple string of well-used red and green strung across a tent pitched out in the desert, to glowing lanterns …to lights covering entire houses and full grown trees…. The light of Christmas giving the world its long-for opportunity to be in the light….the glow of goodwill….even if for just a moment…. for a short time in the middle of winter.
Yet it is a lasting Light of the World for which the world longs. The universal longing for the Spirit of the Light is a universal longing for something bigger, far more awe-inspiring than phenomenon the world could produce. Somehow the world knows, deep in its collective heart, that none of us, were meant to walk through life alone in the dark.
The Good News is that God does not desire to leave us in the dark, not before, not now or ever, and the True Light is always available to us when we turn to it to enlighten our hearts, our minds and our souls so that our quest toward giving and receiving love and joy can always begin again…without judgment….without regret.
It is when we choose to live in the dark by clinging to the wrong kind of metaphorical lights….old memories that make us sad, insisting on keeping things the way they were, doing things in the same way because we are afraid to change, adhering to the demands of others in order to keep Christmas the “right way, that we lose our way and become separated from the Light. We lose our opportunity to discover the amazing Christmas gift of discovery…..learning to know and accept who we are now and who we are still meant to be.
John’s Gospel brings us a special Christmas gift….a gift which we are called to pass to others in the time of our lives to come. Like John the Baptist, each one of us can offer our lives to God to become a living testimony to God’s Light and Love in the world. The Word of God, the Light of the World empowers us to shine that light into the darkness wherever we find it, in our own lives or in the lives of others.
In a story that is almost 100 years old, called The Happy Hypocrite, written by Max Beerbohm, an unsavory character puts on a saintly mask in order to woo a saintly girl. He is successful in winning her hand, but years later runs into his old gang. They want to reveal him as a hypocrite and rip off his mask in order that they can ruin his happiness, only to find that he has transformed his real face to reflect the saintly mask. He has become that which he wished to be. He had resolved to walk out of the darkness of his own making and into the Light of Love which sustained him and ultimately changed him and changed his life.
The man must have made everyone who met him after that, very happy. He must have filled them with joy and a sense of the holy….so holy had he become…so reborn. We recognize that innocent holiness when we look at the face of a new-born baby….and it is at Christmas we are able to find that innocence of new birth again.
The Prophet Isaiah speaks to a population long ago that has been oppressed and held captive by the whims of the world and he tells them it is in the present that they must sing out….sing out praises because God is returning to set them free and to transform their darkness into light. On this Christmas day in the year 2016, Isaiah’s prophecy still rings true and urges us to begin again, to offer God’s love to the world so that someone, somewhere will find the Gift of hope they seek …….will discover the Light of the world and move toward transformation.
To follow the Light, means that each one who is faithful to the Light, will become as John the Baptist, and will proclaim the coming of the Light into the world, not for just one day the world calls Christmas, for twelve days from this Christmas day and beyond.
By the Grace of God and the Power of God’s Holy Word which is the Light of Christ, we begin again. Our gift to the world is to allow God to work through us to shine the Light of God into the dark places of the world wherever we find them….and we will not need to search for joy again. It will be ours forever.
Written to the Glory of God
- J. R. Culver+
December 25, 2016
 Max Beerbohm, The Happy Hypocrite (London, John Lane Co.) 1915