Jan 10, 2021
It’s January 2021! Welcome you to the New Year! I find it a little bit exciting and a little bit frightening all at the same time. I learned recently that January has its roots in the Latin word, “Janua”. I’m not sure if I’m pronouncing that right, but it means door or threshold. It’s symbolizing a place where you can look back and look forward. Like standing on a threshold. If you think about that for a moment, looking back and looking forward, it’s overwhelming. Liturgically, in our religious history, and today in the history making that’s happening, so many things are happening, critical things, unique things, momentous things, and yes even horrendous things.
The world feels truly upside down.
If you stand on that threshold and look back, we’re coming from advent and epiphany. A time of quiet waiting in the dark, waiting for the birth of a baby, waiting for the manifestation of the “Great I Am”. The Magi defiantly committed to their journey following the light of star. The celebration of God made flesh in Jesus Christ, the light of the world. The duality of a baby that’s both fully human and fully divine, that’s so hard to grasp. The mystery of incarnation!
Looking back, we’re also coming from a year of pandemic, quarantine, worldwide unrest and nationwide chaos and fear. Also a time of dark, feeling helpless, and fearful in our short days. Feeling lost in the depths, waiting for a vaccine, waiting for healing and waiting for order. I feel uncertain how to process and respond to the chaos, the heartbreak, the uncertainty, the insurrection, and the disruption. So I am, and maybe you are, relieved to enter 2021, even though the darkness is following us into this New Year. A bit of it’s lingering. At least symbolically we are relieved to distance ourselves from this past year. We look forward and we think we see, we hope at least, and pray for, and work for light at the end of the tunnel, that light of Jesus Christ.
So, still standing on that threshold looking forward, maybe we can begin again. Liturgically we’re entering “ordinary” times. The ordinary life and baptism of Jesus Christ as the light of the world. That’s ordinary time. But my friends, there is nothing ordinary about those times or these times. Because this is when the real work begins, then and now. The work of healing and restoration, the work of lifting up the marginalized, the work of peace making and justice. We proclaim that Jesus is the light in the darkness, the light that calls us out of the darkness. Is this ordinary? No! But is this good news? Yes!
Can we begin again? Will we ever return to what feels like ordinary times? What is ordinary? It’s a very evocative time this January to talk about new beginnings. And so, we begin at the beginning with a scripture from Genesis. And if you want to follow in your Bible, it’s really easy because it’s Genesis 1:1-5.
“In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep while a wind of God swept over the face of the waters. And then God said, ‘Let there be light’, and there was light, and God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light day and the darkness he called night. And there was evening and there was morning the first day.”
This story of creation in Genesis, it’s a cosmic drama! And the visual imagery is huge: the deep dark void and God, the creator, moving across that void like wind on water. Breath, air, and light, bursting forth. God’s initial creative act is light. Illumination! It’s powerful, it’s visual, it’s creative, and it affirms that everything that exists depends on the creating and sustaining power of God. In this creation story God is an active God, dynamically and intentionally creating. Creation becomes significant not for merely being, but for order, for balance, for harmony between darkness and light, for unity within creation, for beauty and mystery and magic. It’s a time of unveiling, developing, growing, turning and changing.
“In the beginning God created the heavens and earth.” The story can really only be heard as the first in a long series of stories about God creating. Now we can hear these verses as a prequel to the story whose sequels are still being spoken and enacted today. A story of God’s activity, a story that begins in watery depths, dark and formless, and moves towards humankind, giving breath and giving air. Exalting us, as a crowning achievement, but calling us to action. Calling us to be the light in the darkness. Calling us to be the hands and feet of Christ. Calling us to these not so ordinary times and the great work ahead.
The creation story is a way of holding onto hope when all signs of order in our lives have been destroyed, and we must look for signs of the creative work of God and join God in that creative process.
I am grateful, coming from these dark times, for the awareness and the assurance that God is continually creating, that every day is new and that we, in our covenant relationship with God, share in the creative process. This isn’t just good news it’s great news! So, I think it’s only fitting on this Sunday, following epiphany and advent, in this New Year, in the beginning and out of the darkness and into the light and into creative energy, that we’re here to share in the sacrament of the confirmation of Elle.
