One of the gifts of this season, for the rest of us who are past the childhood stage of Christmas, is the gift of the end of the Iraq war and return of its soldiers. Though such a controversial war is hard to celebrate, still it is a relief to see families reunited, joined to one another in hugs and kisses, and tears of joy. Let’s hope the gifts they unwrap this year will be surprisingly wonderful and full of life. For some, of course, there are certain to be difficulties down the road. Re-integrating into civilian life will include a wide range of successes and failures.
A soldier from the war that NPR has followed for some years, Josh Apsey, who at 19 was still a teenager when he enlisted, is now home from Afghanistan once again. He said he was very idealistic when he first went, excited to be part of something bigger than himself, and, to face the evil that brought down the twin towers. But by his second tour of duty, he lost that romanticism, and his major motivation became survival. Between those two tours, he was promoted and put in charge of other Marines, and that responsibility also weighed on him, and he became attuned to the dangers that threatened all their lives. And then, getting married state-side, he began to appreciate that this was a job that could bring home a paycheck.
And so when that 2nd tour finished, everyone noticed, Josh was a changed person when he came back – his wife, his parents, and even himself. Josh feels lucky that since he returned, he’s working at Quantico, Virginia, training other Marines. And, he bought a house in the country where he lives with his wife and two dogs. But he’s not the same. "Sometimes I just feel like I'm a robot,” Josh told NPR. “I'm just going through all the motions but I'm not mentally and emotionally there,” he confessed. And Josh says he’s noticed that he's lost the ability to care. I don’t feel like I’m part of anything bigger than myself. I used to feel like I made a difference.
After worship last night I visited briefly with the Hamen’s about their Christmas plans for today. Their two grandsons from Madison were coming for a traditional Christmas at grandma and grandpa’s house, and I teased them a bit about not spoiling them. But the fact is, there’s something wonderful about experiencing Christmas through the wide-eyed excitement of children.
For those of us still seeking the wonder and joy of Christmas, even though we’re past that wide-eyed excitement of childhood, where do we turn? Well, today we turn the page from Luke’s gospel to John. We move on from the innocence of Luke’s story of the child born in a manger, surrounded by Shepherds and angels, cattle and donkeys, and we read this morning from John chapter 1, the Prologue of his gospel. And unwrapping John is a surprise and a delight in another way. Inside is the gift of the incarnation again, but packaged now as a more complex and rich gift for adults, a theological and poetic masterpiece.
Like re-opening the book of Genesis, and starting all over again in the creation story, we discover that Jesus was with God “in the beginning,” and indeed without Jesus nothing could have been created. Jesus the human, is divine too, and “not one thing came into being” without him. Jesus is the Logos, the Word. Just as when God spoke and things came into being each of the six days of creation, so Jesus is the word God speaks when life is created out of nothing – light from darkness, land from water, plants and animals, and so on. And the “life” that Jesus brings, is “the light of all people.” “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” And so, Jesus is our sun and moon, a bright shining star, that leads the way!
Instead of little Jesus in the manger, his humble parents Mary and Joseph, the cloistered and somewhat chaotic chorus of the animals and angels, John’s Prologue waxes boldly of a universe spoken into existence by Jesus, the Word of God, created for us “who received him.” And believing, having faith in him, he gives to us the gift of life, new and abundant life, a gift we are still unwrapping and newly delighted with. Now we too are the chosen people.
This is a gift for your “second tour of duty,” in this life. One to help you see and believe that there truly is something bigger than yourself, something to enable you to care again, to hope and love again. Here is a God that gifts us, with a surprise that we can’t wait to rip the wrapping paper off!
And receiving it, we know we can make a difference again – make a difference here in this world, which we see through our all too old eyes that have experienced – the loss of loved ones, the disappointment of separations, the hurt of addictions, the insensitivity and hate of discrimination and injustice, wars, poverty and natural disasters. Yet it is here, it is precisely here, that Jesus empowers us to be agents of grace and truth. God is an incarnational God, and God can work in and through us, even though we don’t feel up to, or feel worthy, of it. Something bigger than us has come very close to us, has shown us favor and loves us, and gives us permission to “make a difference in the world”.
Where will you make a difference in the world in the coming year? Do you know that experience in your life? Or are you still seeking that deeper, richer meaning? Where will we, as Unity Lutheran Church, make a difference in the world this coming year?
Some of us have done tours of duty beyond what we ever imagined, and we might like to hang it up! But the one who is bigger than ourselves does not let us go. The little new born child in Bethlehem, is also the Logos, the Word who is with God, and who is God, and who has chosen us. Jesus lights up our lives whenever we open our eyes to this miracle.
As John’s Prologue says: “And we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”