Sermon for 2nd Christmas -
The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer. -
In today’s Gospel lesson this Second Sunday of Christmas we are reminded once again by St. John that, through Jesus, God’s “light shines in the darkness and the darkness does not overcome it.”
This text is taken from the introduction to the Gospel According to John: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." This is where John's gospel begins--in the beginning. This is John's nativity story; it is not with shepherds and angels or a baby lying in a manger. In this nativity story, this Christmas story, John takes us back to the beginning, the world’s creation. John echoes the words from the book of Genesis: In the beginning God created; God moved over the chaos and darkness and said, "Let there be light." In John's gospel, from the very beginning was the Word and by the “Word” John means Jesus Christ. The God who moved over the face of the deep, over the darkness, who spoke and said "let there be light," this same God who was from the beginning and spoke that Word, this same God became flesh and blood and dwelt among us. John says, "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."
The God who takes on our flesh does not ignore the darkness but shines in the very midst of it.
Before moving to Chicago, Kris and I spent nine years living in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. We moved there because I had joined the synod staff and the city of Bethlehem was part of my pastoral territory for the Bishop and we wanted to live in the territory I was to serve. We purchased our first home there, a historic cottage in the Moravian historic area of Bethlehem. We loved our little home in the heart of that city.
The cities of Bethlehem and Easton, Pennsylvania are next to each other and the Lutheran congregations in the city of Easton were also part of my synod staff responsibilities. At that time the city of Easton was, well, not a pretty place. Think Wheeling, West Virginia or Gary, Indiana and you get the picture. Lots of poverty and tough times for folks. However, the Christian churches in Easton were alive and well and ministering to their community in ways new and old. I really liked working with the Easton pastors – the poverty of the area gave us a “nothing to lose, anything is possible” feeling about ministry. And much of our ministry was done in cooperation with other Christian congregations.
I thought of Easton again this week when I read online that Trinity Episcopal Church in Easton had had its baby Jesus stolen from their outdoor Nativity scene.
In an email to his congregation, the pastor of Trinity Episcopal Church wrote about this theft.
Pastor Gerns began by reviewing the facts, stating - “Sometime before Christmas Eve, someone stole the Baby Jesus figure from our outdoor creche. They had to cut a 1/2 inch vinyl coated cable to do it.” Gerns noted that he “did not discover this until the Sunday after Christmas as our procession passed the creche, but it turns out that it was gone well before that.” He noted that “The missing Jesus did not cause undue concern because parishioners assumed that we had decided to hold back putting the infant figure into the manger until Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, just as we do for the indoor creche.” Gerns proudly noted that “while our attention to Advent-waiting may have helped cover the thief's tracks, this little fact of our common life is also a sign that we, as a community, pay attention to what is really important.” Outdoor plastic figurines – not very important to life and ministry!
After the pastor discovered the theft he noted it on Facebook and Twitter, asking for the baby Jesus figure’s return with no questions asked. The congregation decided not to file a police report since the actual monetary value of the piece was probably only about $75 and there was no other vandalism. “We decided not to hit the panic (or the anger) button,” Gerns wrote.
Well, you can guess what happened next! The Facebook post went viral. Members shared it with their friends, someone posted it on the Easton city Facebook page as well as the mayor’s Facebook page. The local newspaper and television station both did stories. The congregation received offers to be given a new nativity set, to purchase a set for next to nothing, offers of money to buy a new set as well as plenty of support and prayer. Of course, some nastiness also surfaced, internet “trolls” are everywhere, but the pastor noted that “the kindness and generosity from friends and strangers alike have far outweighed those.”
I want to quote word-for-word what Pastor Gerns wrote next:
“The angry responses of some of the people who have commented on the posts and from others who have experienced similar acts frankly amazes me.
“Personally,” Gerns wrote, “in an age when black churches are burned down across the South--a fact that hardly makes the news at all--and especially after the shootings at Mother Emmanuel Church in Charleston, SC, last summer, I find all of this attention kind of embarrassing. After all it's a $50 or $75 piece of plastic molded to look like an Aryan baby. The work we do in our soup kitchen and with area groups to feed the hungry and homeless poor every week reveals a scandal far deeper than a missing statue, and that doesn't make the 6 o'clock news, either.
“Some folks in the congregation want to secure the site...a plexiglass barrier around the creche and even a security camera has been suggested. But, you know, the world has enough walls. Think of the wall dividing in two the Bethlehem where Jesus was born. Do we really want the Church to be building more walls? Does the world need any more of that kind of help?
“We'll do what we need to do to make our church building safe,” the pastor wrote, “but if we are going to be a congregation that is out front in communicating Jesus-- we have to be ready to take the brickbats as well as the bouquets.
“It is certainly normal to feel violated, disappointed, and even angry. Of course, we hope for the statue’s return; but the real challenge is what we do with those feelings and how we channel that energy. I am asking us all to choose hope and to look for how we are communicating Jesus that goes beyond a plastic statue.
And, I especially like what Pastor Gerns wrote next, “In the end, a message that is calm, forgiving, and steadfast will communicate a Gospel with greater power than a static display. We carry with us a joyful gospel, a powerful gospel. This is the good news of Jesus - God is with us!
“One way or another, our crèche will be made whole, and we will continue to display Jesus-- and not just in near-life-sized figurines, but in the lives of real people who have been touched by the real Jesus and whose lives have been changed in real, tangible ways.
“A good place to begin is to pray for the people who took this statue. Having stolen a toy Jesus from a display, may they find the real Jesus in their lives and hearts.”
The pastor concluded with thanks for prayers and continued support.
You see, the real struggle this and every Christmas is not about nativity scenes, the real struggle this and every Christmas is allowing Jesus, the “Word made flesh,” “God made flesh,” to be enfleshed in us, enfreshed in our hearts and minds and hands, enfleshed in our relationships and in our care for the refugee, for the homeless, for those in any need or trouble, enfleshed in our struggle for justice and peace among all people.
In this season of gift giving and all that pulls and tugs on our hearts, may we remember the good gift that God has given us, the sun and the moon, this good earth with all its blessings of sky and water, plants and animals, this incredible gift of live, of flesh and blood, of breath and memory, this day, this moment, and all those who people our lives, both in joy and sorrow, and all that it means for us to be fully human, fully alive. And, above all, may we remember the gift of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh sent to save us, to heal us, to bring us joy, to bring us back to God’s own self.
This is the message of St. John’s Gospel lesson today, a message which is “calm, forgiving and steadfast,” to quote Pastor Gerns, who also said, “We carry with us a joyful, a powerful gospel, the Good News of Jesus – God is with us.”
That’s the “Word,” the Good News of Jesus – God is with us today and always. Jesus is alive in our lives and hearts.
Thanks be to God.
The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer
Senior Pastor - Mt. Olive Lutheran Church
Santa Monica, California
Christ’s light in the darkness
Sermon for Christmas Day
Written by Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer.
January 3, 2016
Mt. Olive Lutheran, Santa Monica, California