December 28, 2021

December 28, 2021

December 28, 2021

Caryl Griffin Russell
Retired Clergy
First United Methodist Church Oak Ridge
Tennessee Valley District.

The Life-Light  John 1:1-18.  THE MESSAGE

1-2 The Word was first.  the Word present to God,  God present to the Word.
The Word was God, in readiness for God from day one.
3-5 Everything was created through him;
    nothing—not one thing!—came into being without him.
What came into existence was Life, and the Life was Light to live by.
The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness; the darkness couldn’t put it out.
6-8 There once was a man, his name John, sent by God to point out the way to the Life-Light. He came to show everyone where to look, who to believe in. John was not himself the Light; he was there to show the way to the Light.
9-13 The Life-Light was the real thing: Every person entering Life he brings into Light.
He was in the world, the world was there through him, and yet the world didn’t even notice.
He came to his own people, but they didn’t want him.
But whoever did want him, who believed he was who he claimed and would do what he said,
He made to be their true selves, their child-of-God selves. These are the God-begotten,
    not blood-begotten,
    not flesh-begotten,
    not sex-begotten.
14 The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.
We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory,
Generous inside and out,  true from start to finish.
15 John pointed him out and called, “This is the One! The One I told you was coming after me but in fact was ahead of me. He has always been ahead of me, has always had the first word.”
16-18 We all live off his generous abundance, gift after gift after gift.
We got the basics from Moses,
    and then this exuberant giving and receiving, This endless knowing and understanding—
    all this came through Jesus, the Messiah.
No one has ever seen God, not so much as a glimpse.
This one-of-a-kind God-Expression,
    who exists at the very heart of the Father,
    has made him plain as day.

Devotion
The GIFT

Looking back, what is the best gift you received at Christmas?  The best Christmas present ever was when I was 8 years old:  A Dale Evans cowgirl outfit with cowgirl boots and a gun and holster.  I wanted to be just like Dale (Roy Rogers’ wife) riding as well as any man, able to take on the tough everyday tasks, ride in the rodeos, and sing “Happy Trails to You!”  Then Christmas was mostly about anticipating what I would receive under the tree on Christmas morning and reflects my childish hopes of what I could become.  Years later, after growing up and experiencing many Advent Seasons into Christmas, I struggled to realize what the seasons meant, what Christmas gifts meant.  I wondered how Jesus was supposed to be a part of it.  I knew I “should” feel Jesus being born in my heart, and that I should be changed, not into Dale Evans, but into the person God created me to be.  Then, 35 years old, on an Emmaus walk I first experienced Jesus’ deep communal love.  One of the speakers poignantly and lovingly expressed the Presence of Christ in her life. Her face glowed even as she told of a major tragedy in her family.  She had support inside her that I didn’t have, and she became God’s gift to me, prompting a longing in me that began the journey of my own personal Advent—longing to have a living, personal relationship with Jesus. It took a long time of committed Bible study every single day, and learning how to meditate before I could see how Jesus was beginning to work in my own life.  
 
John 1:7 What came into existence was life.  Today, as I re-read this first chapter of John (this is my favorite book and passage of the Bible) I see that John’s Gospel is leading us to see Christ’s presence from the beginning of creation is in us and all around us.  I notice that John the Baptist humbly clarifies that he himself is not The Light of God, but points us to the Light, not unlike the speaker on the Emmaus Walk.  With new eyes I see what Advent is all about: preparing us and others for seeing the light of Christ and receiving and being changed by the Love of God imbedded deeply in our lives and hearts; preparing us for the life journey and its hardships; and preparing us to find joy.
 
I began seeing the larger picture of the Trinity and how Jesus was helping us know the unfailing love of God.  I began to see Christ’s love in the faithful people around me; I felt and finally had the courage to answer the call into ministry at age 50.  I am so grateful. 
 
One of the best gifts to me in many years was this year’s Church musical program led by the Minister of Music including choirs, orchestra, organ, bells and more.  As I sat in the congregation and felt the power and emotion of this deeply given love through the community of musicians, I experienced their God-given gifts pouring lavishly onto me and the congregation.  That day the Minister of Music was like John the Baptist, carrying the Light, pointing me and others toward the love and hope of Christ.  His own face was glowing, emanating the light of Christ.  His rich smooth voice was full of joy, love, compassion, inviting us to share in this beautiful gift.  I realized then my need for Music to come through my very being.  Not just sitting, listening and watching other people make music, but actually becoming a part of the music, allowing myself to be transformed.  The Minister of Music has become a gift to me, instilling a sense of renewed life.  John 1:5. And the Light was Life to live by.
 
Now, Christmas this year has passed.  New Years day and the resolutions we have made for the new year are behind us.  The questions for today are: “What did you receive through this recent season?”  “So What?”  And “Now What?”
 
Today, John assures us God in Christ is Present with us.  God is with us if we feel the letdown after a busy season of Christmas.  God is with us if this year was a struggle: whether the pandemic realities and fears and mixed messages leave us unsure; whether our uncertainties about our faith and way forward are conflicting; whether we are grieving; whether we feel small and insignificant.  
 
John 1:14. The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood.  The writer is inviting us to trust that God in Christ, present all along, is present right now where we are, as we are in this moment.  Every single person no matter how insignificant one feels can choose to receive and to be a carrier of the Light.  Through God’s gift of Christ in us we are able to bring God’s Presence into the neighborhood, a bit of God’s kindom.  In my life, the speaker at the Emmaus walk and the Minister of Music were two who carried the transforming light and Life of Christ for me to see and long to follow.  Who in your life has carried God’s gift of light to you?  To whom will you carry this gift of Light? 
 
What you are is God’s gift to you, what you become is your gift to God.
— Hans Urs von Balthasar

Prayer

God has blessed creation with a great variety of gifts 
and gathered all people into one family, 
so that in sharing, we might strengthen 
and be strengthened by one another. 
We gather into our hearts and minds 
the universe entrusted to us, 
remembering its needs before God and this company. 
Grant that these prayers, O God, 
may be enfleshed by our commitment not only to pray them, 
but to live them in your Son's name. Amen.
Prayer from the Revised Common Lectionary, Resources from Vanderbilt Divinity Library