Love is in the Air
A sermon based on John 1:1-5
given at Mount Vernon, Ohio on December 22, 2013
by Rev. Scott Elliott
I noticed over the years that there are a lot of questions about Christmas, so I’m going to take a moment and answer . . . some silly ones . . . The first question us “Were the Magi the first paparazzi?” The answer’s “Yes because they were the first to relentlessly follow a star.”
The second question is “How come we say Jesus’ mother’s name and wish people a “Merry Christmas?” The answer, “Because wishing a ‘Joseph Christmas’ makes no sense.”
Look, I made these for today, so you have to hear my last one: “Why don’t they call the small portions of Christmas giftbox cheddars “baby cheeses?” . . . The answer is because they aren’t gouda ‘nough.
On a day off at Sips I actually wrote down over forty Christmas pun ideas, so be thankful you got less than a fifteenth of what could’ve been.
I am so very happy to announce that my wife, Nancy and our two daughters, Tristan and Forest are here today . . . You can express pity to them later, as they may end up hearing all forty-something puns before they fly home.
Some of you – especially them since they are trapped in a house with me– might think that is evil . . . Which is the most jolting way I can think of to bring up an elephant in the room at Christmas, evil real evil, not pun evil.
Evil is jolting. It’s troubling. And I don’t think it will ruin the Christmas stories for anyone when I disclose the good news– what I have been saying all Advent– that evil doesn’t win in our Christmas stories . . . love wins.
Love wins in the Christmas stories. And the promise in the stories (actually the good news in the all Gospels) is that, whether evil’s present or not, love can win in each moment. That good news is a truth we can bank on.
But, it’s also true that the first Christmas came, Jesus showed up, and then lived to be an adult, and died and was resurrected to save humanity, yet, evil still remains in the world– real evil, what the theological dictionary defines as “that which opposes the will of God.” 1.
Evil is in essence an intentional turning a way from where God calls us. In order to understand Christmas and it’s good news we have to appreciate that there is evil in the story and its source.
Some try to blame it on a lesser deity named Satan or the devil. As monotheists though Christians are supposed to believe in one God (GOD). That means we understand there are no other deities– lesser or otherwise. No one has to agree with me, but, logically this means that Satan as a supernatural being cannot exist. If that is true then where does evil come from?
Let me answer that question with another question, if we removed humans from creation would there be evil? Think about that … It may be convenient to pass the blame to some deity named Satan, but the truth is evil arises in humankind. It’s a sobering thought.
We tend to focus on good at Christmas which you know I think is wonderful, but there is a lot of evil that has to be overpowered to get to that wonderful goodness. Love wins in the Christmas stories in the Bible. And what love wins over is the evil lurking in those stories.
Christmas is ultimately about choices. Human choices. It’s the same choices humans have had, and always will have. We get to choose good or choose evil. Do as the Caesars and Herods of the world require, compel, want. Or do as God requires, compels, wants.
And it’s not just the Christmas story that considers this choice. The very first Bible story of humankind has it in that once humans are created the choice of good an evil comes into play. Adam and Eve eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, they (humans) learn there are these two choices.
The Hebrew word for “good” in Genesis is “towb” and it means welfare, benefit, good. 2
The Hebrew word for evil is “ra” and it means misery, injury, broken-ness, dysfunction, wickedness, evil. 3
Good? Or evil? The whole of the Bible is about those two human choices, including the Christmas Story. The fruit’s been eaten. We know good; we know evil, that fruit was picked at the start. But we all still get to pick which to do in each moment of our existence.
This is a choice that’s about doing, acting toward good or evil. It’s not about the factual accuracy of the Bible stories. It’s not about belief. It’s about action, doing. In each Bible story, in our lives we face that choice, to do good or to do evil.
The good news is that even if we chose evil in the previous moment or moments, we can always choose good in the next moment. Always.Every moment offers salvation and resurrection through a choice toward good, toward what we theists call God. The God we Christians know as love.
Often times we hear people say we need to do the will of God and they often connect it to their belief system, so that God’s will is nothing more than their will. But the definition of the “will of God” may surprise them– and us. It’s not what televangelists seem to think it is, the theological dictionary states it is
The expression of God’s desire or intention. It may be considered the ‘highest good” of all things and is operative to defeat evil within the universe… 4.
Evil is harm. It is breaking. It is dysfunction. It is the opposite of welfare. It is in a word, unloving.
Good is a benefit. It is welfare. It is the opposite of evil. It is in a word, loving. Love is God’s will for all of creation. It is the highest good.
And we get to choose to be loving, or not; to care for well being as God does, or not. Once humans arrived in the world the choice arrived.
As I’ve mentioned a number times in my short tenure so far, love means desire for well being. 5 And Love is the primary attribute of God. 6
According to Scripture when love – the desire for well being– is played out to it’s fullest, then we have Shalom which is the Hebrew word we translate as peace, and I love that “shalom” means well being.
Love in action, love played out to it’s fullest brings peace, which is God’s will, the point of the Bible, and the very core of the Christmas story; Peace on earth good will to all is God’s choice, it’s Jesus’ choice, it’s the loving choice, and we have the choice in each moment of our life, no matter what has happened before.
Frankly, we like Christmas because folks are making the choice more and more in each moment for love, for peace on earth good will to all this time of year. It’s our Christmas mantra. And so love is in the air, and the hope of peace hovers there too! We like
Christmas because it is about light in the darkness. It’s a story about choices of evil losing to choices of good.
