Featured Sermon – When God Moves Into the Neighborhood
The first thing to say this morning is that it’s still Christmas. The feast of Christmas doesn’t just last for one day, but rather extends over a full twelve days. We’re called to celebrate each of those days like Christmas. The cycle of our liturgical seasons is designed to give us a chance to steep ourselves a little in the major events of our faith so that our lives begin to be shaped in even deeper ways by what God has done for us. So find some way, every day, for the next ten days, to celebrate, even if it’s just in tiny ways.
Every year on the first Sunday after Christmas, our gospel lesson is the opening passage of John’s gospel. There are three very different Christmas stories in the Bible: Luke’s is the one with the shepherds, Matthew’s is the one with the wise men, and John’s is like the art house film version: abstract, experimental, maybe even a little obtuse. In Greek, it is written as a poem, and like all good poetry, it rewards repeated readings, and is most rewarding when you grab just a nugget here and there to chew on for a while. So I would encourage you to take your bulletin with you and just revisit this through this week as you celebrate Christmas and just see what grabs you at different points.
There were two that stuck out for me in particular this week that I’ll say just a few things about this morning:
The first is really the punch line of the whole thing: “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us.” Most of us basically hear this as a simple statement of the improbable doctrine that God became human in the person of Jesus. But there’s a lot more going on here than that.
A better translation of the phrase “dwelt among us” in Greek is the “pitched his tent among us.” It doesn’t have the same literary gravitas, but it’s linguistically more accurate. So this isn’t just a one-time event, but rather it’s an ongoing characteristic of God to become one of us. The sense here is that God hangs out with us, God moves into the neighborhood.
At the first Christmas, God moved into the neighborhood of ancient Israel. Today, God is always moving into whatever our neighborhoods happen to be. God is constantly showing up as one of us. That means a big part of the life of faith is not just worshipping Jesus in here, but learning how to spot where Jesus is showing up out there.
And the other real nugget in this poem for me reminds us that whenever God moves into the neighborhood, it looks like light shining in darkness. The earlier punch line in the poem comes as “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”
When God moves into the neighborhood, it looks like the light of staff and volunteers at the Yates community center working tirelessly to care for and support refugees as they begin to rebuild their lives after fleeing trauma that’s hard for us to imagine. When God moves into the neighborhood, it looks like young black leaders in Ferguson, or Baltimore, or wherever pointing out that the sin of racism continues to pervade our national life at every level. When God moves into the neighborhood, it looks like the voices of those who are calling our political leaders out on the hateful rhetoric of fear toward immigrants, and refugees, and even Muslim citizens of this country. When God moves into the neighborhood, it looks like a meal delivered to a family after a death, like a visit to a hospital bedside, like a marriage healed, or a petty grievance forgiven and let go. It’s happening everywhere, all the time, and we do this in here so that we can spot it, and join God out there in lighting the darkness.
Christmas is also a time when that particular interplay of light and darkness is most complexly mingled and the edges of both become most acute. For all the feasting and rejoicing, the time with family and the warm, sentimental scenes, this is also a time when we feel the absence of loss most bluntly, and the pangs of whatever grief we carry more sharply. In the midst of that, we have this nugget to carry with us this week: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not [will not] overcome it.”
Despite all that is dark in the world, despite all that is dark in our own lives, God is still moving into the neighborhood, light still shines in the darkness, and despite all logic, we are here, together with a few billion Christians around the world who are doing this same thing today, together with angels and archangels and all those lights who have sat in these pews since 1883, those lights who have sat around the table at our Christmas feasts. We are all gathered together in this moment, defying the darkness again, claiming God promise that it doesn’t get the last word. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” Amen.
Dean Craig Loya
 This translation appears in Peterson, Eugene. The Message. NavPress: 2007. Carol Stream, IL
You can follow Dean Loya’s blog at http://fromthedean.com/