This glory of which Saint John writes
is not the glory of choirs of angels and heavenly hosts
singing peace on earth.
It is not the glory of shepherds
leaving their flocks and going to the manger.
It is not the glory of three magi from afar,
following a star to the place of humble birth.

No, in Saint John's telling
of the beginning of the Word made flesh,
glory means
one very specific and quite jarring thing.
The cross.

Its not that Saint John isn't interested
in the making of pageantry and festive cheer.
Much of our solemn liturgical imagery, ritual and theology
derives from Saint John's Gospel.

No, its just that the community for which this Gospel was written,
wasn't thinking about pageantry,
wasn't enjoying festive cheer.
How could they?
Their synagogue was fracturing.
Their society was pulling apart.
Family members hurled insults at other family members.
Friends threatened friends in unspeakable ways.
Religious one-up-man-ship ruled the day.

Those of Saint John's community
who found themselves
separated from their synagogue,
found themselves sitting
in shame,
in embarrassment,
in defeat,
in division.

The source of their stress and struggle?
Jesus and that troublesome cross.

And so, Saint John's entire Gospel
is a claim, a confession
that the cross
is not shame,
is not embarrassment,
is not defeat,
is not divisive
—as so many have misinterpreted, misused it.

But, instead, the cross is God's
defining and definitive Word of grace and truth.
We know these sorts of situations.
We've sat around dinner tables and conference tables,
in offices and coffeeshops
where human kindness breaks down.
Over politics.
Religion.
Power.
Identity.

In a climate where seemingly
every candidate,
every institution
every family
every religious community
we know
has adopted
incendiary speech
and hostile ways of acting,
its hard for our humanity not to break down.

Like an addictive substance,
this noixious climate drugs us all.
Luring us
and ruining us
all at the same time.

We feel it especially at Christmas and other
festive times
when the contrast between
how we ought to act and relate to one another
and our ways of
separation,
division,
loneliness
is more pronounced than on any other day of the year.

This painful heartache
causes many to resent the joy we see around us,
causes us to resent each other.

Before I say anything more
about God's definitive Word of grace and truth,
about this Word made flesh we behold today,
I want to say clearly that
Saint John's Gospel is not without
remnants of such painful heartache
and resentment.

We encounter a bit of these remnants
in the poetic prologue we heard today.
"The world did not know him."
"His own people did not accept him."

Lest we fall into our ancestor's anti-Jewish trap,
it is critical that we read
the enlightened view
of the prologue onto the Gospel,
and not the remnants of heartache and resentment
within the Gospel
onto the prologue
or, for that matter,
onto the rest of the Gospel, itself.

Put another way,
encounter Saint John's Gospel
through his final claim,
and final confession
that the cross
is not shame,
is not embarrassment,
is not defeat,
is not divisive
but is God's defining and definitive Word of grace and truth
trying to help us deal with this noxious world of ours,
trying to help us deal with ourselves.

The author of Hebrews tells us
God has tried to help us deal with ourselves
"In many and various ways."
From the moment in the Garden
when one of God's companions
said the other had encouraged the
taking and eating of the fruit of the tree
from which they were not to take and eat,
God has been seeking reconciliation.

As liberator,
God speaks a word of freedom,
choosing captive people
and leading them to the Promised Land.

As through the prophets
God speaks a word of justice and peace
bringing restoration to a people in exile,
redeeming Jerusalem.

"Long ago, and in many and various ways,"
and even today
God tries to help us deal with ourselves.
Deal with the waring madness among us.
With our prejudice.
With our neglect.
With our hostile ways with one another
and with the planet we call home.

We need these "many and various ways."

We need strong words of liberation.
We need incessant calls for justice.
We need prayers and politics seeking peace.
We need prophetic hope.

But, Saint John's witness to us this day,
is that we need something even more.

We need one another.
And not just the "one another"
who act, and think, and look like us.
But the other.
Those who do not act like us.
Those who do not think like us.
Those who will never look like us.
Even our enemies.

For who else do we expect to live next to,
who else do we expect to share
our communities,
our houses of worship,
our nation,
our planet with,
after all our campaigning,
all our politicing,
all our debating,
all our liberating,
all our justice making,
all our peace making,
all our hopes for a brighter future
are fulfilled
if not those with whom we presently disagree,
those with whom we are in conflict?

Here's the thing Saint John's community in conflict
eventually learned,
the thing we so desperately need to learn today
when divisive rhetoric threatens to tear us apart:
if we have all things
but do not have one another,
we have nothing.

We are one nation.
We are one people.
We are one planet.
We are one human family.
We are all the children of God,
and not simply the sum of all God's children's parts.

Because in us all
is the Word of God.

Born in us this day
is the Word made flesh.

The eternal Word of God,
found in glory on the cross.

Grace and truth, Saint John calls it.
For God, once and for all,
establishes and enables
light that the darkness cannot overcome,
life that death cannot subdue.

Restores the dignity of human nature,
as God, literally, puts God back in us.
The very breath of life.
As in the beginning.

Which changes us.
Changes how God sees us.
Changes how we see one another.
For we no longer relate simply to one another.
But relate to
God in Christ Jesus
in
each other.

God in Christ Jesus in those we love.
And
God in Christ Jesus
in
those we struggle to love.

Which is why,
on the night of his betrayal,
Jesus gets down on his knees,
bends low
and washes the feet of his disciples.
One by one.
Including the feet of his betrayer.

As close as its possible to get to the dust of the earth.
And there, to the very breath of life.

Breath that brings generosity and understanding.
Breath that creates new spaces for possibility.
Breath that leads us to what we can not see by ourselves.
Breath that opens us to God and to one another.

Bending low and washing feet
—in whatever way
dust of the earth is joined with the very breath of God—
is meeting each other where God meets us:
not in
our vitriol,
our rancor, or
our rhetoric
but
in our brokenness,
in our uncertainty,
in our humility,
in our lowliness,
—from a manger to the foot of the cross.

This sort of encounter with God and with one another
is not undemanding or always comfortable.
Nothing about the cross is.
For us.
Or for God.

Which is why God gives us this table.
This table at which a meal is shared.
That meal of betrayal.
And brokenness.
That meal of death.

Which, the church, in its great wisdom
claims to be a meal of life.
Peace and justice,
hope and liberation,
reconciliation with God and with one another
in the very breaking —the breaking!— of the bread.

For we are not simply fed at this table.
Just as this meal is not simply
one of our own setting or our own choosing.

No, God in us is fed at this table.
God in us fed with God's very self.

Which is how the
"true light, which enlightens everyone,
was (and is) coming into this world."
"For we are born,
not of blood
or of the will of the flesh
or of the will of man,
but of God"
in the taking and the eating of this bread,
in the sharing of the body of Christ,
in the being of the eternal Word of God
incarnate in this, our fleshy, human selves.
Wondrously made.
And yet more wondrously restored.

If we seek to do anything in this world,
if we seek to be anything in this world,
that is of God,
it is the body of Christ.

Broken, yet more gloriously being made whole.
Crucified, yet more gloriously being raise up.
Dead, yet more gloriously alive.
A Word of grace and truth.
For us.
And for all humankind.

Jared R. Stahler
Saint Peter's Church
In the City of New York

THE NATIVITY OF OUR LORD
CHRISTMAS DAY

December 25, 2015
Isaiah 52:7-10
Psalm 98
Hebrews 1:1-12
Saint John 1:1-14