John 1:1-18

One of my Brothers told me the other day about seeing Julia Child weeping.  She was with the French chef Jacques Pepin on her TV show and they had made a nectarine tart.  When it was finished, they sat down to eat.  Julia wept.  That something so good, so beautiful, so wonderful, so delicious should exist in this life moved her to tears.

I once had a piano student, a seven year old girl, very gifted.  One day she played a Bach Minuet for her lesson—a simple, but lovely piece that piano students play in their second or third year. She played with confidence and exquisite sensitivity.  And as she did, a big tear rolled down her cheek, which I pretended not to notice.  But I knew what was happening: she was in that moment awakening to the possibility of beauty.  Awakening to the beauty and goodness that are actual possibilities in this life.  And she was making it happen—with her own hands!

We have all had moments of awakening–awakening to goodness and beauty, to grace and truth.  To light and life and love.  It can happen in so many ways.  On this New Year’s Eve we might reminisce on those moments of awakening.  What have those moments been for you?

Maybe it was seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time. Or seeing the night sky for the thousandth time, but really seeing it for the first time.  Or holding a new-born baby.  Or reading about some extraordinary act of kindness.  Or encountering a great work of art unexpectedly.  I remember the time I stumbled across the Winged Victory in the Louvre—it nearly knocked me down. The magnificent outstretched wings. The billowing folds of windblown drapery caught in ancient Greek marble.  To know that such beauty is possible in this life can be breathtaking.

Life and its possibilities is a wonder.  That anything should exist at all is a wonder.  And that what does exist exists, an even greater wonder.  And that such goodness and beauty and light can come into the world through human endeavor, a still greater wonder. (Have you ever heard Joan Sutherland sing “Casta diva” from “Norma”?)  Light can shine in the darkness, grace and truth can come into the world.

I once saw a grown man cry while reciting verses from Longfellow’s “Hiawatha”, weeping at the sheer beauty of it.  Or perhaps you were lucky enough to see Margot Fonteyn and Rudolph Nureyev dance in Romeo and Juliet. (I’ve only seen this miracle on film.) Or perhaps you’ve seen the Taj Mahal through morning mist.

Life, light, grace and truth.  Goodness and beauty.  These are attributes of our humanity.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.….What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.”

Life and light.  God is light and life.  God is light and life and love.  And this love speaks the cosmos into existence.  Our own existence and the order of the cosmos are sustained by the Logos, the Word of God.  The Word which is both with God and is God. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory…From his fullness we have all received grace upon grace…Grace and truth came [into the world] through Jesus Christ.”

That was then.  Now we are the continuation of Word made flesh, grafted into Christ’s body—we are the continuity of light and life; you and I are the continuity of Christ’s grace and truth in this world (in all our frailty; with all our faults and sinfulness).

Human flesh and the work of human hands is now the means by which light and life come into the world, how grace and truth come into this world.  Now we embody the love and compassion of God.  Now we embody the grace and truth of Christ.

In any given moment, is there anything else we need to do?  Even in the most ordinary circumstances, is there anything else we need to do?  Even at the check out counter, even in traffic, even with mop in hand, is there anything else that is truly necessary?  Even in these little moments we can embody Christ’s life, Christ’s light, Christ’s love, Christ’s grace, Christ’s truth.

It doesn’t have to be a Bellini aria, but it could be.  It doesn’t have to be a nectarine tart, but it could be.  It doesn’t have to be the Sistine Chapel ceiling, but it could be.  It might also be acts of kindness, acts of charity, acts of heroism.  Mother Teresa I don’t believe could have sung “Casta diva” like Joan Sutherland or done pirouettes like Margot Fonteyn.  She probably didn’t make many nectarine tarts either.  Her particular art was of a different sort.  Her embodiment of grace and truth were of another order.  Her incarnation of the light and life of Christ were something else.  She worked in a different medium among the poorest of the poor.  She brought this particular art to perfection.

What’s ours?  What is our particular medium?  How shall we embody the light and life of Christ?  How shall we incarnate the Love, grace and truth of Christ in a dark and violent world?  How shall we embody Christ in our own particular way in the year 2007? A question for rumination on this New Year’s Eve.

Julia Child did a lot of television shows and wrote a number of books.  At first glance it all seems to be about cooking (pots and pans and knives and rubber spatulas and wonderful things from oven and stove).  At first it seems to be about cooking and nectarine tarts, but the more you look…

A very happy and blessed New Year to all.  May we know grace and truth in the year 2007—and may we make him known.  “Bon appetit

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  1. Billie on January 19, 2018 at 07:34

    Your words evoke two beautiful memories of occasions when tears came to my eyes and so they trickled down again. Thank you for a moving sermon which will remain in my heart.

  2. James Doran on January 1, 2017 at 00:05

    Read at the stroke of midnight; perfect!
    Happy new year, Brothers!

  3. Jamie Callaway on December 31, 2016 at 23:26

    Your words reached Chennai on the dawning of the New Year with insight and grace. Beauty trumps politics by making us real.


  4. Virginia Sauve on December 31, 2016 at 14:50

    What a beautiful invocation to Presence! Thank you, Mark, for writing, and Sheila for sharing. In reading it, I immediately went to the leaping of my heart when I nursed my young babies, and later when I witnessed the wonder and awe of the young grandchildren exploring their world in unconditional love of it all. Thank you for reminding us all that Life is precious, beautiful and sacred. Blessings in the year to come.

