SUNDAY SERMON: Mixed Messages

Rev. Stephen Baldwin

NT: John 1.6-8, 19-28

Mixed Messages 

Several years ago, Kerry and I trudged uphill, through the snow, a whole ten yards out the front door to watch the Ronceverte Christmas parade in our front yard. One particular float caught our attention. 

A disclaimer first.  It was dark.  It was raining.  And there was a huge crowd in our yard.  So I couldn’t see very well.  But I’m fairly certain I saw a float sponsored by a bar filled with a bunch of kids and a Christmas tree, covered in Budweiser flags, tossing out candy, telling people, “Merry Christmas.”  Talk about your mixed messages!  

A few thoughts flashed through my mind.  First, I thought…how odd.  Second, I thought…at least they’re having a good time!  Third, I thought…are they using kids and Christmas to sell beer?  

Not that that would be an unusual thing.  Christmas is a $450 billion industry built on the idea that gifts are the reason for the season, and children are the primary targets of that message.  A recent poll suggests shows most everyone agrees, as nearly 90% of Americans think Christmas has become too materialistic, too focused on toys and presents.  

At the same time, we all spend more than we ever have on gifts. 1 in 4 people are still paying off last year’s Christmas. 1 in 5 people will take out a new credit card this year to pay for Christmas. When we all agree Christmas isn’t about any of that. It’s a mixed message. 

We don’t like mixed messages. We prefer the straight and narrow. Give it to me plain. But today’s scripture has mixed messages of its own. 

Open up your Bibles with me, and let’s look at John 1 again.  *Read verses 1-5.*  What do you notice about the beginning of this Gospel as compared to the other Gospels?  Matthew and Luke tell every detail of Jesus’ birth—his Jewish lineage from the line of David, his parents, the angel, the census, the manger, the animals.  Do you read any of that here?  No!  Talk about your mixed messages, huh? 

This is the season of Jesus’ birth, but John includes nothing about his birth. According to John, Jesus is “the Word”—with God, even part of God, since when?  Since the beginning.  He comes to earth as “light” to shine amidst the darkness of the world.  That’s a beautiful metaphor, isn’t it?  Jesus as the light of the world, sent by God to shine on that which exists in darkness…to shine …on…us.  If that doesn’t give you goosebumps, then I don’t know what does. 

Then there’s the mixed message of John the Baptist. His name is John but he’s not the one who wrote the Gospel of John. He’s out baptizing and calling people to repentance in large numbers, but he’s not the messiah. Another mixed message. 

The more we think about it, the more appropriate that is. Christmas sends all of us mixed messages. We love the spirit of the season, but we lament the industry it has become. We love the lights, but we loathe how early it gets dark. We love spending time with family, but not everyone has family. Christmas can be the best time of the year, and Christmas can be the worst time of year. 

Christmas is filled with these shadows. Mourning those who aren’t here to celebrate with us. Lamenting what hasn’t gone according to plan this year. Worrying over finances and the future. Feeling as though you are living the child’s story, and there is no room in the inn for you. 

Barbara Brown Taylor wrote a whole book about the mixed message of darkness. The idea is that we’ve come to fear darkness, but she believes that without darkness we would not know light. 

The light is the life of Christmas.  “In the beginning was the word, and word was with God and the word was God. In him was life, and that life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.” 

We do understand it. We yearn for the light. We need the light. We seek the light. And the good news of Christmas is that the light shines in the darkness. 

Nothing fancy. Just the word made flesh, lighting the world up like a giant star.

In her book about darkness, Taylor tells the story of a young French boy named Lusseryan. He lost his sight in an accident at age 7. A week after he could no longer see, he had an experience which would shape the rest of his life. 

“I had completely lost the sight of my eyes; I could not see the light of the world anymore. Yet the light was still there. Its source was not obliterated. I felt it gushing forth every moment; I felt how it wanted to spread out over the world. I had only to receive it. The source of light is not in the outer world. We believe that it is only because of a common delusion. The light dwells where life also dwells: within ourselves.”

The light dwells within us, because God dwells within us. The light is our soul, and that is what Christmas is about. Reconnecting with our soul. A gift from God, ignited like a flame by a mere child whose presence sets our hearts on fire. 

This time of year may bring mixed messages, outside in the world at silly parades and inside ourselves, but one thing is clear–our job is the same as John’s. We are witnesses of the light. We see it. We believe in it. We reflect it in the world, for all to see and all to believe. Amen.

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