With Elle’s permission I want to share a little bit of her story and her faith journey with you. Elle was born and raised in Ogden, Utah in the LDS church. She was baptized in the LDS church at the age of eight, much like our tradition. But as Elle told me her story, I saw a pivotal time that came for her in her teens when she visited the Vatican. I remember in our conversation she described the grandeur and the power of the Vatican as mind blowing. And it was a trigger that fueled her curiosity and her faith journey, I think, took a pivotal turn at that point, and she entered into years of asking questions, studying and exploring many religions. Catholism, Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholics, and Earth centered spirituality. Elle had a powerful baptism experience a second time as a Roman Catholic. She attended seminary. She’s visited over 50 religious traditions. All questions were fair game. All religions were up for examination. She’s had times, I think, of profound doubt and times of profound spiritual experiences. And today Elle is choosing to continue her faith journey with us. She’s choosing to walk with God and to walk with us in a covenant relationship. Today Elle said, “It’s like coming home.”
When we participate in the sacraments, I think it’s important to pause and ground ourselves. And I’d like to read these words from Community of Christ.
“We encounter God through the sacraments of the church which touch lives at important times and places. Sacraments brings God’s grace, the influence of the Holy Spirit, and the example of the life of Jesus Christ together with one personal commitment of faith. Through the sacraments we discover the presence of God everywhere and realize that all life is sacred. These encounters point to God’s loving desire to bring all people to peace, wholeness, and right relationships with one another and the divine, which is the meaning of salvation. The sacraments refresh, renew, and challenge us to continue on Christ’s mission and our mission for the sake of all creation. When we’re baptized, we’re making a public act announcing we’re choosing to follow Jesus Christ with all of our heart, mind, and strength. It’s a decision that marks a significant point in recognizing God’s initiative in our lives. Turning toward God and entering that covenant relationship and we begin life anew.”
Elle has already taken this public act. The sacrament this morning, Elle’s confirmation, confirms Elle’s membership in Community of Christ with all of its rights and responsibilities and gifts, and affirms the Holy Spirit’s continued blessing. Today, Elle takes an important step in her faith journey. Today Elle chooses to grow in her covenant relationship, her covenant with God, and her covenant with us in sacred community. We’re weaving Elle, we have been weaving Elle, and Elle has been weaving us into the very fabric of our community. And we weave with love and support and great anticipation for the light ahead. Today is a new beginning. Today we see the continuing creative power of God at work. Today Elle responds to the light in the darkness and the light that calls her out of the darkness. There is nothing ordinary about today for today the work begins anew. Thank you, Elle, for responding to God and for choosing to walk with us. I’m with you and you’re with me. We are all with you and you are with us.
I want to leave Elle, and really all of us, with the lyrics from a hymn that was written in the first century by Symeon. He was a Byzantine Christian Monk, mystic and poet. Symeon’s hymn 15, which comes from his collected Hymns of Divine Love, I think really beautifully describes the divine union that God is forever inviting us toward.
“We awaken in Christ’s body as Christ awakens in our bodies and my poor hand is Christ. He enters my foot and is infinitely me. I move my hand and wonderfully my hand becomes Christ, becomes all of Christ, for he is indivisibly whole, seamless in his Godhood.
I move my foot and at once Christ appears like a flash of lightning. Do my words seem blasphemous? Then open your heart to Christ and let yourself receive the one who is opening to you so deeply.
For if we genuinely love him, we wake up inside Christ’s body, where all our body all over, even the most hidden part of it, is realized in joy as Christ and he makes us utterly real.
And everything that is hurt, everything that seemed to us dark, harsh, shameful, maimed, ugly, irreparably damaged, is in Christ transformed, and recognized as whole, as lovely, and radiant in his light. We awaken as the beloved in every last part of our body.”
Elle, I invite you to contemplate the wonder of Symeon’s words. How might you experience the Christ born in you today in this New Year, a new creation, a new beginning, utterly real, transformed, and radiant in the light.