It’s no accident that Christmas, the coming of the light of the world, is celebrated in the deepest darkest time of year. Just when it seems dark may win, love’s light beams and we have hope that the light of love will win in our stories too.
It is my experience that the Christmas stories (indeed the whole of the Bible) are best understood as poetic symbols and sounds and words.
See the experiences of the wonder of creation and love, and the creation force that we call God, cannot be described by mere mortal words. They simply can’t. Neither can the salvific nature of any of those wonders. And so humans resort to poetry. Song. Story. Parable. Words.
The Christmas story is such poetry. Like good poetry, the truth of life is revealed in the telling.
And the so the Christmas stories portray the darkness of evil, that elephant in the room. Jesus’ “parents-to-be” are treated terrible. The dominant culture and government of Rome and its local king Herod are so broken and dysfunctional that their way intentionally causes peasants like the Holy family to be expendable to the culture. The powerful do not care for them, or any other peasants’, welfare. Indeed the powerful thrive and maintain power and wealth based on that expendabilty squeezing what they can out of vast majority who have so little, and they oppress them to keep them down.
The cultural elite also disrespect foreigners, like the Magi, who are treated as strangers and not as equal to citizens as the Bible commands (Lv. 19:34).
And the elite have it set up so they can even force a pregnant woman to travel by foot for three days to her husband’s hometown so they can be taxed to further feed the elite’s greed.
The cultural elite don’t even provide basic care needed so that no woman has to give birth– and no child has to be born– in a stable and no new born is put to sleep in an animal trough.
In the story the system is so evil, so in opposition to God’s way of love, that Herod – the head of the local government– is allowed to hunt an infant, and to carry a scheme out to kill countless infants.
There is much evil evidenced in the Christmas stories descriptions of the acts and inactions of the dysfunctional culture and governments.The darkness of the night can be heard to symbolize this in Joseph’s dream and the Shepherd’s field, and the night sky the Magi travel under.
But for all the darkness, symbolic and real evil, there is light. That light calls us to be repulsed by the evil and to root for the good. We can feel it vibrating in the story.
I chose what I call John’s Nativity text as our Christmas Sunday reading. We’ve heard much of the other Nativity texts already. I call it John’s Nativity text because, although it is not a birth of a Christ child text, it is John’s story of Jesus’ beginning.
Jesus as John tells it IS the very word of God, that power which first spoke and still speaks
ALL creation into being. As we heard, John puts it like this:
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 through him, and without him not one thing came into being. 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. (Joh 1:1-5 NRS).
In that “Word” (which God is still speaking) is life, and that life is the light of all people. Such a light shines in the darkness and is not overcome by it. Darkness cannot win.
And even though John’s story of Jesus’ beginning is abstract, it nonetheless contains the same truth that Matthew and Luke’s stories contain, that “light shines in the darkness.” Goodness out-shines evil. Love wins. This is what the Christmas story exemplifies, right?
Think of all the light-ness in the stories. It’s everywhere. In the darkness of life an angel of light appears to Mary and she bears the light into the world, THE light of the world.Pregnancy itself is a great light. Mary’s brave acceptance of it is a light. God’ talk with her and her talk with Elizabeth and her song on behalf of the oppressed are great lights. Mary’s pregnancy put Joseph’s in darkness at first, and when he decides to be a light himself in that darkness, then light of an angel of the Lord appears. Joseph’s response is to bring more light into the situation and save Mary and their marriage and their child, Jesus. The Magi follow a light to Jesus and then they act as lights honoring and protecting him. The lowly expendable shepherds in the deep darkness of winter night experience the bright light of the heavenly host and in turn bring their lights to surround the baby.There are all these extraordinarily ordinary people who choose light, goodness over evil and their choices – the lowly people’s choices– over-power and defeat the evil choices of the cultural elite.
The ultimate good news of the Christmas story is that ordinary people who are expendable and powerless to the cultural elites follow a way of doing things that defeats the evil choices of those elite. The ordinary it turns out have an extraordinary power: LOVE!
Birth is given to a lowly-peasant-nobody baby, so worthless to the elite his execution is decreed by Herod. All the humans who surround that infant in the Christmas story are worthless to the culture elite too. But their choices of loving acts over-power all the evil choices by the supposedly more powerful elite. LOVE WINS!
Love is always in the air– this time of year for sure. The other times of year we get to make choices for good too. And we get to decide if we want to choose it, if we want to be one of the extraordinary ordinary people who choose love. And when we do choose love, more good news arises, peace on earth good will to all becomes that much more an experiential reality. HEAVEN BREAKS IN!
The good, good news is that Jesus showed us all that when we choose love – good over evil– as often as possible it makes all the difference. It’s a power to be reckoned with. It’s a power that cannot lose. Ever.
All the good folks in the Christmas story do the loving things Jesus teaches in his ministry as an adult. They choose good – love– over evil. Consequently they saves themselves and the world from a lesser way of being.
We have that choice too in each moment of our lives. The Christmas stories demonstrate this. May we all make that choice in as many moments as possible.
1. Westminister Dictionary of Theological Terms, p 97
2. Bible Works 9, Strong’s Codes and definition for “good” in Genesis 2.
3. Ibid for “evil”
4 Westminister Dictionary of Theological Terms, p 303
5. Ibid., 164.
COPYRIGHT Scott Elliott © 2013 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED