Here we are. We have made it to 2021. A new beginning of a new year. And, the close of an old year that so many of us have been ready to leave behind. I’ve said it – I’ve heard you say it – For months, we’ve been saying it: “I can’t wait for 2020 to end.” It was a long year, full of anxiety, and suffering and woe. We have made it to a new year – to a new beginning, with hope for a fresh start.
If we were Benedictines, we might affirm: “Always, we begin again” – as they do as a regular part of their daily cycle of prayer – morning prayer, noontime prayer, evening prayer – and with the dawn of a new day – “Always, we begin again.”
If we grew up with the Anne of Green Gables books, we might claim with Anne – who was always ready to leave trouble and mishap behind – “This is a brand new day, with no mistakes in it.”
Or, we could embrace life as they do in the tenuous world of the musical Rent, with the declaration: “No day but today.”
A new day – ready for the living – a new beginning.
Now to be sure, there is no magic in New Year’s Day. When the calendar resets, our troubles do not disappear. We are still making our way together through pandemic – through a surge worse than we have yet encountered. We have not dismantled the structures of racism. We continue to face climate emergency. And, we are committed more than ever to the steady, continuing discipline of living for justice and for our collective health and well-being – to the work that is ours to do.
There is no magic in the start of the New Year, but it also is no small thing. There are reasons we have calendars – good reason that we mark new beginnings. In a disorienting world, it’s one of the ways that that we measure and make meaning of our days. We celebrate the beginning of our next collective trip around the sun. We rise each morning and give thanks for our next spin together around Earth’s axis. We remind ourselves – as we pattern our days – in the rhythm of our days and the seasons of our life – that every moment– every moment is a new beginning.
Always we begin again.
This day, a brand new day.
No day but today.
In our Scripture this morning, the Gospel of John begins... at the beginning. As John’s community made meaning together of what they had experienced in Jesus Christ – what they had experienced together – they began at the beginning: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” In words that echo the very first words of Genesis – “In the beginning” – they began their story of Jesus. What we have experienced in Jesus, they wrote, it is the Word that was in the beginning. And we have seen it too.
Now -- when they wrote of the Word – that word, in the Greek, Logos is chock full of meaning. As scholars point out – with the Word Logos, (1) they were talking about God’s creative Word – the Word with which God spoke everything into being; (2) they were talking about God’s Word communicating with us; and (3) they were talking about God’s Word of revelation – the Word that makes God’s saving love known in the world. All of that.
And, they made some bold and important claims. This Word that was in the beginning – it was with God – or towards God – a Word connecting us with God. And not just that. In verse 14: That Word – the Word of beginning – the God-Word – that Word became flesh. We experienced it in Jesus. And not just that. That enfleshed Word has made its home in us. That’s what it says in the Greek: The Word became flesh and dwelt in us – full of grace and truth. The Word enfleshed in humanity. As Allen Dwight Callahan writes, “this is an account of the divine Word coming to dwell with, in, and through human beings.” Or as I like to say, what we see here is the heartbeat of God, pulsing in the fullness of humanity.
And remember this is just the beginning of the Gospel of John – the first 14 verses. From this beginning, the Gospel will flow forth and tell how John’s community experienced this Word in the life of Jesus – and 21 chapters later, the Gospel will end by not ending – but in its telling of Resurrection, writing of the Words – the volumes – that are still being written. In us.
The Word that was in the beginning is a Word of beginning again
– a Word made manifest in Jesus Christ
– a Word made manifest in us.
So it makes sense that we read this Scripture around Christmas and Epiphany. It’s a word of incarnation – the Word made flesh. And it is a Word of Epiphany. Epiphany means, “something made manifest or evident or obvious” in the midst of us. Or as poet John O’Donohue says of Epiphany – “the moment when time suddenly opens and something is revealed with luminous clarity.” This season of Epiphany follows the season of Christmas as we think of how this Word that we have experienced in Jesus – how we find it made manifest in the world – where do we see it and feel it and embody it. The Word made manifest in our world, in us. From the beginning, and right here, right now, in this new beginning.
So I thought that this Epiphany we’d think about our words – the words we’ve come to say over time in worship – particularly over this past year – and think a bit about how and where we see those Words made manifest – how do we – or might we – live them out?
Today, we’re talking about the words I say right near the start of worship: “This is the day that God has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Next week, we’ll talk about words we say in worship that I received from Joanne – words that you’ve asked me to keep saying because they are important to you: “No matter where you are on your spiritual journey, there is a place for you.” And then, we’ll talk about those two words we’ve come to say this past year: “Grace abounds.” And then the words that have become a part of this community’s identity in Jesus Christ: “Together we serve.” All of these are words that have come to be part of this community’s liturgy – the particular words that this particular community has come to say in worship over time – we have spoken them, and they have rung true – and so we have said them again, and agan. Those words, how do we live them out?
This sentence from Scripture – from Psalm 188 – “This is the day that God has made” – it’s one that I brought with me from the Seminary. I’m almost embarrassed to say it, but I started saying those words, as a part of worship, almost by accident. At the Seminary, we worshipped every day at noon (well, every day except Wednesday). As Chaplain, I would offer formal words of greeting, make some announcements, and then I needed words to move us into worship. And so I remembered words from a praise song I’d sung in college. They were upbeat – a great way to move into worship with energy. I would pop up, welcome folks to worship, and affirm, “This is the day that God has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.” A great way to affirm a good day.
