Let's Start at the Very Beginning
For Christmas Day
You can probably sing it from memory. Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start. When you read, you begin with ABC, when you sing you begin with Do, Re, Mi.
So let’s think about beginnings. How do we begin to tell a story? Once upon a time. Long, long ago. In olden times. Far away, in the midst of a pine forest, there lived. Or simply: let me tell you a story about the time you . . .
Christmas can seem like it’s about a beginning, the birth of Jesus Christ. There are some churches that choose not to read the appointed gospel from John 1 on Christmas morning. They think that people want—or need—to hear the familiar story of the manger, angels and shepherds.
But I love John 1 today! John begins at the very beginning. In the beginning was the Word—the logos. . . the order, the meaning, the energy, the expression of God. It starts like the creation birth story: In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. We tell that story at the Easter Vigil. We tell that story to our children.
But with our current scientific understanding of the universe, no surprise that there is a children’s book called: Born with a Bang: The Universe Tells Our Cosmic Story. Listen to how it begins: I too have a special day when I was born. I am the universe. Like you, I started out as a tiny speck. About 13 billion years ago or so, I was smaller than a piece of dust under you bed. . . I was bursting with wild and dazzling dreams of galaxies and stars and planets in radiant colors . .
Birth stories are some of our favorites. No wonder we tell the familiar accounts from Matthew and Luke every Christmas. Of course, the gospel of Mark begins with Jesus’ baptism as an adult!
Maybe you know some stories of your birth or toddlerhood. Several decades ago my mother wrote down a three-page story of about her first pregnancy and subsequent
birth of me! There was the morning sickness that got worse when my dad cooked bacon and eggs. The decision to call me Craig instead of Michael, since some friends chose Michael for their baby several months before. There was the day dad took my mom to the hospital for the birth at 3:30 am and was told to go home. My mom thinks he probably went back to bed! Not at all like today! And after returning home and a day of my mom changing all the diapers, it dawned on her that my dad could help with that less-than-fun chore.
It can seem like our stories are not as important as the big birth story—the birth of Jesus at Christmas. But that may be why I love to read John 1 on Christmas day. The Word continues to be made flesh among us. Here and now. In our lives and in our stories.
Once upon a time there was a White House Conference on the relationship of the faith community to race relations. The participants were black, white, brown, Muslims, Hindus, Christians, Bahai and Native Americans. When most of the participants thought the next step was to write another paper, have another meeting or another workshop to combat racism, the Indian Chief present stood up slowly, folded his hands, and said quietly: “I have spent my life teaching our children to say ‘thank you.’ Thank you for the grass. Thank you for the rain. Thank you for the stranger. Thank you for all the people of the world. I think that if we learn to say ‘thank you’ for everything, we will come to realize its value, to respect it, to see it at sacred.”
As Benedictine Joan Chittister heard those words, they had a cataclysmic effect on her. As she writes, “Christ is the commitment to life made incarnate. It is the call to see God everywhere and especially in those places we would not expect to find glory and grace. It is the call to exult in life.”
We then realize that there is no one, nothing on earth that is not the way of God for us. Joan knew instantly that when we really celebrate Christmas and the incarnation, we see everyone and everything as a revelation of God. And if could say “thank you” for them, there would be no more racism, war, and world hunger. “Everything would be gift, everyone would be sacred.”
Some theologians call it “deep incarnation.” God made flesh not only two thousand years ago, but again and again. In our time. In our place. In our bodies and especially in the bodies of those weak, sick, aging, vulnerable, and abused. And even in the earth and its creatures.
Heaven and earth are full of your glory, we sing every Sunday. We have beheld your glory in Christ. And we behold your glory among us now. Full of grace and truth.
It reminds me of the famous phrase by Elizabeth Barrett Browning:
Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God,
But only he who sees takes off his shoes;
The rest sit round and pluck blackberries.
The birth story we celebrate today is our new birth in baptism. Baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection, each day is a new beginning, a new opportunity, a new hope.
And it’s only the beginning. “As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever and ever.” Evermore and evermore. Amen.