The First Sunday after Christmas Day
December 30, 2018
Isaiah 60:10-62:3; Psalm 147; Galatians 3:23-35; 4:4-7; and John 1:1-18
The Reverend Manisha Dostert
On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me… So did you know that the 12 Days of Christmas is not just a song? It’s actual truth. It actually is really true. In the church, we are celebrating 12 days of Christmas. And the last day of Christmas is January 5th. January 5th. So that’s 12 days of Christmas. And for whatever reason, celebrating 12 days of Christmas really hasn’t caught on among us Christians, has it? I mean, maybe you will go until January 1st, right.
And you’ll keep up the holiday decorations and you’ll turn on the lights and then comes New Year’s day and there is celebration and there is champagne and cookies and whatnot. But January 2nd, right that’s when the bins come out. That’s when you tear it all down, put it away, clean it up, dust and you get your house back and you’re ready to start the new year.
Maybe, the church hasn’t done such a good job of convincing us why we need to celebrate for 12 days. Because we’ve come to equate Christmas with the celebration of that holy night, when Christ was born. And indeed, God being born into the world that he made taking on human flesh becoming a helpless babe in a manger, that is a historic event in human history that needs to be praised, needs to be celebrated, needs to be shouted from the mountain and the hilltops and everywhere for sure.
But our gospel reading today from John may help us understand why the birthday of Jesus is not all we’re celebrating during the Christmas season. But before I tell you about the gospel John, I wanted to get back to Christmas and decorations. I wanted to share with you my favorite Christmas decoration of all time in our house. So, it’s my favorite because we bought it, I would say like maybe five years ago and I went with my mother and we went to one of those big box stores after Christmas and it was the 75% off sale.
And so we got on sale and that was really exciting and it’s memorable for me because my mom has lung cancer and she can no longer go and walk in big box stores. So, it’s really important to me because and it’s also important to me because this Christmas decoration is portable. So I can put it anywhere I want. Sometimes it goes on the mantle. Sometimes, it sits smack-dab in the middle of our dining room table. And I like that especially because this Christmas decoration is the least favorite of my husband.
So, I like to put it right in front of him and sort of taunt him with it. He thinks, it’s really tacky Christmas chachki. I think, it’s beautiful. It’s an angel. She, she’s plastic, but she’s beautiful, isn’t she? Wait, watch. See. At the other services, they were asking me where I got it because they wanted one too. I love her because she’s so translucent and brilliant and beautiful and she reminds me of what’s important during Christmas. Light.
There was one Christmas where we didn’t get around and taking down the Christmas decorations. So, it was January 5th. We had all the lights on and celebrating Christmas and January 6th came and that happens to be the feast of epiphany. So, I thought, okay, well, feast of epiphany is the celebration of light, so I’ll just keep the lights on and the Christmas tree up and we had another extra day of joy and brilliance and then came January 7th.
And we didn’t have any time. In fact, we did not get the Christmas tree down and the decorations down until Martin Luther King Monday. So, it stood up there for two weeks. And I was so struck by the difference because during the Christmas season when we turned on the lights on the Christmas tree, it was almost like it was an icon. An icon is something that draws you in and as you behold it and experience it, it’s almost as if you’re in the midst of the presence of God. And every time I would look at my Christmas tree, I would feel God’s warmth, the love of Christ. I feel peace and safe and secure.
But that tree without the lights on for that two weeks that it just stood there taunting me, it was weird. It was different. It was like, it was two garish. It was dense. It was almost like it was dead. Now, maybe I’m wading too much into lights on a Christmas tree. But I’m not reading too much about the power of light. Perhaps to understand the power of light, you have to be plunged into darkness.
A commentator wrote that today, we’ve actually lost the understanding of the power of light because we can control it with an on off switch, right. I mean, it’s nighttime and a couple of LEDs later, and it’s almost like it’s daylight. This past week, we went to Greenfield village for their holiday light celebration. We go at nighttime and they have no electric lights. They simply have these lamps, these little kerosene like lamps that they have scattered all over the place and you walk through the village outside and you can go inside into some of the homes and it was dark. Everything was sort of dimly lit. You could just make out shadows and everything. And my husband who’s an avid reader said to me, I’m so glad I live in the 21st century because we couldn’t read at night.
