No More Layaway Plans

Law and time are intertwined with each other.  Law is time’s scorecard of did you do it right or wrong, on time or late?  The holidays only heighten this experience.  I was in the mail order business for a number of years, and every year we would make a mistake.  We would miss the UPS truck; a snowstorm would clog UPS air service or a vendor would miss ship something.  Every year the deadline of Christmas was unforgiving.  I remember a huge winter storm that shut down the UPS Air shipments thus grounding all of our Virginia Hams in Louisville.  I explained what had happened to a customer who lost a ham.  The conversation turned south, and the customer explained that “we had ruined Christmas and that her brother would never return for the holidays.”

Time and the Law go hand in hand because they are unforgiving.

We see in the Gospel and Epistle reading today a clear picture of the cosmic work of the Creator and its affect on us, the individual creature.  The one way work on our behalf done on a cosmic level.

The Gospel reading is an expanded version of what we read at Nine Lesson and Carols and again on Christmas Day.  We read John’s Prologue, as it is called, is a recapitulation of creation.  A new creation in a Word that has been made Flesh. A new creation born on Christmas and ushered in with the fullness of time.

John tells us that the word became flesh – we understand and describe this as a babe born in a manger.  A birth that comes in the fullness of time as we heard in Paul’s letter.  The Fullness of time, of God’s appointed time.  We prayed in our collet today, “you (God) have poured upon us the new light of your incarnate Word”, in other words, this is a offers us a renewal. A Reset.  New Life.

St. Athanasius said: “True Renewal of creation has been wrought by the Self…(This is the) same Word who made it in the beginning.”

Many theologians have speculated on why God choose “this time” to bring about the fullness of creation and the birth of the Word.  I think that is less relevant than John’s next word about the new creation that it has wrought “grace upon grace.”

As God entered our time, and his own creation in flesh, in the baby in a manger, he brought not thunderbolts, nor tanks, nor laws, nor condemnation, but he brought vulnerability, love, and grace.  God brought the one thing that was contra to the ways of law and scorekeeping.  John writes, “The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”

God has brought about a new creation that is based upon grace upon grace.  Grace and free gifts work completely contrary to the way we are hard wired and the way that the World functions.  The way that each tick of the clock piles on more regrets, resentments, and more pain.

What does John mean for you and me, practically?  If you skip the party, well you miss the party, if you miss something than it is missed, and so forth.  Think about my customer who’s relationship was hanging on a ham delivery.

Maybe this speaks to where you are right now…  If I can just get to 2015, I’ll stop looking at pornography,  I am not going to drink after New Year’s Eve, or I’ll spend more time with aging parents, or my kids, I just need to get through the rough patch and everything will be okay.

The write Anne Lamott states “Summer nearly does me in every year. It’s too hot, and the light is unforgiving and the days go on way too long.”

If you have experienced one of those moments “frozen” in time then you know exactly what Lamott is talking about.

I remember the exact place.  I had returned to Middlebury College on probation.  I had promised not to drink.  I made commitments to the Dean’s about what I would and would not do.  It was a clear and bright fall day in Vermont.  Crisp and colorful.  I was at a party, too late.  I ran into antagonists, who challenged me to a shot of Jack Daniels.  “What a southern boy cannot drink?”  I dodged and tried to weave.  I failed, and as I let the bottle of Jack Daniels hit my lips, I saw the Middlebury College security officer coming towards me.

As a result of this moment in time, I was suspended from Middlebury College.  The world’s light and time are completely unforgiving.  Time’s unforgiving nature is a metaphor for the way that the law works in our life.

The Good News is that John and Paul are pointing us towards this restart.  Paul is addressing the church in Galatia about new creation and the freedom experienced under Christ.  This freedom is a freedom from the “condemning warden” of the law.  Law that freezes us in our uncertainly, in our mistakes, and self-condemnation and judgment.  Law that exposes our sins and suspends us from College.

Recreation is part and parcel to grace.  We cannot recreate ourselves, no matter how hard we try, how hard we make promises, how hard we try to live completely orderly in time…Only Christ can change our hearts, and it is only by the grace of God that any of this occurs.  This is it, folks; Christ is the Telos or the fulfillment of the law.  Christ has fulfilled our work for us.  He has done the work for us and paid our bill, and this is we become free and children of God.

I love restarts and do-overs.  I still find myself falling into this trap.  I’ll work ahead on the next sermon, I’ll start working out in the new year, I’ll do… sometimes I feel like I say I’ll do it X until the blue skies turn dark, and I have nowhere to go…no more I’ll do it differently, this was certainly the experience of Middlebury College.

Have you heard about layaway angels?  This beautiful phenomenon began a few years ago.  It works like.  A woman walks into a Toys ‘R’ Us in Massachusetts and says I need to pay off the Layaway.  The clerks ask for the person’s name, and the customer replies I want to pay off all of the accounts.  The clerk says, what is your name, and this goes back and forth until the clerk realizes that the customer wants to pay and settle all debts.  An angel visited  one store to the tune of $20,000 worth of toys – the next day a mother walked into the store to explain how their savings would not stretch as far as they had originally thought ergo they needed to let go of their layaway items.

When the mother approached the counter, she learned that her debts had been forgiven and that the items were hers, free and unconditionally.

God in the Fullness of time sent his Son to be born of a virgin, to take on our flesh and to die us ultimately, this perfect sacrifice and oblation, given to us on Christmas is free and unconditional.  God loves us unconditionally.