Second Sunday of Christmas
"Window to Heaven," Pastor Kinsey
“In the beginning… In the beginning was the word…” The first sentence of John’s Gospel, catches our ears. In the beginning, is the exact same way the Bible begins, with the story of creation in Genesis, the very first book of the Bible: In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
John wants to imprint in our minds how the beginning of the Gospel story, the story about Jesus the Christ, is knit into the beginning, of everything. Jesus, the Word, was not only in the beginning with God, but Jesus was God. Jesus the Word was co-creator of our universe along with God. And, “in Jesus was life, and the life was the light of all people.”
On this Second Sunday of Christmas, and the 10th day of the Christmas season, we continue to celebrate the baby Jesus, born in a manger. And we usually emphasize – and rightly so – his humble, innocent beginning. But today we lift up his birth, his beginning from the beginning of creation, and even before that, how Jesus was with God and was God. Finally, at the right time, God sent Jesus to be born in the flesh, into our world, to shine a light, and bring us life.
This is a tremendous, and beautiful, and powerful claim – an insight of faith. Jesus is humbly born a child in a manger, and, Jesus is the Word of grace and truth, who is God.
In the early days of Byzantium Christianity in the 4th century, until the Middle Ages and the Reformation, one of the ways the gospel stories were told was through the art work of Icons. Most people did not learn to read and write, and the use of icons was able to tell the stories of the Bible with innovation and beauty, that all could comprehend.
I wish our friend, and former member, Terah Walkup was still here, and hadn’t moved to Exeter, England in September, where her partner Ross accepted his first professorship. Not that we begrudge them that! But Terah worked at the Art Institute of Chicago, and part of her professional training was with icons. She could tell us things very few others could, about our new Nativity of Christ icon in the prayer area, on this side, over here.
Whether you study the icons, we change seasonally, or just like to light candles, most people appreciate their beauty and how they enhance our worship.
One of the things Terah taught us in our field trip to the Art Institute for the Byzantium show on Icons last year was that, the colors they used have distinct meanings. Red means divinity, and blue humanity, for example. So Jesus is usually pictured wearing red undergarments and blue outer garments – symbolizing, God made human. Whereas, Mary is usually the opposite, blue undergarments and a red robe – human being, granted gifts by God. The color gold represents the radiance of heaven, and Jesus, the saints and the angels, are normally depicted wearing gold halo’s. While angels, and sometimes John the Baptist, have wings, symbolizing that they are messengers. The symbolism of icons was rarely deviated from, in order for the people to learn and grow in their faith.
You can see all this in our Nativity icon: Mary and Jesus are clearly the center of attention, adorned in their gold halo’s. They’re in a cave, the recognized birth place of Jesus by those who lived in Palestine, and the common homes of the poor. And cattle are there, as animals would be in those ancient homes – though they wouldn’t have had cows. Europe, might have had cattle, but in Palestine it would be, and still is, goats – which reflect the Cretan and western Mediterranean origins of this icon. And above, you can see the one angel of the Lord proclaiming the good news of Jesus’ birth to the Shepherds, and also the whole host of angels praising God and Jesus. I love the gold stars surrounding them too!
There’s at least two other scenes for you to discover yourselves. And here, what Terah taught us is that the artistic style of icons allows for the telling of a biblical story that has more than one scene. One will be easy, and I know you’ll get right away, if you haven’t already. It has to do with three guys, wearing crowns, and carrying gifts – the part of the Christmas story we’ll be celebrating this Wednesday, January 6th! The other is another story from Luke about Jesus, more obscure, that happened on the 8th and 40th day after his birth.
This is such a beautiful icon. And I think what sets it apart, is its portrayal of light. Jesus is dressed in white swaddling clothes, and white is another icon symbol for the light of God. And here, the light is beaming down, directly from above.
”In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” John’s Gospel begins. “What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”
What are the ways that Jesus has shined on you in your life? How has that drawn you closer to God? Who are the messengers for you? Do you have a guardian angel? Or do you tune in to John the Baptist and listen for his prophetic and heavenly message? Who stirs your soul the most? And when you take time to acknowledge them in your life, how is it that you feel full and satisfied, loved and of value?
Icons are for us, windows to heaven. We know now, of course, that heaven is not literally up there, and hell’s not below, down there. They may not be physical places. But heaven is more than just a state of mind too. Heaven is where God, and Jesus, and the Spirit reign in our lives, and where the power of evil cannot put out the light, where creation and all of life is birthed from, is redeemed, and sustained, for us. That’s a power and a gift that no one else can give, or own.
And that’s the life and the light that was revealed in the babe in a manger, the healer who always received, and never turned away, the blind, the deaf, and the lame, the prophet who never backed down from defending God’s honor and God’s word, the savior who drank the cup of human suffering, and who was exalted, even after suffering the most shameful death.
Each icon is a depiction of one part of this story, which opens a window on the God no one has ever seen, as John says. So that, like the gospels themselves, icons reveal God to us, through Jesus, the Son, the life and the light for all. And we are enriched and uplifted.
Our Nativity of Christ icon, can enlighten us, even as we light candles, and offer our prayers, near it. Just a glimpse, can help us to see something new, or embolden and renew, what we already love about our faith and heritage in Christ.
And so we become little lights too, carrying its beauty and story out into the world, into our neighborhoods, and every event and home we go to.
From Christ’s fullness, we have all received, grace upon grace. Let us continue to be lights for the world, and share this good news of God’s saving grace, in all we do.