Preacher: The Rev. Kate Wesch
In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Today’s sermon is all about joy and mystery.
First, we’re going to talk about the darkness from which we are slowly emerging in these post-solstice days of winter. Then, we’re going to ponder the mysterious impossibility of the incarnation which is the birth of Jesus. Finally, we’re going to talk about joy. And so, this sermon is all about joy and mystery.
During season of Advent, I taught a class all about darkness and some of you were there. We discussed a book called Learning to Walk in the Dark by Barbara Brown Taylor and I want to share with you two things we discovered.
- First, darkness can be literal, metaphor, emotional, depression, grief, a dark night of the soul (you get the idea). We got a lot of mileage out of this theme.
- And second, God can be found in the dark. It’s different. There is no need to constantly be rushing out of the hard times, sprinting back into the light to find God and relief. We can sit with our grief, our troubles, the dark emotions if you will, and God is there with us even in the midst of our darkness.
Gregory of Nyssa, the 4th century Cappadocian monk, spent some time writing about Moses. Moses had several encounters or visitations from God. They began with light. Then, God came to him in a cloud. But as Moses became a more spiritually aware person, God came to him in the dark. Gregory writes: “In the same way, those of us who wish to draw near to God should not be surprised when our vision goes cloudy, for this is a sign that we are approaching the opaque splendor of God. If we decide to keep going beyond the point where our eyes or minds are any help to us, we may finally arrive at the pinnacle of the spiritual journey toward God, which exists in complete and dazzling darkness” (Taylor, 48). We may finally arrive at the pinnacle of the spiritual journey toward God, which exists in complete and dazzling darkness.
How do you experience the dark? Is the holiday season a time of darkness for you? It’s easy to reflect upon the literal darkness of Seattle in December, but what about the dark emotions that swirl about just beneath the surface, particularly around this time of year? Emotions like depression, melancholy, greed, envy, sloth, fear, anger, jealousy, impatience, or disdain. Have you felt any of those yet this week? So, in the midst of this literal darkness, this sometimes emotional darkness of family dysfunction or grief, whatever your shade of grey might be, take your pick, in the middle of our messy humanity we have thrust upon us the birth of the Christ child. Merry Christmas?
Yet, this is the true mystery of Christmas. The incarnation of God in flesh made manifest in the person of Jesus. The mystery of Christmas is the incarnation of God in the baby Jesus. That is what we celebrate this week with stockings, trees, presents, carols, family gatherings, parties, and prayer. The divinity of God explodes right in the middle of our very human, very messy, lives – that is incarnation. in-carne, in flesh, the divine dwelling inside a human body.
C.S. Lewis writes of it as the central miracle of Christianity. He says every other miracle prepares for this, or exhibits this, or results from this. This Christmas miracle is the thing that holds it all together, the glue of Christianity, the gooey center of the jelly donut in the Kingdom of God. Madeleine L’Engle calls it “the glorious impossible.” “And so the life of Jesus began as it would end, with the impossible. When he was a grown man he would say to his disciples, for human beings it is impossible. For God nothing is impossible. Possible things are easy to believe. The Glorious Impossibles are what bring joy to our hearts, hope to our lives, songs to our lips.”
And that, my friends, brings me to the final point: joy. Where do you find joy? In what ways do you experience God’s joy in your life? I want you to take just a moment to think about it and hold on to that thought. Is it seeing an old friend and visiting over a cup of coffee? Is it watching someone open a special gift you selected and just know they will love? Is it having a few days off to relax? What brings you joy?
I have been asking people this question lately and getting lots of different responses. One man sat in my office looking startled and said, “Well, I don’t think I have an answer right now. I have moments of peace in my life, but not joy.” Another woman said, “I’ll have to think about it. I don’t have much joy these days.” Others told me they find joy in a baby’s smile, hanging out with friends, sitting by the light of the Christmas tree, playing as a family, and watching grandchildren grow. What is it for you? Do you have moments of peace, but not joy? Moments of hope, perhaps? Is joy elusive or do you have it in abundance? What is your season of life this Christmas?
And now, in these post-solstice days of winter, as we begin to celebrate the Twelve Days of Christmas, I challenge you to ponder the mysterious impossibility of the incarnation, the birth of Christ AND look for the joy. Where do you find God’s joy in your life?