John 1: 1-18
As we come to the end, we arrive at the beginning.
If that sounds a bit like T.S. Eliot, perhaps he’s echoing in my mind as we sail along in this early Western Pennsylvania winter. Still bathed as we all are in the soft glow and memories of the Feast of the Nativity. The Third Day of Christmas, my true love gave to me—three French Hens? That’s easy. I tend to lose track later in the song.
The First Sunday after Christmas for us always as well the last Sunday of the calendar year. The Sunday Next before New Year’s Day, the turning of the calendar page, making of resolutions, starting off with a clean slate. Don’t know how you’d assess your 2009. For me it had some up’s and some down’s, but on the whole I’d say it’s not particularly a year I’d want to repeat, if I had that choice on the menu.
If our Church Calendar is just beginning, Advent behind us now, then a bit more than a week of formal Christmastide still to go. Officially Christmas lasts up to or through January Sixth, the Feast of the Epiphany, traditionally associated with the arrival of the Magi. Sundown on the 5th marking the 12th Night, and then at sundown on the 6th we move into a green season called “After Epiphany.” Our Roman Catholic friends just call it “Ordinary Time.” Though in a more informal way I tend to count Christmastide through Candlemas, the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin Mary, the Presentation of our Lord in the Temple. So 40 days.
But the point: Advent and Christmas just the beginning of the new year, as we in the wider world of our lives are just watching the old one come to an end. As we come to the end, we arrive at the beginning. Time marches on, of course. No replay features on the remote. But there is at the same time this circularity. The calendar of our lives a both/and kind of thing. A straight line, a vector, a ray, sending us forward, and a wheel, bringing us around again, time and time again, to the place where we started.
The Gospel for the last Sunday of the year: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. “
A character of William Faulkner’s says, “the past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past.” True in so many ways of course. Thinking about all those misbehaving ballplayers and politicians and all the rest who hold their press conferences to announce that they’re “putting the past behind” them. And I suppose we all play that game to some extent. As they say in the 12-Step movement, “Denial isn’t just a river in Egypt.” It is of course a deep and wide river running through the center of all our lives in so many ways.
In theological language the miracle of Incarnation and the Birth at Bethlehem is a beginning that inaugurates a new season of the universe, the “last days.” In these Last Days, he comes to us. He who is both the foundation and the apex, the First Mover, and our Final Destination. Asleep in a Manger Bed, ruling on the Throne of Heaven from before time, and forever.
If it all seems a little poetical, that perhaps we can forgive that, at least at Christmas time. Asleep in a Manger Bed, and here on the Altar, “that he might dwell in us, and we in him.” Again, this circularity. The point on this Sunday after Christmas. That no matter how far we travel away from Bethlehem, no matter how much distance we would put between him and us, in the complexity of our lives, just look up, and there he is. Right in front of us again. And it is and will be Christmas.
Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God.