Sermon on John 1: 1-8
Preached on the 27th december at All Saints' Church Rome
He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. How do we get to know someone? You know me, because when I arrived, a picture and an introduction of me was posted on the All Saints’ Facebook page. You know me, because Father Rob introduced me the first Sunday I was here, you know me because we have had a conversation or you have seen me around. I am one of the members at All Saints’, one of you, therefore you know me.
Our Gospel passage of today starts with the Word of God, who was with God, and all things came into being through him. When we think of coming into being, do we think of Genesis? Dividing light and darkness? Seperating water from earth? Or do we think of something new springing up in a place where nothing was before? Creation? The word “coming” indicates that it is a journey, a process, motion, it takes work. And “being” reminds me of the verb “to be,” existance, identity. So coming into being could be translated to a journey to existance, or working towards an identity.
Let’s say you apply for a new job, you hand in your resumé, painting a picture of who you are. And when you get invited for an interview, you shake eachothers hands, not now, not now! You used to shake eachother’s hands. and say, Hi, my name is Chaja, I am here for an interview with Father Rob. The moment we share our name, our idenity starts forming. So when we talk about all things coming into being through the Word, is that because they are named? They are set apart and given their own identity?
But having a name is not enough. Another way of getting to know someome is by watching them. Observing, witnessing. How do they move, how do they stand, what does their body language tell us, are they mingling with the others, or sitting in a corner, not wanting to be noticed? If we only know someones name, but they are at the other side of the room, do we recognize them? Do we see them, not only in physical appearance, but for who they really are? Because it is possible to see someone and not know them.
It reminds me of the Gospels, Jesus trying to tell his disciples who he is, they know him as Jesus, they witnessed his work and his teaching. Yet, they still did not recognize him for who he really was. Perhaps they did not see it because they were blinded by grief after his death. Perhaps they were too occupied by worldy matters before it. Regardless of the reason, they had to journey and work through the stage where they did not see him, before they were able to recognize him.
During my early twenties I worked at McDonalds as a manager. One early afternoon a lady had come up to us, something had gone wrong, she had expected something else when she placed her order. That happens, and can be resolved quickly. But the lady reacted very emotional and it was hard to communicate with her. Despite trying to resolve the issue, she kept pressing the matter, really taking a stand and voicing her complaints on a level that the whole restaurant could hear it.
One of my crewmembers, a girl who had just turned seventeen, with the mindset that she definitly was a grown up and ready to conquer the world decided that she would not be spoken to in that way. After all, the customer had ordered the wrong thing, and blaming the restaurant for it was not fair!
Yet, with every reaction she gave, the lady’s frustration grew, in turn making the crewmember more defensive. I stepped in, send the crewmember away and let the lady speak. After pouring out all the frustrations and emotions she was experiencing, the lady calmed down. We resolved the issue and she left. Multiple crewmembers and another manager looked at me in disbelief.
“Why did you let her shout at you? It was her mistake? Her behaviour was so rude! I can’t believe you just let that happen. You should have told her to shut up!”
Fair enough, I said, but let’s look at the problem. Did we make the mistake? No. Is it a big mistake that can not be resolved? No. To have such a big reaction to something small, indicates that there is more going on. We don’t know who the people are who order food. We don’t know where they come from or where they are going, we are literally a stop-over. Perhaps this lady just got back from a funeral, or she has lost her job, or she received a very difficult call. I do not know what she was dealing with, and I do not need to know in order to help. All this lady needed was to be seen, to be heard, to be listened to.
What I was trying to say in that moment was: we don’t know anyone, without knowing their backstory. And we need to be careful not to draw conclusions.
There are many examples in our lives where we are not always able to ask for what we need, it can be hard to say; I am lonely, I am sad, I am struggling. But we can recognize it in someone else. Ofcourse this takes work, and effort. We have to be open to witness, we have to see the other person, we have to listen and we have to take action. For example by walking up to someone you don’t know by name yet, or who’s face you don’t recognize. Or by striking up a conversation with that one person who always talks way too long.
And then suddenly we find out that this person who always leaves before the end of the service, needs to because she has to be home in time to cook for her disabled neighbour. Or we find that the person in the corner is afraid to strike up conversation because they struggle with the language. And the one talking too much actually turns out to be very lonely, and the brief moments after a Sunday service are the only social moments he or she experiences in a week.
I know, it all sounds a bit heavy and dark for a Christmas day sermon doesn’t it. Two days ago we were singing Oh, come, all ye faithful, Joyful and triumphant! And here I am, preaching on loneliness and darkness in multiple ways. This Christmas is different, this year was hard, and that’s ok, and we will be ok. Because in a little while we will be singing the following from the hymn Angels from the Realms of glory: God with man is now residing, Yonder shines the infant light, Gloria, In excelsis deo!
And when we sing that look to the person next to you, to the people in front of you, to those behind you. To all who you wish the Peace of the Lord every week. What do you have in common with them? We gather here, because we believe that God has send his Son into our world, for our salvation.
And with his coming into the world, he gave us the power to all be Children of God, who were born by the will of God. And this family of ours, extends beyond this church. Extends beyond Via del Babuino, it extends beyond Rome. During every second, somewhere in this world; a person is praying, is welcoming God, is witnessing Jesus in their lives and letting his light in. We can bring his light into our lives, and in the lives of others, simply by being Children of God.
So today, after the service, I hope you’ll linger a little while longer. You could approach someone who’s name you vaguely remember or who’s face you might have seen, but who you do not know. Meet them, see them, listen to them. Get to know someone new this Christmas, go beyond the pleasantries. Take the time to listen and ask questions, enjoy company. And be inspired by that light, that has entered the world, be enlightened, and share.
For the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness will not overcome it.