The First Sunday after Christmas Day is often called “Low Sunday” because attendance in Episcopal churches is typically sparse at best. Folks that amble into the wide availability of pews can be forgiven for wondering if “The Rapture” has come and somehow they’ve been “left behind.”
And that’s a pity, because there is an abundance of joyful reminders of Emmanuel, God With Us. Indeed, the opening collect is one of the most meaningful in the Prayer Book, bursting with layer upon layer of truth and significance:
Almighty God, you have poured upon us the new light of your incarnate Word: Grant that this light, enkindled in our hearts, may shine forth in our lives; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
That image, of a “new light” being “poured upon us,” evokes for me here in the dead of winter the warm thoughts of simply basking in the brightest of sunlight that offer comforting heat but does not blister or burn, sunlight that leaves no shadow nor room for any darkness.
Such light, as we are told in the collect, is the light of the “incarnate Word,” echoing the word so expressively presented in the opening sentences of The Gospel of John, the appointed Gospel for this first Sunday following Christmas Day:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. (Jn. 1:1)
The writer of John was not so much a biographer as a free-verse poet, presenting the Oneness of Jesus with God and Creation more than promoting any legend about the man. There are no shepherds in the Nativity story for John, no Wise Men, no “angels we have heard on high,” not even a stable. In John’s Gospel, Jesus is not so much born as Jesus simply is, from before time and for eternity, the Logos Incarnate, the “Word made flesh.” For John, to begin his version of THE Story — above all stories — in this way, was meant, I think, to drive home the point that Jesus was present from the start, because logos was present from the start. The Jesus of John manifests the Highest and Best and Ultimate of humankind, merged with the Divine Force of the vast cosmos. Logos in the flesh.
And now that this Word has taken human form, shedding its “new light” on a dark world, this lovely opening Collect reminded me that it is lavishly, extravagantly, ceaselessly “poured upon us.”
Only on rare occasion do I allow myself to comprehend such a fantastic thing. I’m not sure why that is exactly, except that if I take seriously the notion, allow it really to penetrate this hardened and scarred lawyer’s heart, I fear the sheer overwhelming Goodness of “the Good News” can cause my all too human heart to burst, not merely be “enkindled.” This Incarnate Word made flesh reminds me that God is not the God of the far off. God is the God of the here and now. God of the gritty, smelly, sweaty muck of life. God of the flesh.
And the word became flesh and lived among us…No one has seen God. It is God the only Son, who is the closest to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.
(Jn. 1:14, 18)