John 1. [1-9] 10-18
Being loved sets us free to become who we’ve always been!
In church time, it’s still Christmas. This year, this is the tenth day. And according to the song, the gift is leaping lords! That leaves pipers piping and drummers drumming. And then, on Wednesday, Christmas is officially over for one more year. But like I said, last Sunday, unofficially, here in the real world, it’s been over for a while. Tomorrow, the teachers will be back at it. Day after that, the students return. Then, we’re off to the next big deal. For the church, that’s Lent. Beginning Wednesday, February nineteenth. But for everyone else, it’s springBreak, second week in March. Turn off the lights, the party’s over.
But, we’ve watched It’s a Wonderful Life, for the umpteenth time! Christmas Vacation! Home Alone! We’ve sung the songs. Shared our blessings with the less-fortunate! We’ve dreamed dreams! Good dreams! Big dreams! And for a little while, anything – everything – was possible. All we had to do was believe! And this year, boy, oh boy, did we believe! With all our head! All our heart! Sugar plums danced! Heaven and nature sang! And we drank deeply of the magic and the mystery and the miracle! This year, we, even, watched as a dim reflection of the christmasStar drifted across the heavens! And like the Scrooges before us … we promised, we pledged, to honor Christmas in our hearts and to keep it! All! Year! Long!
Unfortunately, that’s all behind us. It’s back to business – to living – as usual. One more time, the world wins. Another year, the world wins. All our good intentions drop away and are left behind. Nothing changes. We never change. We and the ghosts that return, each Christmas, to haunt us. The hungry remain hungry. The needy and poor stay poor and needy. Christmas, nothing more than a pause, a recess, in the unending struggle to survive. For a moment, the weary rejoiced. And we felt like angels. But the songs fell silent and the lights went out and we realized we were just people. Ordinary. Plain. And instead of living happily everAfter, we. Just. Lived. Sometimes happy. Other times sad. Most times trapped somewhere in the middle. We’re still separated. Most times, in ways that can’t be measured. We wear our masks. And like ladyMacBeth, we wash our hands till they’re raw. But nothing, ever, changes.
Think about it. Over two thousand Christmases, and it’s, still, the same old same old. But we’ll do it all over, next year. And the year after. We’ll do it because it’s good for business. But we’ll, also, do it because someday, someday things might just be different. That the next time, that time, the world might change. So, this morning, on the tenth day of Christmas, what if I said to you … Christmas wasn’t meant to change the world? What if love was never meant to take away the darkness and the cold?
As Americans, we have this mechanical, transactional way of looking at life. Economics. Politics. Even, religion. Buying and selling. This for that. Pushing buttons. Pulling levers. Flipping switches. Do it right, and you live happily. Do it wrong … or don’t do it, at all … we live unhappily. For every cause, there’s an effect. For every effect, a cause. But what if Christmas was neither. What if Christmas – what if love – simply was? Simply is?
We try so hard, nowadays, to prove that faith is necessary, essential, to living well. When the church is shrinking, getting smaller … when so many people are living without us … we feel we have to prove that believing makes us better, makes us more. But what if faith, believing just makes us … us? What if we aren’t transformed into something, someone, we aren’t! Into something, someone, we’ve never been? But instead, sets us free! Free to become who – what – we already are! Who – what – we’ve always been!
What if believing’s not about making sinners into saints or goats into sheep! What if it’s about transforming people … into people! Flawed and imperfect! Mortal and limited! Warts and all! Love doesn’t change that! Truth is, love doesn’t change any of that! And if we thought it did, we’d be sorely disappointed. When we believe, we become human! It’s as simple as that! God loving us doesn’t change the world around us! God loving us doesn’t change us! Any more than our parents’ love does! Any more than a brother’s or sister’s love does! Any more than the love of a partner or a spouse!
Life is life is life! The world is the world is the world! Whether we believe of don’t! What love does is provide a mirror! A mirror in which we can see ourselves clearly! A kind of antiCarnival, antiSideshow, mirror. That instead of warping and distorting our reflection, focuses and hones it so we can, finally, see ourselves for who – what – we are! Loved … not because of who we are! Loved … not because of how we aren’t! But just loved! Love isn’t a machine! Love isn’t a transaction! Love just is! Faith’s not a key. Believing doesn’t open doors. Love, simply, loves.
And the Word became flesh, we’re told, and lived – lives – among us! Full of grace! Full of charity! Full of love! Grace upon grace! Charity upon charity! Love upon love upon love! God doesn’t save us from the ghosties or the ghoulies or the things that go bump. God doesn’t save us, even, from the darkness and the night. God doesn’t make it all go away. But god frees us! Frees us from what holds us back! Frees us from what keeps us down! Frees us from everything that gets in the way of us being who and what we have always been!
And then … then, my friends, we go! We go and we do the same! We love as we have been loved! Love just like Jesus! We don’t change the world! We don’t make it different! But we do set people free! Free to be – to become – who they have been … from the very beginning! And that’s why we celebrate. Sunday after Sunday. Season after season! Year … after year … after year …