This is my homily for the spoken Eucharist on December 30, 2018, a day on which our principal service was Lessons & Carols. The lectionary can be found here.
A little more than a year ago, I had one of the most amazing experiences of my whole life. It was a dreary day and I was feeling kind of blah. Okay, I was feeling more than “blah.” I was cranky. The dreary day followed a couple of intense weeks, with several deaths and other sad or frustrating experiences in my hospice chaplaincy. I was tired and grieving and hungry and anxious to get home to my warm and comfortable home on a wet and dreary day. It wasn’t happening soon enough and I was cranky. Very cranky.
Finally, after what felt like an eternity, I was on my way home. To get from my office to my home, I headed due north on Rt. 95 and made a right turn onto Rt. 195 East. I turned onto 195 and had not driven more than 100 yards when I saw the most spectacular rainbow I’ve ever seen. A double rainbow with colors so vivid they didn’t seem real. It was huge! It was so huge that it seemed to touch the ground. You couldn’t see the arch at the bottom of the lower rainbow. And I love rainbows. They remind me of God’s promise to Noah after the flood. Seeing this rainbow lifted my spirits immediately.
And then it got better than that, if you can believe it! I drove a bit further and found myself noticing that everything looked soft, kind of fuzzy, and oh-so-colorful. I realized I was driving in the rainbow! The colors were beautiful: vivid and vibrant, shimmering. They were spectacular and I saw them with an astounding clarity. As clear and as vibrant as they were, there was nothing harsh or stark about them. I wish I could describe what I felt in those moments. What I can say is that I had an awareness of God, of God’s presence, that is beyond the typical. And although only a few minutes before I had been dying to get home, I found myself wondering if it would be possible to simply stop, to stay where I was, to bask in the prismatic light and continue to soak up this awesome experience of God’s grace.
I remember thinking of the passage from John that is today’s Gospel, which, though not necessarily the easiest to understand, is one of my favorites. I love the poetry and the mystery. On that day on the highway I thought about light and grace. It thought about the kind of light and grace that brings life, that which can overcome darkness, all sorts of darkness, including the darkness of my crankiness. And now, reading this Gospel I think about what it was like to be bathed in light, to want to sit and be silent while basking in it. I can honestly say this was truly a transformative experience, beyond what it did to lift my spirits.
Now, I know not everyone will be lucky enough to be able to spend time inside a rainbow. Yet, we all will have some kind of experience that speaks to us in the way we need in order to be open to experiencing God’s grace and light in the ways we need to be reminded of what’s most important, to be reminded who and whose we are.
Today’s Gospel reminds us who and whose we are because it is all about who God is, who Jesus is, and what that means for us, for the world. We are reminded that, no matter our attempts to define God, to understand God, to do what sometimes feels to me like putting God in a box, God can never be fully understood. Nor is there anything God would not do to help us journey deeper in God’s heart, to invite, encourage, and support us to be part of the realization of God’s dream for God’s world.
The incarnation, the inbreaking of God into the world in the infant Jesus, is one of the many ways other than rainbows that God reminds us of the promises that are ours simply because God is who God is, regardless of whether we can navigate 40 days and nights of flooding with an ark full of animals or if we get unusually cranky at some time or another in our lives. It still amazes me, after all of my years of living and the years of intentional study and commitment to my faith, that God could love so fully and completely and unconditionally that entering the world in human form, to live and grow and die as one of us would even begin to make sense. Can you imagine knowing what God knows about humankind and the mess we so easily make of so much and then deciding of your own free will to make the choice to become as vulnerable as one can possibly be to show the people who do ultimately kill you how much you love them? Wow! Just wow.
The incarnation is one of life’s most awe-inspiring mysteries. It is the most wonderful of paradoxes: nothing we can begin to be fully understand and yet something we can personally and intimately experience, even today, over 2000 years later. My prayer for you, for all of us and the world, is that we remain open to experiencing grace and light whenever, wherever, and however we have the chance. I pray, too, that when we have those experiences we remember them in the darkness that will undoubtedly be a part of our lives, and remember that the promise for us is light and life.