Although this year's calendar does not present the very worst that can befall clergy -- that happens when Christmas Eve falls on Sunday, necessitating a complete round of Advent IV sermons and Christmas Eve sermons, all in the same horrendous day -- it is still disconcerting to think that we must produce something worth the listening the day after tomorrow. A Service of Lessons and Carols provides many preachers with a good place to hide: sitting up front in your best hood and tippet and listening to other people read and sing puts one as much in mind of one's many blessings as just about anything on earth.
But for those not so fortunate, who must stand up and find words on Sunday, today's eMo is a meditation on the lectionary texts for the First Sunday after Christmas Day. As with all the eMos, preachers and teachers are welcome to borrow, with the usual attribution. No further permission is necessary.
Everything disappears at the same time: no manger, no angels anywhere, no star, no shepherds, no Joseph or Mary. And especially, no baby. In their place: mysterious, hymnic words whose meaning is anything but obvious:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
At once we are far from Palestine, far from the first century or from any other century, before or since. This is what the Incarnation is like from Christ's point of view. At first, we are not on earth at all, but in heaven. If there is pain and sorrow among the living, we do not hear awareness of it in these mysterious words. We are too far away.
We turn our attention to the mortal, but they do not hear us. Or see us clearly.
He was in the world, and the world was made through him,
yet the world knew him not. He came to his own home,
and his own people received him not.
And yet we persist. Here and there, someone notices; here and there, we make ourselves heard.
But to all who received Him, who believed in His name, He gave
power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor
of the will of the flesh...
Ah. This is why the Virgin birth is important. They think it's about sex, because the poor things are obsessed with sex, but it's about this: depending on us alone.
... nor the will of man but of God.
Some can receive us, we think. Maybe more will. There is only one way to find out.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and
We see that they are not able to bear the weight of the law on their own. This is a tragedy, for the law might keep them from killing each other.
But we must face the fact that they cannot lift it and sustain its burden. They can't follow it. We will have to go and bring them to us in another way.
Who shall go? The Source of all Being, upon whom no human can look with honesty and live? Too dangerous for them. The Spirit, whose flutter is so gentle most of them don't even notice Her? No. She must have a house built for Her there first, a place to contain Her gentleness and Her power. A place to stay in their midst for ever.
So it will be the Word who will incarnate, that face of God that shapes the raw stuff of Being into the multiplicity of forms that can live on the earth. The one who understands them all best. The Word will be able to live as they live. He will be like them, will stride powerfully along their roads, will stop at their houses. He will sit at table with them. He will be knowable. They will be able to talk to Him. He will gather others around him, people who can also talk to them. He will gather men and women, so that men and women can always find someone to whom they can share their hearts. He will even gather children, so that they are part of it all from the moment they are first aware of being part of anything.
It will not work perfectly. Nothing there is perfect. Mostly, they will fight about who is in and who is out. Why do they love so to fight about this? It must be their fear of losing our love, because of all the love they have known and lost. They will give over extraordinary amounts of energy to these arguments. Excluding people from our grace will be the central focus of faith for many of them. This, too, is a tragedy.
But some of them -- many of them -- will feel the presence of the Word. They will turn from their pleasures and sorrows and recognize the voice. In unguarded moments, they will realize where it all comes from.
And from His fullness have we all received, grace upon grace.
For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came
through Jesus Christ.
The law does what it can. Grace and truth will do the rest.