Kent woke up to the sound of his wife’s quiet pleas. “Kenny…Kenny…” It was the only name that she had called him in their 54 years together. And she was the only one that could call him that. He shut off his alarm and went into her room. The lights of the hospital bed flashed as he started his morning routine. “Morning Emily!” he chirped, as he began changing her clothes and getting her in the wheelchair. His back pinched again…it was getting worse with the cold weather. He knew he needed to check it out, but he also knew he didn’t have the time.
By the time that Emily was in her chair and her favorite Westerns were on, Kent got to work on her breakfast. She wanted the same thing every day: a fried egg and some rye toast, with a chocolate Ensure. He set to work and got it ready for her. Once she was set up with breakfast and her morning pills, he finally got a chance to start thinking about his own breakfast when the phone rang. He had forgotten the medication refill at the pharmacist. Lucky it was just around the corner. He checked on Emily and then headed out.
By the time he got back, he remembered that the bills needed to be done before the mail ran. He set down to those as the dogs chomped on their food, and the Westerns blared in the next room. Kent could quote just about every line by heart anymore. An hour later, the bills in the mail, he realized that he had never managed to get his own breakfast. He headed to the kitchen until he saw the dogs pawing at the front door for their late morning walk.
By the time the dogs yanked him around the neighborhood in the cold wind, he was really feeling his back. He saw his neighbor out taking in his trash. It reminded Kent that he never did get their trash out the night before…it would be piling up for sure, now. He gave his neighbor an update on Emily…“about the same.” His neighbor was getting ready to head out to Florida for the holidays…they used to go together every year, but hadn’t in a few years because of Emily’s health. He wished him a Merry Christmas, but deep down, a part of him wanted to hide in their suitcases and head south with them!
On his way home, he felt guilty. Of course, he loved Emily, and he wanted to do anything he could for her. “’Til death do us part,” after all. He wished that Emily could jump out of that chair and go with him. But Kent knew that would never happen again. And he missed the Florida trips, the golf outings, the life that he wanted to live in retirement. He wanted to jump on a plane and visit the grandkids in California, like they used to. And he felt guilty every time that he thought about it. As he took the dogs off their leashes, he noticed the time. “I guess breakfast isn’t happening today,” he thought, as he started to prepare lunch. As he watched his neighbors pull out of the driveway toward sunny and bright Florida, he noticed how dark it was in their home.
Maybe you can understand Kent’s story. Perhaps yours is not exactly the same, but you get it, don’t you? You had dreams, plans, expectations in life, but when you sat down and looked at reality, you realize real life just doesn’t match up to your expectations.
“I thought I would be married by now.”
“This isn’t the job that I went to college for.”
“I never thought the ‘golden years’ would be this hard…physically, financially, emotionally.”
Many of us can probably look at our world and wonder why things seem less… bright than we had expected. How many of us stand at our kitchen window and wonder why everything in our life seems so…dark?
Around 2,000 years ago, there was a definite darkness that covered the people of God like a pall. Their country was torn by war and violence. They couldn’t trust their political leaders. The only ones who saw much hope were the richest of the rich…who just got richer and richer. Everyone else felt pretty hopeless. (Sound familiar?) The word of the Lord had failed to come to the people for 400 years. The prophets were dead and gone and the hope that they had proclaimed seemed distant, if not impossible. Their expectations were dashed to bits and they held out dim hope that anything would change. They were waiting…in darkness.
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it!”
John’s words in the first chapter of his Gospel are like a light piercing the darkness. In fact, when his first readers heard these words, it was likely that they were reminded of another story in which the light pierced the darkness: the Creation story. In the first chapter of Genesis, there is chaos and darkness until God speaks a word and there is light! John’s prologue, or introduction to his Gospel, is reminiscent of the Creation Story: “In the beginning…” “all things came into being through him….” “the light shines in the darkness…” “the Word was with God.”
A reminder that God speaks and a light pierces the darkness. But for John, there was more going on here. He doesn’t want to rush past the word of God. In fact, this is his main reason for writing – these verses and the whole Gospel. He wants to us to see and examine and celebrate…the Word.
“In the beginning was the Word…and the Word was God.”
