December 26, 2021

Christmas 1

 

You'll find a video of the entire service at

https://www.facebook.com/StStephensSLO/videos/1322448338261748

 

The sermon, preached by Rev. Karen Siegfriedt, begins about 21 minutes into the service.

 

Click here for the Service Booklet and Hymns for Christmas and Epiphany.

 

See text of the sermon below or click here for a pdf of the sermon.

 

2021 Dec26

 

Let Your Light Shine!

Christmas 1 – Year C
A Sermon Preached by The Rev. Karen Siegfriedt

 

There is an apocryphal story about Pope Julius II who came to visit the famous sculptor Michelangelo during the 16th century. While still working on the statue of David in his studio, the Pope marveled at its beauty and asked: “How do you know what to cut away?” Michelangelo replied: “It’s simple. I just remove everything that doesn’t look like David.”  Michelangelo believed that every block of stone has a statue inside it and that it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.


In a similar fashion, every person is like that block of stone! There is a shining greatness inside of us, an authentic self that longs to be exposed.  According to today’s gospel, every human being has been created with the divine image embedded within.  And it is the task of each one of us to discover this divine light by chipping away at all that hinders its brightness.  Today, I would like to talk about releasing the Light within so that we can illuminate the dark corners of this precious life we have been given.  I will use today’s passage from the gospel of John as my text.


Yesterday, we celebrated Christmas Day.  Each year, it is a momentous occasion when many folks pull out all the stops, turn up the music, switch on the lights, exchange gifts, and feast at the table with friends and family. This generous spirit (that the season of Christmas often evokes), can bring joy to our hearts, strengthen our hope, and lighten some of the dark places in our lives and in the world.  So Merry Christmas to each and every one of you!


The celebration of Christmas is also a time when we recall the story of how God’s Word, became fully enfleshed in a newborn, Jewish baby from the Middle East, some 2000 years ago.  Eventually, this baby grew up to become a teacher, a healer, a prophet, a shining light who turned the conventional wisdom of his day up-side-down.  This is the one whom Christians refer to as the messiah, the anointed one, the Son of God.  But if we were to end the Christmas story with the arrival of Jesus, we would deprive ourselves of the fullness of the good news.  And the good news is this:  Each and every one of you has been stamped with the divine imprint, born with a divine light shining within.  Today’s gospel unites the Light of Christ to this inner light, making us all sons and daughters of God. (John 1:12-13)


So how do we understand this divine light that resides within? How do we speak about the divine imprint through which every cell in our body has been created?  And how can we cultivate this incredible spirit of God that we celebrate in the person of Jesus yet have not fully acknowledged within ourselves?  The gospel of John uses the Greek word logos to communicate God’s imprint in creation.  This word logos can be translated as the Word, or the spirit, or the mind.  Let’s take a closer look at today’s reading from the gospel of John to gain further insight.  


“In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. The Word was with God in the beginning. Everything came into being through the Word, and without the Word nothing came into being.  What came into being through the Word was life, and the life was the light for all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not extinguish the light.” (John 1:1-4  CEV)  


John’s gospel declares that there is no separation between God and creation.  This Word, this Eternal Word of God, took its abiding place on Earth from the very beginning and became enfleshed in the person of Jesus who personifies the union between spirit and matter.  This passage is one of the most profound theological statements about the divinity of human kind that can be found in Scripture.  And yet somehow, we tend to gloss over it and focus solely on the divinity of Jesus.  In so doing, we place Jesus on a pedestal and tell stories about him, failing to realize that Jesus is the template for the whole human race.  


Jesus said, if you want to know the way to God, if you want to reveal the image of God in which you were created, then follow me.  But instead of following Jesus as the way, the truth, and the life, we began to worship Jesus, form doctrine about Jesus, and made him the super hero of the story.  We have forgotten that our primary task as followers of the Way is to become like him, putting on the mind of Christ, and walking in his sacrificial ways of compassion.


Remember, the same Spirit of God that was in Jesus is the same Spirit of God that is in each one of you.  The only difference is that Jesus fully claimed this Spirit, lived by this Spirit, and gave his life for the Spirit.  He was an authentic human being, shining the divine light from within, using his gifts of healing and teaching to show us the pathway to God.  Because he was fully human, he too had to chip away at those temptations, those extra pieces of stone that could have hindered him from living a Spirit-filled life.  These temptations (which he struggled with in the desert) included issues of identity, bodily cravings, security, and power. (Luke 4:1-13)  What might they be for you?


The Christian life is geared to removing those hindrances, those unnecessary pieces of stone that dull the divine light from shining forth.  Believing in religious doctrine is simply not enough for this to happen.  We are being called to a spiritual awakening: to become conscious of our true selves, to address the deceptions of the ego that keep us imprisoned, and to remove those distractions that prevent us from seeking and serving Christ in all persons, including ourselves.


In summary, we are called to let our light shine! Whatever it is that shades your light, that keeps you from loving God and your neighbor with your whole heart, mind, and strength, is what you need to chip away at.  For some, it is overcoming pride, hypocrisy, or impatience.  For others, it is curbing one’s self-indulgent appetites and intemperate love of worldly goods and comforts.  For many, it is working through the process of forgiveness in order to release the  anger, resentment, and traumas from the past.  For me, it is to cultivate joy and gratitude in my life so that my presence (not just my words) will be a witness to the good news in Christ. This requires me to constantly chip away at those old grievances that shroud the light and sap my joy.


This process of chipping away the excess stone is a process of healing whereby grace plays a major role.  And one of the ways to open one’s self up to the gift of grace, is by embracing spiritual practices that include but are not limited to 12 step programs, psycho-therapy, forgiveness, gratitude, generous giving, prayer, meditation, awareness of the present moment, service to others, caring for your body, and protecting mother earth.  


Michelangelo once was quoted as saying:  “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.”  For Michelangelo, the idea was already there, inside the hunk of stone. His eyes and hands were merely the vessels by which the piece of art was brought forth into the physical world as he and God had originally intended.


And so it is with all of humanity.  Like the angel encased in stone, we were born to be set free: free to love, free to experience abundant life, and free to become our authentic selves.  Each one of us is a beautiful human being, a child of God made in his image.  We were created with a divine imprint, endowed with an inner light that is waiting to be revealed to the world.  


So as we celebrate this second day of Christmas and this feast day of St. Stephen, we continue to pray:  “Almighty God, you have poured upon us the new light of your incarnate Word: Grant that this light, enkindled in our hearts, may shine forth in our lives; through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (opening collect-BCP 213)

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