Fr. Bill Carroll – The First Sunday after Christmas Day, December 26, 2021
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.“To all who received him, who believed in his Name, he gave power to become children of God.” These words are written in the Gospel this morning. They echo something that’s also said in the Epistle—that when, by the power of the Spirit, we call on God as “Abba, Father,” the Name that Jesus called God, we are no longer slaves, but children. We belong to the New Jerusalem, the city that comes down from heaven from God. Now, I had to rewrite this sermon a little bit this morning. I rewrote it as I preached it, and then I tried to get it down on paper. And then, I learned that Desmond Tutu died. In the middle of the night, the great South African Archbishop who led the People in that country in the anti-apartheid struggle has died. (A member of our own church.) And I think about Desmond, who was a little man filled with life and joy, when I hear these words about getting the power to become a child of God. There are two things that I want to share with you about this phenomenal Christian leader. The first is that he was educated in a seminary in South Africa run by a religious order called the Community of the Resurrection. It’s said that Tutu gained respect for one of the teachers at that seminary who was the first white man that he ever saw take his hat off to his mother—man by the name of Trevor Huddleston. And, from that seminary, he acquired the habit of beginning every day at 4 am with an extended period silent prayer on his knees. So what Tutu did was rooted in a very close and intimate relationship with God, the kind of relationship that is the heritage of all God’s children.And the other story that I know is that, you know, it was a big deal to be part of the anti-apartheid movement and to be a traitor. Some members of the movement ended up collaborating with the secret police, and it meant imprisonment or perhaps death to those they betrayed. And what they liked to do to traitors at the time was to take a burning tire and put it around their neck. That was how they punished those who had betrayed their fellow strugglers. And Tutu is known, in at least one demonstration, to have put his own life on the line and to have walked across a crowded plaza to make the people that were doing that stop. And he did it because he was a Christian. You can’t win freedom by dealing in the world’s ways of violence and death. These words about “giving us power to become children of God” are part of our Eucharistic Prayer throughout the Christmas season. They speak to us of God’s goodness in choosing us, and giving us new lives as God’s beloved children.As the prophet Isaiah once put it: “You shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will give you.” And, in the power of that name, we break free from everything that enslaves us. We find true strength and true freedom in Jesus.What God has done for us in him is staggering. After long ages and many twists and turns in the sacred story, God has sent us his very own Son. No longer are we dealing with messengers and servants. God is treating us like family. God is adopting us as his own flesh and blood. And we are called by God’s new name.Jesus Christ has joined us in the flesh. God has become our brother. And, of his fulness, we have received (the Gospel tells us)…we have received grace upon grace. We’ve been given a share in God’s own inheritance for his Son. We are his children, and we’ve been given a Name that the world can’t take away. And why is that? It’s because “the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”At Christmas, we celebrate the mystery of the Word-made-flesh. If you heard Fr. Andrew preaching on Christmas Eve (it was an excellent sermon), one of the things he drew our attention to was the soft spot, the fontanelle, at the top of a baby’s head. It’s actually a spot that remains open while those bones grow together. And one of the things that Andrew was talking about is how, if you look at that in a newborn baby, you can actually see the throb of the pulse there. It’s a place where we are vulnerable. It’s a place where we can be wounded. Jesus had one of those. And, as his life went on, Jesus had other soft spots. He had places where he was vulnerable, because he was really human. He knew what it was like to be betrayed by a friend. And, in the end, we exploited those vulnerabilities when we killed him on a Cross. We put him there intending evil, but God used the death of Jesus to save us all. And so, the Word becomes flesh. It becomes really human. The Word becomes vulnerable. God’s own Word becomes one of us. At Christmas, we celebrate God’s amazing love for the whole world and each and every human being.If we are honest, we admit that we have our doubts. Our lives can be filled with pain and struggle. We can become disappointed with God and with each other. We are well-acquainted sometimes with the lack of human kindness out there. We also know all-too-well the weaknesses of human flesh. We all have made plans that didn’t turn out the way we thought they would. It can become a recipe for despair.And yet, into this world, Jesus comes. He comes into our world as it really is—not as we would have it be. Out of sheer love, the Son of God is willing to live out a fully human life—to share in everything that makes us human. He loves us that much. He likes us that much. He wants to be here with us in the flesh.And so, Jesus lights up our darkness. He comes to us in all our places of need and vulnerability. And we are no longer slaves to the things that are killing us, but we are instead God’s beloved children.And everything that holds us back or beats us down or makes us afraid—everything that would compromise our birthright, ALL of it—loses its power. It’s power is broken, as Jesus joins us here in our flesh.By his presence with us, and within us, he calls us to share in the work of redemption. He calls us to rebuild our cities and towns and neighborhoods. He calls us to gather in our exiles, to bind up the brokenhearted, and to bind up their wounds.God does not call us to this holy work as some kind of absentee landlord. He is not just up there in the sky, but God is down here with us in the flesh—in the muck and the mess of our lives. God is never far from us. In God, we live and move and have our being. He has some skin (he literally, has some skin) in the game. God has sent us his own Son.And so, wherever Jesus is found, our sins are forgiven, the hungry are fed, and we are made whole. Jesus has joined heaven and earth, so that we might live forever. He has given us his very own life, so that we might live forever in him. And he has shown us God’s ways, so that we might learn to love each other better.
He has made us children of God.He’s given us a gift that the world can never take away.And he has given us the strength to follow him in the flesh.Amen.