Second Sunday of Christmas, Year B
January 4, 2009
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
No purpling. No purpling.
That was one of our most important rules at the synod youth events I helped coordinate
for many years back in Pennsylvania.
This rule’s funny terminology comes from a simple graphic:
a boy figure colored blue, a girl figure colored red . . .
and when the two come together, a single figure in purple.
At this youth event we highly discourage, how do I say this, “romantic activity”
that would thus cause the blue and red to mix and create purple.
That means no hand-holding, no kissing, no boys visiting in girls rooms,
no girls visiting in boys rooms . . . you get the idea.
Nearly 300 youth locked up in a hotel for a weekend called for such rules.
No purpling. Let’s keep the red and the blue separate.
Red and blue.
Since the protracted 2000 presidential election and vote count
we have used the colors red and blue to denote political affiliations and vote tallies,
red for the Republicans, blue for the Democrats.
Our political maps are increasingly drawn with only two crayons
(even though my daughter’s box of Crayola includes 64 distinct colors),
and the lines that separate red from blue seem to be drawn thicker and thicker every year.
Indeed, it is dangerous for this native Pennsylvanian
to venture into some brief political commentary,
not only because I’m standing in a pulpit,
but because I’m standing here in front of so many people who know politics
much better than I.
But I’ve heard more than one retiring member of congress lament that bipartisanship is dead,
that the center aisle in the congressional chambers,
which used to be a place to meet on common ground,
has become a great dividing wall that few dare to climb,
sending partisans to retreat within the friendly and closed confines
of their narrowing ideological circles.
I’ve seen, as have you, the explosion of media outlets which, at times,
seem less concerned about reporting the news
than in defending a certain political position.
Not only do we have red states and blue states,
but we have red news channels and blue news channels,
red newspapers and blue newspapers,
red websites and blue websites.
It is as if our country has taken to heart the rule from those youth gatherings –
no purpling . . . keep the red and blue separate.
And, sadly, we have red churches and blue churches.
Just last month The Episcopal Church experienced a small but significant rupture,
as conservative congregations left The Episcopal Church to create a new denomination,
the Anglican Church in North America.
More congregations, and dioceses, are sure to join.
Within our own Evangelical Lutheran Church in America,
there is also a division, though except for a handful of congregations,
it has thankfully not led to structural rupture. Yet.
Increasingly, churches and denominations are accepting the red/blue paradigm,
falling into place in red camps or blue camps,
standing out less by their proclamation of Christ,
their theology or statements of faith,
but by their stances on cultural issues.
Sadly, but not unexpectedly, the news coverage about the Obama family’s choice of a church
has more to do with the political and social dynamics of the potential congregations,
than with their theology, confession of faith, or witness to Christ.
It seems that today, how one feels about sexuality, abortion, or politics
is more significant or defining than what one confesses about Christ,
the Word of God that dwells among us.
Yes, the Word of God.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
That’s how John opens his Gospel,
with a confession about Christ,
the living Word of God, Jesus Christ our Lord.
John opens his Gospel in a sort of Genesis posture,
taking us back to the beginning of all time,
anchoring this Living Word in the fiber of creation,
a Word that blows over the deeps and echoes over all cosmos.
Indeed, John tells us that this Word is life and light,
without which nothing was, nothing is, nothing shall be.
Everything that lives, moves, has being depends on this Word.
And so, before ever getting into the well-known accounts of Jesus’ miracles,
his preaching, his death and resurrection,
John sets up Christ as the cornerstone,
the foundational element of not only the church, but of all creation.
This is where our life of faith, our common life as a church,
indeed, the life of the world begins –
with the creative and redeeming Word of God that was and is spoken in Creation,
a Word that became flesh and lived among us,
a Word that continues to come to us in Word and Sacrament,
and indeed, a Word that becomes incarnate in the Christian community.
This is a Living Word that comes to us,
as we read in chapter 3 of this gospel,
because God so loved the world,
a Loving Word, in the world to save it
and bring the world into harmony with God and itself.
That’s what this Living Word is all about.
As Kelly Fryer, a Lutheran author of several books and Bible studies, says,
“God is on a mission to love and save the world.”
From the dawning of Creation to David’s Kingdom to proclamations of the prophets,
straight on through to the ministry of John the Baptist,
the birth, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus,
the growth of the early church,
and the history of God’s people ever since . . .
Through all these people, in all these places,
God has been and continues to be on a mission
to love and save the world.
We see that in today’s first reading, from the prophet Jeremiah.
Proclaiming God’s promises to a people in exile,
a people ripped up from the land in which they found their identity
and broken down by the destruction of their Temple,
a people spread throughout a foreign land
struggling to maintain their identity, culture, and faith . . .
Proclaiming God’s promises to God’s people,
Jeremiah paints a picture of a joyful reunion,
a reunion of God’s people who have been scattered across
to the corners of the earth,
a gathering of all who are hurt and broken by the experience of exile . . .
The Lord will bring them by brooks of water where they will not stumble
but find rest and refreshment.
The Lord will gather all together like a loving parent, like a shepherd,
and God’s people will sing aloud, they will dance and be merry,
they will be radiant, for their mourning has turned to joy,
their sorrow replaced with gladness,
their isolation replaced with fellowship.
What strikes me in these readings –
the great prologue to John’s Gospel that tells of God’s Living and Loving Word,
and this proclamation of divine promise from the prophet Jeremiah –
is that they overwhelmingly speak of what God is up to, what God is doing in the world –
not what we are doing, where we stand, or for whom we vote.
Yes, these readings speak of that great mission of God to love and save the world.
These texts today are exemplary of the great arc
of Jewish and Christian teaching and proclamation
centered on God’s love and grace,
and God’s continuing acts of turning and returning to God’s people,
of God’s coming to the world with gifts of life, salvation, hope, truth, and love.
This is what we proclaim . . .
not some red or blue creed oriented around political positions,
not some carefully crafted policy statements on the burning social issues of the day.
Political purity or consensus on Capital Hill
cannot offer us what we heard today in the words of Jeremiah.
The political hopes that some have when one party dominates both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue
is nothing compared to the promises spoken to us in the Living Word . . .
we are people of the promise, first and foremost,
the promise of a God who comes to us,
the promise of God to gather us all into one,
the promise of a Spirit given to the church and God’s people,
the promise of salvation given to us in a child.
Our faith, our ministry, our churches, our identity are not defined by party affiliation,
voting patterns, or positions on various issues –
as wonderful and important as these things are.
Our faith, our ministry, our churches, our identity are defined
first and foremost by these promises of God,
promises heard by supporters of John McCain and Barack Obama,
promises graciously given to broken people on both sides
of our cultural hot-button issues,
promises given to God’s people since the beginning of time.
Dear Christian friends, rejoice,
the Word became flesh and lived among us.
From the place of exile, with its fractures, loneliness, separation and brokenness,
God promises to gather God’s people in a Land of Promise at a feast which never ends.
These promises extend to a people broken and divided by red and blue, too,
creating yet another promise that perhaps there will be some blessed “purpling” going on,
as God’s people of all hues gather together
from all corners, from all sides, from all ends of the spectrum,
to feast on God’s goodness.
The feast is given to us. The Word is made flesh.
Let us gather at this table, let us eat, let us drink,
let us, in the words of Jeremiah,
be merry and radiant before the Lord. Amen.