|Calvary Episcopal Church, Rockdale
December 31, 2006
The Rev. Robert C. Granfeldt
How incredibly beautiful is our Gospel reading for today!
Every year on the First Sunday After Christmas, I actually feel privileged to be able to read it. The only
other reading that affects me like that is when I get to read the Passion Gospel on Passion/Palm
Sunday, and then, again, on Good Friday!
But the Passion Gospels, in all four versions, are powerful and moving primarily because of their
subject matter – the story they tell of Jesus’ suffering and death. But the First Chapter of the Gospel
according to John affects us both in what it tells us and in the way it tells it: in the beauty and power of
the writing, itself; writing considered by many amongst the most beautiful in all of world literature.
But what John offers us, too, is a different view and a different understanding; an alternative and, in a
way, a balance to the sweetness of the story we heard a week ago.
Amongst the four Gospels, Mark, the earliest of the evangelists, makes no reference at all to the birth
of Jesus. He begins his story with the wild man, John the Baptist, “crying in the wilderness: Prepare
the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,” and preaching a “baptism of repentance for the
foregiveness of sins,” and then moves his narrative directly to the Baptism of Jesus and the
beginning of his mission right in the opening verses of his Gospel.
Matthew and Luke, writing after Mark, tell of the Nativity in considerable detail – each version
contributing to the composite picture of Jesus’ birth we all know so well (even though they agree on
practically none of the details). Theirs is the lovely story we celebrated last week.
But John – the last of the Evangelists to write his Gospel, and writing much later, begins, on a whole
different plane – a different level of reality – a story set in the ages and beyond.
“In the beginning…,” John starts, and we know immediately this is a different approach, a tale told from
a different point of view. By using those words, he lets us know from the outset that he’s not talking
about the beginning of a child’s life, a birth, but about the beginning of all things –about the mythical
and mystical time of the creation, itself – because in those opening words, “In the beginning was the
word,” he echoes the beginning of the Book of Genesis, the opening words of the Bible: “In the
beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” And in that echo he tells us he is about to present
to us a different kind of story – a story not about the birth of a baby, but a story related to the very
foundation of the creation, a story rooted in the nature of reality, itself!
In Genesis, in the beginning, God speaks God’s word, and creation happens! In John, in the beginning
was the Word who was with God, and God sends forth God’s Word, and “all things were made through
him, and without him was not anything made that was made.”
In Genesis, God continues to speak through all the stages of creation, all the six days, culminating in
the establishment of life. John tells us, “In Him was life!”
John is telling us from the outset that what happened in that Holy Land of Israel was not just the birth
of a baby, not just the coming of a prophet, not just a new messenger from God – but a change, a shift
in the nature of creation, itself – indeed, a new creation: God becoming, himself, a part of his creation;
God becoming a man!
And he does it so beautifully – in words that make the heart sing!
The stories told by Matthew and Mark are important and moving. They stand together in the telling. But
the narrative of John stands by itself, raising the tale that is told to a new level, above the mundane,
above the sentimental, and taking us into the presence of God, Himself, at the creation – and at the
You know, I’ve long thought that the Sunday after Christmas deserves to be called, “Low Sunday,” just
as is the Sunday after Easter. Not because it is an ordinary Sunday following one of the Great Feasts of
the year, and therefore “lower” in importance – but because, like the real Low Sunday, it generally
shows the same drop in attendance from that of the preceding Feast! And that’s so unfortunate! It
means so many of our people – some who, for whatever reason, never make it to Church on the
Sunday after Christmas – never get to hear these glorious verses, never get to be exposed to the
depths of John’s thought, never get to hear John, himself, establish for us exactly what is the tale he’s
about to tell, and exactly what the diligent reader of his Gospel will find in it; because this is the only
Sunday in the whole Ecclesiastical calendar when we read this Gospel!
As you know, it is my practice to try to keep my sermons especially short at these special times of the
year, and today – being the seventh day of Chriistmas – will be no exception.
But I must say, when it comes to this Sunday that comes in the midst of the twelve days of Christmas, it’
s easy to keep the sermon short, because the Gospel says it all – and all we have to do is hear it and
rejoice in it.
In the Name of the Word who became incarnate two thousand years ago, who dwelt among us and
became a part of us, Amen.