  5. Annette Foisie OSL on December 31, 2016 at 12:45

    Last Saturday, on Christmas Eve, we at St. Mary’s were serving dinner to homeless men. As we said grace before eating with them, one man spoke lovingly of his gratitude for the meal we were about to share, and also of how thankful he was to have Jesus in his life. I was moved to tears. I was grateful for his witness.

  6. Marie on December 31, 2016 at 10:06

    This is simply lovely and God-inspired. Thank you!

  7. Christina on December 31, 2016 at 09:52

    Dear Br. Mark: As I re-read your words this morning, fleeting memories came to me again of: scenery, paintings, Rudelph Nurevev twice, Pavarotti, an exquisitely presented meal in a French chateau, and on and on. ….How could I have been so blessed – a young child growing up in the East End of London during the war? My latest joys are Sylvia Schwarts singing Schubert’s Du bist die Ruh, and :Pllippe Jaroussky.s recording at Versailles. The tears trickle.
    What a generous God.
    Blessings to you and all the brothers for 2017.

  8. Elizabeth Hardy on December 31, 2016 at 09:33

    Last night another clergy friend and I were sharing supper when suddenly, through her chatter I heard an unmistakable tone on the radio, rushing to turn it up the unparalleled sound of Maria Callas singing “Casta Diva” filled the room. It brought me to tears. And reminded me that beauty and grace are the gifts that God gives us to allow us to glimpse heaven. I said a silent prayer of thanks to the high school teacher who introduced me to Callas almost 50 years ago. Thank you Br.Mark. And Happy 2017!!!

  9. judy on December 31, 2016 at 08:56

    Wonderful words about the Word. The perfect start to a new year. Thank you.

  10. Logos | The Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana on December 31, 2016 at 00:06

    […] To Read More and to Leave a Comment, Click Here […]

  11. Ann on April 27, 2015 at 09:00

    I needed this today. Thank you.

  12. Lisa on April 17, 2015 at 10:48

    This touches my heart. What an inventive, creative approach to communicating an important message. My gift, what I give?? Caring, love and acceptance to all is first and primary gift. I know organization and leadership are another gift. And I am leaning in, learning what other gifts are there. Opening myself to experiences and reflection about those experiences are my teachers.

    Thank you.

  13. Jennifer on April 17, 2015 at 08:34

    I am watching Joyce Meyer shows this week (I draw inspiration from many sources!) and the theme is “Living Amazed.” May we keep fresh eyes and soft hearts, always ready to be moved by beauty in all its forms and reminded of God’s most amazing power and love.

    • Lisa on April 17, 2015 at 10:50

      fresh eyes and soft hearts……I love that.

  14. Jack McKelvey on April 17, 2015 at 07:34

    Good words age with time. Thx Mark

  15. Betsy Ivey on April 17, 2015 at 07:32

    Thank you, Brother Mark, for this timeless message. It is as enlightening on this Eastertide Friday 2015 as it was on New Year’s Eve 2006.

  16. Nancy W. Del Borgo on April 17, 2015 at 07:11

    Finally! Someone has put into words what I have come to realize as the essence of me in the past several years. My mission as a musician and lover of art (in its broadest sense) is to bring this manifestation of God to the delight and awe of others. To bring a tear. Thank you!

  17. Roderic Brawn on April 17, 2015 at 06:33

    I was just reading a posting from a friend about arts education. This sermon/meditation has given me more food for thought.

  18. Pam Van Siclen on April 17, 2015 at 06:19

    Thank you, Mark for these words this morning. I responded to your young piano student’s response to her playing Bach. God has blessed me with a very gifted vocal coach and I am experiencing the joy and wonder of God restoring to me my singing voice. Praise God!

  19. Margo on April 17, 2015 at 06:13

    I actually do remember in the mid 50s Margot Fonteyn and Rudolph Nureyev dancing Swan Lake on a stage built out onto the Zoo Lake – totally open, in Johannesburg, SA – to a school child mesmerizing. I also remember leaving our comfortable ‘whites only’ seats and seeing multiple black bodies melting into the night onto the streets around us. I wonder did an hour or so of exquisite beauty in any way mitigate the effects of apartheid? Jesus always has a towel in hand and kneels at our feet, His risen body always has the bloody scars for me.

  20. barbara frazer lowe on June 23, 2013 at 11:20

    Dear Br. Mark Brown – Thankyou for a deeply meaningful new ‘awakening’ – joyful, widening, lasting.

  21. Polly Malcolm on June 23, 2013 at 09:37

    Beautiful thoughts to live by. Thank you, Mark.

  22. Polly Chatfield on June 23, 2013 at 08:57

    Thank you, dear Mark, as always for turning our faces toward joy and light and life, for reminding us how much beauty there is in even the simplest things, and for giving such joyful voice to the amazing-ness of every act of creation.

  23. CMAC on October 26, 2012 at 10:10

    Thank you Brother Mark. These were such good words to read at this time for me. They reminded me of all the good experiences I have had: like you, the awakening to the gifts round me: the sunny scenery on a bus ride; the first day seeing Hobema’s ‘The Avenue’ in London; yes – even Rudolf Nureyev live, etc. etc. It is another gift to receive your words when I despair at the horrors in our world. C

  24. Charles Groves III on October 26, 2012 at 09:15

    Thank you Brother Mark for this sermon which itself seems a thing of beauty as I profited from reading and considering it this morning almost 6 years after you delivered it.

    • Charles Groves III on December 31, 2016 at 12:23

      This sermon is just exquisite! Thanks again.

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