Words for the Baptism of Christ – 7 February 2021 – A cyber sermon from the Vicarage
Text: And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (John 1v14)
God give you peace my Sisters and Brothers.
I feel all thin, sort of stretched, if you know what I mean: like butter that has been scraped over too much bread. That can’t be right. I need a change or something. (Bilbo Baggins – The Fellowship of the Ring)
So says Bilbo Baggins to Gandalf in the very first chapter of JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings Trilogy. Mind you they are talking about preparations for his Eleventy-First Birthday party and anyone, even a hobbit, who has seen that many years deserves to feel tired and yearn for a little holiday with Elrond and the Elves. Readers soon discover that it is not simply having seen many birthdays that is weighing Bilbo down but that he has for many years been burdened by the Ring that has gnawed away at his soul and, if he does not pass it on soon, then like Gollum he will too become enthralled to ‘The Precious.’
He is not only ‘thin’ but is also empty and if something is not done soon to remove this burden from him he will be as lost as Gollum is doomed to be by the end of the tale.
Over the last months, reflecting on how the world, our nation, our community, and I myself have reacted to the incessant burden of the Covid 19 pandemic, feeling thin and stretched perhaps describes a common experience?
It seems as if we have suffered one defeat after another. A lockdown seems to work and we can breathe easily for a few weeks in the Summer and then a second and a third period of quarantine follow. Infection and death rates decline, medical workers begin to hope for an end and then they become even worse than before. Even the hope of a vaccine is tinged by the shadow of the virus mutating. Things look up only for hopes to be dashed.
It has been a long journey and although as Captain Sir Tom Moore said, ‘Tomorrow will be a good day’, we still feel thin, stretched and empty. If we are full of anything we are full of emptiness! Like Bilbo we ‘need a holiday, a very long holiday’ yet are faced with the fact that even a gentle stroll with a few friends along the Promenade is not permitted.
What answer is there for this ‘emptiness’, this ‘nothing’ of which the Neverending Story warns us? We need something of richness, something that brings us light and warmth, love and hope. In a world of ‘thin nothingness’ where is the weal for our woe?
And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (John 1v14)
To our emptiness the Word brings fullness
To our darkness the Word brings light
To our death the Word brings life.
And this is not a commonplace fullness. One after which we have received and been made replete only to find ourselves when the next crisis in life assails us that we are depleted once more.
This fullness is not a temporary passing of hunger pangs but a completion of our being that restores us to where we once were. Empowering us to once more as Children of God be fully protected by the power of the One who Loves us Best.
This fullness comes complete with the divine gifts of grace and truth.
A grace that moves beyond the simple and, sometimes, triteness of ‘everyone deserves a second chance’, to the deep everlasting unwarranted eternal loving kindness and ‘hesed’ of God displayed first to the Children of Israel and now in Christ to all of creation. This is an unconditional grace.
The very idea of ‘conditional’ grace is an oxymoron but that is so often how we see grace in action and, if we are honest, how we are tempted to live out grace ourselves. How often have we forgiven someone – an act of grace – but then immediately attached a condition to the forgiveness – an act of judgement?
This is not how our Beloved loves us!
The fullness of grace in Christ flows from the centre of God’s very existence. The act of creation was a moment of grace. The calling of Abraham and the choice of the Children of Israel (though it would seem their only consistency – as may be ours – was their profligacy) was a lesson in grace. The gift of a child born to live a perfect life and choosing to pour it out on the Cross is grace in action. As the old Sunday School acronym reminds us Grace is ‘God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.’
This is a grace complimented by Truth. Not some sort of legalistic truth that is beloved of some followers of all sorts of religions. (That sort of ‘judgemental’ truth is just as much an oxymoron as ‘conditional’ grace).
This is a truth that has one message and one message alone. God is love! A love so full and rich that it fills our emptiness, (so often fuelled by unforgiving spirits and judgemental hearts), banishes our darkness, and gives us contentment to replace our hunger, hope instead of despair, and life in the midst of death
Captain Sir Tom Moore was right you know, as we choose to yield our ‘thin nothingness’ to the One who is full of grace and truth Tomorrow will indeed be a good day.
[This blog ‘Filling Emptiness’ is copyright © Andrew Dotchin 2021 and may be reproduced without charge on condition that the source is acknowledged]