New Eyes and Ears
John 1: 1-18
I love good art work, don't you? Of course, what constitutes good art varies from person to person... beauty is definitely in the "eye of the beholder."
Now I’m certainly no artist! No doubt about that... and I don’t claim to be! But, I do, occasionally, dabble in painting... when I have a little extra time. I’ve even taken several painting classes with Tawana Henson, at her art studio in Lanett. Some of you know Tawana... she’s the art instructor at W. O. Lance Elementary school... I’ve found that an occasional art class can be fun... despite the fact that I have no idea what I’m doing... it’s an easy way to express some creativity, and relieve some stress, I suppose...
But I’ve also found that you don’t have to be an accomplished artist to appreciate art. You can enjoy art and collect art... and see its beauty... with no specialized skills what-so-ever... no technical knowledge of paint and brushes and the like.
The same thing can be said of music... You don’t have to know how to play a piano, or understand how a piano works, to enjoy the sound... you don’t have to be a Bach or a Beethoven to appreciate music... and you certainly don’t have to have the voice of an angel to sing in the choir!
The only skill or ability necessary to appreciate the talent of an artist, or a musician... is the ability to look... to see... to listen... to hear... with your own eyes & ears. That’s how you appreciate the gift before you.
And I think the same thing’s true of the Christmas season (yes... we're still in the Christmas Season. Today is the 7th Day of the twelve day Christmas season that ends on January 5th!).
Of course, to truly “see” Christmas... to actually “hear” the message of the Gospel... we have to look beyond the sentimental and artificial... because most of the time we see Christmas (we experience Christmas) through the sights and sounds and traditions of our culture (the secular world around us).
There are many who measure the quality... or "goodness"... of their Christmas by how much they received... or whether or not they received the gift or gifts they wanted! But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, beating up the world's idea of Christmas and the narcissistic display it's become... maybe we need to consider the Church's approach to Christmas, too. I mean, even within the Christian Faith, we've developed faux image, a glorified, idealistic reality when it comes to Christmas story from the Gospels... Just look at our tidy, perfect nativity scenes... with Mary in her blue robe and Jesus lying peacefully in a feeding troth... surrounded by admirers and gift givers. It’s a peaceful, iconic scene that we all love and adore... it’s just not very realistic. Have you ever been in a cattle stall? Have you ever stood inside a working barn? The reality of the birth of Jesus seldom meets our ideals. And that's why we need "new" eyes and "new" ears to appreciate Jesus' birth...
John’s Gospel calls us to look at the birth of Jesus (the Incarnation of Christ) with new eyes... and to hear the story with new ears. We’re invited to let the words roll over us, like the sound of good music. We love to hear these words, even though we may not be too sure about what they mean... like soothing music that’s experienced and enjoyed and appreciated... even if it’s not fully understood.
But our Lesson from John is more than just the preface to the gospel... because the fact is... the remainder of the book is basically an elaboration on Verse 18: “No one has ever seen God. But God, the One and only, who is at the Father's side, has made him known."
Of course, John’s gospel is unique (it’s different from the Matthew, Mark & Luke). John has no nativity story, no animals in the barn, no shepherds, no angels. All the familiar, traditional images and characters are stripped away...
Instead, John gives us a hymn of praise... full of increasing light, celebrating the relationship between God and God’s one and only Son... and then extending that relationship to include all who receive... as in "all who received him, to all who believed in His name, He gave the right (or privilege) to be called the children of God." Powerful words that speak to us about the One who came to make all things new... even you and me!
We hear an awful lot about "keeping Christ in Christmas" these days. And as faithful followers of Christ, if we really want to "keep Christ in Christmas" - then we need to acknowledge, that if we only see... if we only appreciate... the sentimental side of Christ's incarnation... the baby lying in the manger, then we only see part of the picture. We don’t celebrate Advent (or the coming of Christ) by pretending that Christ hasn’t already come, so we don’t celebrate Christmas by pretending we don’t know what's going to happen to the Baby lying in the manger.
Christmas is NOT a stand alone event! The Birth of Christ cannot be properly appreciated apart from the whole story of Jesus... in fact, the manger is meaningless without the cross... as the cross is meaningless without the empty tomb! The birth, the crucifixion, the resurrection are inseparable. To separate the story of Jesus’ birth from the reality of the crucifixion is to engage in denial.
The whole story reminds us that Jesus was born to bring us light, and life, and hope and peace! But Jesus lived and died, and defeated death, in order for that life and hope and peace to be revealed.
Jesus... the Word made flesh, came among us... embracing the weakness of being like us... living out God’s purposes... and demonstrating how God, thru weakness, produces strength... how the first, become last, and the last first... how the poor become rich. It’s the One who dies, who gives life.
This Jesus comes to us full of grace and truth.
And the Good News is... you and I don’t need specialized skills or technical knowledge to grasp the message of the Gospel... but we do need “eyes to see” and “ears to hear”... Because, for those with “eyes to see” and “ears to hear” - the power of Christ opens our hearts and minds to the transformational power of the Gospel. And by receiving the power of the Gospel... the Life that was and is the Light of all men... transforms each of us into the children of God.
Of course, we can reject Christ's Light... we can continue business as usual... living in the darkness, shielding our eyes, and covering our ears... turning away from the truth. Or we can receive the transformational hope offered in the grace of Jesus... the One true Light... who transforms us into children of God... That's the message of Christmas... it's the message of the Gospel.
Pray for new eyes and ears.... For the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth.