Full of Grace and Truth

Homily for Christmas Day, Year A
St. Mark’s Episcopal Church

Merry Christmas!

You all know me: I’m an academic, a social worker, a writer, a musician, a priest and a preacher. So, there is nothing about me that doesn’t love words. My Dad was fond of telling a story about me as a preschooler and destined-to-be-social-worker: one day, my parents had stealthily gotten me into the car for a ride not knowing we were going…only for me to find out that it was to the doctor’s for some required immunizations. When we pulled up in front of the office and I was supposed to get out of the car, I barricaded myself inside and through my tears of fear cried out, “Can’t we just talk about this???!!” Sarah, in all of her vocational paths, has never been accused of not use her words. Too many words, possibly. But words hold meaning for me.

When we reach this lesson from Gospel according to John, usually on this Christmas Day, I get excited. I recognize that not everyone has the same love of the fourth Gospel or finds these words as exciting as the angelic choirs of the heavenly host, or shepherds watching their flocks by night. And I’ll admit, a Christmas Pageant based on the text from John wouldn’t be quite so adorable. So, I’m going to read the words of my favorite verse of this Christmas Gospel again in a few different ways, so you can hear a translation that resonates with you. Here it is first from our Lectionary, using the NRSV:

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14, NRSV)

Or, perhaps you like sound of the King James Version:

And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth. (John 1:14, KJV)

Or perhaps what resonates more is the paraphrase by Eugene Peterson in The Message:

The Word became flesh and blood,
and moved into the neighborhood.
We saw the glory with our own eyes,
the one-of-a-kind glory,
like Father, like Son,
Generous inside and out,
true from start to finish. (John 1:14, The Message)

The words of Christmas declaring that Jesus Christ is born are holy words, and the Incarnate Word coming to dwell with us in this world is a holy and awe-inspiring gift. It’s the Gift behind all of our gift-giving; the Joy inspiring all of our festivities; the Love that is the foundation for our love of one another. The Word is living among us, dwelling with us, and yes…has moved into the neighborhood! Riding the Pulse, walking down Arthur Ashe Boulevard, browsing through the VMFA, sheltering under the I-95 overpass. All of those places. The Word has moved in with us, through the ins and out of our days, and that is true whether we are home owners, renters, couch-surfers or living in a tent. The Word, beloved as an only child, has come to be with us. And we get to experience the Word that is God, filled with grace and truth.

It’s those two words that are standing out for me this year: Grace and Truth.

I’ve already confessed to being a word nerd, so no surprise that I needed to read those words not only in three translations, but also in context of their original language, which was Greek. Grace, “χάρις” a quality of generosity and loving-kindness, extending favor beyond that which is expected or deserved. It tips in favor of the recipient, and is freely extended without expectation or coercion. And Truth, “ἀλήθεια” which speaks to truth not merely as the presence of fact (or the absence of lies), but as holding a quality of essential, non-evasive reality being handed down existentially and therefore, knowable humanly. In ancient Greece, this was the “truth” to which Homer aspired and of which Plato spoke of as the essential meaning of all philosophy.

Let me connect those two words with another important word: AND

The writer of the fourth Gospel that we call John, and the followers of the Johanine community, had experienced this Grace, and had come to know this Truth. This opening narrative is a creation narrative, one of a new creation ushered in through the incarnation of Jesus Christ. It tells the Christmas story as one of truth and grace:

Jesus, whose birth ushers in a new divine reality, is present with us in a way which lavishes undeserved loving kindness AND does so unambiguously and with certainty.

The words of this Gospel text may be poetic, but they are not intended as metaphor or illusion. They were written to convey a gift of truth that had become known to those living them out in the experience of community. The gifts of Grace and Truth born of God are the realities of our lives as followers of Jesus Christ.

My hope and prayer is that you will leave this place today with these gifts being as real for you as the packages under your tree or in your stocking. My hope and prayer is that in these days where disinformation, half-truths, ideological panderings, and “spin” fill us with confusion and division, that you will receive the fullness of the essential truth of God’s profound Love made human in the person of Jesus Christ. My hope and prayer for you is that you don’t spend your days worried about your worthiness, or your nights anxious about what is to come and instead, receive the Grace upon Grace, lavished upon you with loving-kindness which is real, and present, and a gift none of us could ever deserve. And yet, it is given from the heart of God to all of us. And my hope and prayer for us throughout this Christmas season is that we come to understand this Love as the source of the good news of salvation which has come for all people and continues to be made known to us, and in us, and through us for all the world to see.

Joy to the World and Go Tell in on the Mountain friends: The Word dwells with us and Jesus Christ is born!

God, through your infinite Love the Word became flesh, breathing a new song of joy and praise into the world. Grant that we may speak the good news of your salvation filled with grace and truth, proclaiming your promise of peace to the ends of the earth. Amen.

About harasprice

Professor of Social Work and Priest in The Episcopal Church, parent, teacher, learner, writer, advocate, and grateful traveller along this journey through life
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