John is taking this Genesis account and laying it on top of the story of Jesus. He was likely writing several decades after Jesus had left the earth, but for the Gospel writer, the stories of the man Jesus and the Creation of God in the beginning were actually a part of the same story. John’s is a very theological Christmas story. Last week, we looked at Mark and had to do a little work to figure out where Christmas showed up in his Gospel. For John, Christmas is there, but there are still no shepherds and angels, or even a baby – at least in literal terms. John’s Christmas is incredibly theologically dense…or as someone in the Two Way this week said, “how complicated can you make a paragraph?”
As complicated as John makes it sound, there is something actually rather simple going on in John’s Christmas. Richard Rohr explains it this way. In John’s Christmas story, we are seeing the intersection between Jesus and Christ. He writes that we tend to see “Christ” as Jesus’ last name, but it really is a description of this cosmic role that he has had since before the beginning of Creation. So he writes: “Christ is eternal; Jesus born in time. Jesus without Christ invariably becomes a time-bound and culturally-bound religion that excludes much of humanity from Christ’s embrace. On the other hand, Christ without Jesus would easily become an abstract metaphysics or a mere ideology without personal engagement. We must believe in Jesus and Christ.” For Rohr, and for John, there is importance to see both the human Jesus and the cosmic Christ…come together at this Christmas moment.
Let me put it another way. (Volunteer) Do you know what this is? When I was a kid, this was the reason that my parents never put out Christmas presents before Christmas morning. Because as soon as we picked it up to shake it and guess, we would know exactly what it was. (kid…open) John’s Christmas is like a Lego set. When we open it up, we see all these random pieces, and what comes with it? A book! The directions! But has anyone ever tried to put together a Lego and didn’t quite get it with the book? Something didn’t come together right? It happens. There are times when the pictures in the book don’t make sense and I wish I had someone to explain what I had done wrong.
John’s Christmas is like that. Even with all the pieces there, there is still darkness. Even with the instructions – the law, the prophets – there is still darkness. There are still failed expectations and broken dreams and hearts. So, according to John, Christmas is like the creator of Legos didn’t bother with the instruction book anymore, but actually showed up at your house to put together the Lego with you. The cosmic Christ – the co-creator Logos – the Word has become flesh. And dwelt among us. And showed us personally how to put together the Legos in the person of the historic Jesus. He has become the light in the darkness, and the darkness will not overcome it!
And so, this Christmas, when we light the candles and sing about the angels, and put the baby in the nativity scene, John wants to remind us what is really happening here: the Creator has shown up to teach us, to invite us to co-create. We experience the big-I Incarnation of Christ and we participate in the little-i incarnation in our own lives. Kimberly Bracken Long says it this way:
…we seek Jesus not only in the words that we say, but in the sacramental life we share. If we are paying attention, we recognize too that God is in the ordinary moments of our life – in the making of lunches and the folding of laundry, in daily kisses good-bye, in the moment when we look into the eyes of one whom the world considers unlovely at best and unworthy of notice at worst. It is why we aim to live the Christian life by not only talking about it or thinking about it, but by doing it – why our prayers are not only those of the heart, but those of the hands and feet.
And that is John’s Christmas story, in a nutshell. That God has been communicating to us, creating with us, revealing to us through the cosmic Christ ever since before time began. But it doesn’t just happen in a distant, cosmic way, but in a particular, personal way. Like a baby in a manger. Or a list of chores to accomplish. God is beyond our imagination and creativity…and God is sitting under the Christmas tree helping us put together our Legos. God is Christ and Jesus. Word made flesh.
Kent finally found himself in the chair next to Emily. Her lunch was done. He had finally found some food. The laundry was in the washing machine. And another Western was about to come on. Kent looked at the tree with the lights half-strung up and started to sigh…another thing left undone. But he stopped mid-sigh, and re-framed his thoughts. He turned to Emily and asked, “remember when we first got this tree? Just after the kids had moved out and it was just us? Remember we went to the store and spent way too much on it? But we put it up and it was just beautiful, and we just danced the two of us to Christmas carols as we decorated the tree, you and I?” And before long, Kent was back out of the chair and finishing the lights. He turned down the Western so that he could hear Emily’s quiet voice as she directed him to add a few more to that branch…no not that one, that one. And he asked her which ornaments she wanted up, remembering and telling stories about each one as they did. Before long, the tree was finished. He turned off the TV and sat down next to Emily, and held her hand as they looked up at the tree. They weren’t dancing like they once did, but they were still dancing. Kent reached up and flipped the switch and all the lights came on. They smiled at each other and Kent’s eyes began to fill with tears of joy. They watched the tree in holy silence.
A light had pierced the darkness.