But at Seminary, we worshipped every day, so I found myself saying those words in worship not only on good days, but also on not-so-good days. On days when we had heard of yet another school shooting. On days when we’d suffered loss in our seminary community. On days when another Black person had been killed by a policeman. And I’d rise to start worship, and I’d think, can I even say these words today? “This is the day that God has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.”
What began to sink in with me is that the power of those words – actually lies in saying them – not any one time – but again and again – every day – good days, and bad days, and every day in between. No matter what the circumstance – “This is the day that God has made – it is a gift – we will rejoice and be glad in it. I will live this day.” They’re not words of mindless and glib celebration. They’re not words that ignore or deny the reality of the world. They’re not words meant to coerce you into feeling something that you don’t feel.
On good days and bad, they are words that stake a claim. “This is the day that God has made.” They are words that establish a stance. We stand in our world – at the beginning of a new day – not only in its joys – but also in the mud and the muck of the world – and we affirm that this day, every day, this day is the day that God has made – for us – for our living of it – it is a gift – it is a brand new day – there is no day but today. “This is the day that God has made.” These are words of trust in the God who gives us this day – and who saves us from everything that works to do us harm. They are words of determination and resolve. They are words for planting one’s feet firmly in the fresh soil of a new day.
That’s how they come to us in Psalm 118 – a Psalm that our ancient kindred would have sung in worship again and again. They weren’t living in an easy, carefree world. They had been taken into exile – taken from their homes and everything they knew – and they stood there:
at first miles away from home,
and then on the long journey home,
and then when they arrived home only to find it lying in rubble,
and then as brick by brick they rebuilt and repaired their world
– they gathered in worship – and they stood there – and they named all that, and they said with resolve – again and again: “This is the day that God has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.” And then they lived lives that manifested that Word.
Here we stand, on this third morning of a new year, with 2020 at our backs – praise God – at a new beginning, and with so much work yet to do – how will we manifest this Word, in our lives, in this new year, in this new day?
I want to suggest these words to you – “This is the day that God has made” – I want to suggest these words to you as a practice – a simple spiritual practice – for these new days of this new year. Now, I’m not talking about resolutions – this isn’t a big goal that you may hit or you may miss. This is a practice – a small thing, a regular thing, a day-by-day thing – something to do every day, to ground our days, to plant our feet in fresh soil, for the living of a brand new day, this day, and then the next.
And it’s so simple. It’s just this. Every day, when you wake up. Say out loud, these words: “This is the day that God has made.” If you want, you can add, “I will rejoice and be glad in it” – or maybe you could add, “There’s no day but today.” But right in that very first moment, in the dawn of your new day, before you have spoken any other word: “This is the day that God has made.” Ground your day.
And then, as you move through the day, notice. Notice: Where do you experience the presence or nearness of God in the world you inhabit, in those around you, in you? In the good, in the not-so-good. In the everyday. Pay attention. Notice.
And then, at the end of the day, after you have lived that day, as you are lying down for a good night’s sleep, you can say, “Thank you God for giving me this day to live with you.”
And then in the morning – in the sunrise of the next morning – we say it again: “This is the day that God has made.” Always we begin again.
What I’m suggesting here is a practice – it’s a way – a simple way – of what we might call “practicing the presence of God.” That notion comes from Brother Lawrence – a 17thcentury monk – who urged folks to practice finding God in the ordinary bits of the average day – every moment of every day – practicing the presence of God – in big things and small. Noticing. Naming. Giving thanks for. The presence of God in the whole of life. In every bit of the world around us – in – us.
The community from which the Gospel of John emerged noticed – experienced – the presence of God in Jesus Christ. The Word of God from the beginning – God’s saving, loving, life-giving Word – made manifest in Jesus. And in the Gospel that flowed from that experience, they came to say – “The Word became flesh and dwelt in us – we have seen it, we have experienced it – full of grace and truth.”
Here we stand, in our world, with 2020 at our backs. By the grace of God, we have made it this far, and we celebrate this new beginning, and we have work to do, in the name of Jesus, to bless the world God loves.
Always we begin again.
This is a brand new day.
There is no day but today.
This is the day that God has made.
Let us live it for all that it’s worth.
© 2021 Scott Clark
 See Herman Waetjen, The Gospel of the Beloved Disciple: A Work in Two Editions (New York: T&T Clark Publishing, 2005), pp. 61-78; William R. Herzog II, Commentary in Feasting on the Word, Year B, vol. 1 (Louisville, KY; Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), pp.189-193; Warren Carter, Commentary in Connections, Year B, vol. 1 (Louisville, KY; Westminster John Knox Press, 2020), pp. 225-29.  As translated by Waetjen, pp.68-69, and Carter, p. 225.  Allen Dwight Callahan, “The Gospel of John” in True to Our Native Land: An African American New Testament Commentary(Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2008), p. 186.  John O’Donohue, To Bless the Space Between Us (New York, NY: Convergent Press, 2008), p.3.  See Walter Brueggemann and William Bellinger, Psalms (New York, NY; Cambridge University Press, 2014), pp.504-509 (“This [psalmist] has returned from the cusp of death and bears witness to the newness of life with this testimony in worship. The purpose of the psalm is to invite the congregation to enter the narrative and encounter again the God who comes to deliver.”).  See Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God in Modern English (trans. Marshall Davis) (eBook 2013).
Cover photo by Jordan Wozniak, used with permission via Unsplash