Do you realize that the light bulb has been around only for 140 years? Before that, you were in the Dark Ages, so to speak. The only way to bring light during the nighttime was to provide some sort of fire, a candle or kerosene lamp or something like that and it would light up your small corner of light. And but to really get the fullness of light, you had to wait until dawn. You had to wait for the breaking of the sun to come up so that when it rose, you could rise and you could begin your life and your work and your love.
Life began with the morning sunlight. Now, I actually don’t have much against the darkness of night. I actually think it’s really important. It was during the holy night that Jesus was born. Nighttime gives space for lovers to show intimacy to one another. Nighttime is a time when sometimes we can let down our defenses and be more vulnerable with each other. Nighttime is a time for oh that wonderful blessed sleep, that rest that refreshes.
It’s not the darkness of night that’s the problem. It’s that darkness that threatens and terrorizes light. That covers it up. That makes things so opaque that you cannot feel anything and you dread it. It’s that darkness that is deceit. That is awful and it blocks out everything that is so important to light like love and compassion and generosity and kindness and gentleness and that darkness replaces it with hatred and madness and violence and greed and anger and cruelty.
And that kind of darkness exists even in the day and it cannot just be seen, it can be felt. One of the plagues that afflicted the Egyptians when they would not let go of the Israelites and held them in slavery. The ninth plague which was preceded only by death. So the worst plague that God could send before death was darkness. Darkness covered the land for three days and it was a darkness in which you couldn’t move. It was so heavy. So wady, so dense. You can’t live in that kind of darkness.
You need light. Light gives life. Light provides warmth and makes sense of what things are. Light lets you see clearly and without light, there can be no life. I was listening to David Whidden who was an author, who wrote a book called, “Christ the Light” and the book was actually about St. Thomas Aquinas who lived in the 1200s that was 600 years before the invention of the light bulb. And Aquinas wrote about light. He actually more specifically wrote about illumination. How is it that we can be illuminated from within and without? How is it that we can have light?
And what he noticed was whenever Aquinas wrote about light, he always wrote about Christ. Light and Christ are inextricably linked to one another. And I thought about this because that means that wherever there is light, wherever there is illumination, wherever you can see clearly, there Christ is. And that means that whenever there is light, there is Christ and whenever there is Christ, there is light. And Christ has come to bring light for the whole world. I mean, listen to those words at the beginning of the Gospel of John.
In the beginning, was the word and the word was with God and the word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being with Him and without Him not one thing could have being. And what came into being in Him was life and the life was light to all peoples. And the light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overshadow it.
Now, I don’t know about you but every time I hear those words from the Gospel of John, in the beginning there was a word, I automatically go to the beginning of the Bible. The very first words in the Bible in the book of Genesis, where it says, in the beginning, right. In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was void and darkness covered the face of the deep. A wind from God swept over the face of the waters and then God said, “Let there be light.” And there was light. It is the word of God that brings forth light. It is the word from God who is Christ, the Lord.
And now hold on your hats because I’m not done, right. Because you got the beginning of the Bible talking about light. You got Jesus coming in the world talking about light. And then at the end of the Bible, in the Book of Revelation, we have this vision. You have this vision of what life can be like finally when God brings light to everything and it says, and there will be no more night. They need no light or lamp or sun for the lord God will be their light. That’s what we are celebrating during Christmas. That’s why we need 12 days. We are celebrating the fact that the light has come into this world and nothing can overshadow it. No darkness in this world. No darkness inside of you, nothing can overcome the light that is Christ. The light is here to stay. The light is remaining and the light will shine in you, through you, with you, above you, beneath you and despite you.
So, this Christmas, as you are washed in light, my suggestion is, we celebrate all 12 days. Why 12? I have this theory, I don’t know, if it’s true or not. But four, right, usually represents the earth. You have the four directions, four elements. And three represents the triune God and you multiply the two and you have all of the light of God covering the whole world.
So, here is my modest proposal for all of us Christians. From today, and from now on, for the rest of your lives, celebrate the 12 days of Christmas and find something, a light, a lamp from Christmas decoration that has light in it. And turn it on every single day. Because the light has come into the world and nothing can overshadow it. Happy sixth day of Christmas.
[End of Recording]