I went to the gym for a swim just after New Year’s and noticed what I call the annual surge. The health club we belong to is more crowded at the beginning of the year than later in the year. Folks get memberships for Christmas; others make New Year’s resolutions to get into shape. It’s a New Year! Many of us this time of year set goals to end certain habits and to begin new practices. We start out with purpose and conviction. It is a time of endings and new beginnings.
Our scripture readings for this second Sunday in Christmas speak of new beginnings. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.
Anyone with even a little bit of Bible knowledge will probably recognize those three words from the very beginning of the Bible. In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. John the gospel sets out to tell the old creation story in a new way: All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being…He was in the world, and the world came into being through him. From nothing to something, from death to new life, from despair to hope—it is God who miraculously, unexpectedly, brings into being new beginnings from what has passed.
The book of Genesis tells a story of new beginnings. From nothing came everything. But we know that new beginnings often don’t happen easily. God is always at work creating something new but what is new is not always welcomed. Last Sunday, for example, you heard the story of how King Herod, so afraid of the new creation that God was bringing about, ordered the destruction of many children. This week John writes that Christ came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.
When faced with something new—something that doesn’t seem to square with what we think we know–we may feel troubled and struggle to come to grips with what we experience.
For example, a few days ago a gay friend of mine told me about a trip he and his partner made recently. They’d been invited to a relative’s wedding but this was no ordinary wedding. It was the wedding of a man and a woman who are Southern Baptist and the wedding would take place deep in the heart of Alabama. You probably know that a Southern Baptist church might not be the first place you’d expect to find a gracious welcome for gay and lesbian people.
Nevertheless, these two men attended the wedding and, as my friend said, he and his partner couldn’t help but stick out in the crowd. Well, after the wedding ceremony and reception they returned home to Renton.
A few days later my friend got a phone call. It was one of his relatives in Alabama. And this relative said, “You really shook things up down here! People who met you loved you, but now they’re struggling. They don’t know what to do because they can’t reconcile what they used to believe about gay people with what they’ve experienced.” Now that they’ve met a gay couple and found them to be just regular human beings they don’t know what to do.
What do you think will happen for those Southern Baptists? They’re caught in the struggle between what they used to believe and the possibility of something new. It’s something all of us have experienced, and the people at that wedding will do what all of us do when confronted with something new. Either they’ll reject what’s new and return to what’s comfortable and familiar. Or, at some point they will choose to embrace a new creation.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The creation story is told first in Genesis and then again in John’s gospel. Part of the new creation, of course, is human–us! God created them male and female. Traditionally, that seemed pretty straight-forward. Most of us have been taught from an early age what is masculine and what is feminine. “This is what men are. This is what women are.” But in our rapidly- changing world those traditional ideas are being re-examined. And it’s not only questions of sexual orientation or gender identity. Stay-at-home dads have become very common. Wouldn’t have found that 50 or 100 years ago! In what we used to call traditional marriages women are often the primary breadwinner (as in our household). That’s new, too.
What is male? What is female? St. Paul writes that in Christ there is neither..male nor female, for all of you are one in Jesus Christ. Some of those who are having the hardest time adjusting to changes in traditional roles and identities are those who have allowed society to dictate who they are rather than welcome the God-given identity that is uniquely theirs, which is uniquely given to each of us. Men often struggle the most because they’ve gotten the message that they always have to be tough, strong, independent, providers, in control. But a lot of what we call “tough” or “macho” in the world covers a scared little boy afraid of accepting the marvelous creature God created him to be, that doesn’t fit those social expectations.
The Christmas story invites each of us to consider where in our lives we might be on the brink of becoming something new! It may not have anything to do with gender roles and identities. Where in our lives do we struggle with something new? Where do we find our former confidence and certainty shaken up by new ideas and new experiences? Where do we find our world being turned upside down? While our natural impulse may be to resist or run from such things, the internal struggle that we experience may be a sign that God is busy making us into something new. This is the same God who has said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”
It is the end of the Christmas season and the beginning of a new season—Epiphany. It is the end of one year and the beginning of a New Year. From death to new life, from despair to hope—it is God who miraculously, unexpectedly, brings into being new beginnings from what has passed. We can make resolutions and we may break resolutions! But in the end it’s not about us and what we can or can’t do. No matter who we are and no matter what our situation, it is the Word made flesh, the light of the world, who lives among us, who lives within us, full of grace and truth, who walks with us in our endings, preparing each of us and all of us for new beginnings.