“The Original Theme” – 01.02.2011 Sermon

Click here to hear the audio recording of this sermon.

    John 1:10-18 • January 2, 2011

Brothers and sisters in Christ grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.

Throughout the days of Christmas and the days of Advent that precede Christmas we hear and see many themes. Themes of love, new birth, peace, goodwill, family, hope, anticipation, light, savior. Even the theme of a new year is part of the story.

What is amazing about Christmas themes is just how romantic they are and how they live together in such incredible beauty and harmony. Our hopes and dreams are captured in so many ways through the images we have wrapped around Christmas. So why do we rush to pack them up and put them back in their boxes in the darkness of a storage room for another year? We hear the themes of Christmas and relish their beauty each year, but do they transform us beyond Christmas Day. What would we look like as individuals, as a congregation, as a Christian community if we stopped putting the themes of Christmas back in storage each year and tried to live with them throughout the year?

Many of you know that I am a musician. The idea of theme is very important to music. Music uses theme to transform how a listener engages the art form. Theme makes music come alive beyond black circles drawn on a piece of paper. If all we had were the black circles on paper, we would miss the beauty of music coming alive.

And if all we had was one theme, music would be pretty boring after a short while. I think the same can be said of themes we celebrate during Advent and Christmas. If we only see Christmas themes as black dots on paper that only come out once a year, we won’t fully experience the beauty that they can create in our world.

Let’s listen to a musical example. One of the most famous musical themes known in the history of humankind. The four notes of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony. Written in the early 19th century. These simple four notes sound fairly boring when that is all that we hear.


The simple beauty that we hear during Christmas begins in much the same way. Maybe a simple smile to someone we don’t know. Maybe it’s the first batch of Christmas cookies coming out of the oven. Maybe it’s the first gift we buy with great anticipation of what the recipient’s reaction may be. But does Christmas end there. With just a few notes.

It’s a great gift to hear John’s gospel today. We don’t get to hear these words very often in worship – and definitely not during the Christmas season because there are only a few times when we actually have two Sundays to worship together between Christmas Day and the celebration of Epiphany on January 6th. The prologue, or beginning of John’s gospel, is a birth story of sorts. And it’s pretty obvious that it’s an unusual birth story when compared to the other gospels. There is no Mary or Joseph or shepherds or angels or wise-men or animals keeping watch over the baby Jesus who is lying peacefully in a manger. John instead gives us “the Word” and says that “The Word became flesh and lived among us.” and as a result we have received “grace upon grace.” I don’t think that John is necessarily saying that God’s grace wasn’t quite enough before, so just to make sure he needed to add a little more grace. Grace upon grace is a way of wrapping all of the themes of Christmas together and showing us a way of living that is always Christmas. John is showing us just how intimate our relationship with God is through the birth of Christ.
A relationship that didn’t begin with Christ’s birth and end with Christ’s death on a cross. It’s a relationship with a single theme of God’s love and presence with us that you and I share as children of God. As children of God, we have been and continue to be given “grace upon grace.”

In music, a composer or songwriter takes a basic theme like the one that I played a few minutes ago from Beethoven and uses it to weave other textures and themes around it – but if you listen carefully – you will always be able to hear that original theme.

The original theme of John’s gospel today is that God has always been with us, God is with us today, and God will be with us in whatever will come our way in the future. As we journey with that theme in this new year – how will we carry Christmas with us and not simply pack it up in a box and put it back in storage for another year?

The theme of Christmas peace may involve restoring a broken or distanced relationship with another person in our life. The theme of Christmas joy may be discovering new passion and meaning in our daily work. The theme of Christmas hope may encourage us to participate more deeply in the life of our own community of faith as we face new opportunities in the coming year in the midst of pastoral transitions and financial anxiety. What does that look like? What does that sound like?

In music, here is what Beethoven did with the simple four note theme that he introduced at the very beginning of this symphony.


Out of a simple four notes comes great beauty. Other themes enter and weave around each other in an unfolding tapestry that is unlike anything ever heard before. And in the middle of all that is happening in this piece of music, we never lose the beauty of the original theme.

Perhaps our New Year’s resolutions will reflect the themes we celebrate and hold near to our hearts during Advent and Christmas. We may see new themes being added and removed as we move through the year, but we must never pack away the beauty of the original theme that we share as sisters and brothers in Christ. We are blessed in amazing ways by the original theme that God is with us.

We don’t know for sure what that will look and sound like in the coming year as we experience grace upon grace. But as followers of the risen Jesus, we do know and believe that the original theme will always be with us – God is here – within us and all around us. For that we give thanks and praise and join the unending symphony of God’s good creation given to us in Christ. Amen.


About Bishop Craig Schweitzer

The Rev. Craig Schweitzer, of Bismarck, was elected as bishop of the Western North Dakota Synod on July 17, 2020, in the first-ever digital Synod Assembly. A historic event, Schweitzer is the first bishop in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) to be elected in an online assembly. Bishop Craig Schweitzer began serving the Western North Dakota Synod-ELCA on September 1, 2020. He has always seen himself as an easy-going person who seeks to daily discover anew how God is present in his life and the world in which he lives and serves. Prior to service in the Office of Bishop of the Western North Dakota Synod, Bishop Craig served at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Bismarck, ND as Music and Worship Minister (lay staff from 2002-2010), Associate Pastor (2010-2014), and Senior Pastor (2014-2020). Beyond his service in the church, he has an eclectic background that is a diverse collection of musical, educational, and business experiences ranging from live concert production and promotion to recording studios and live performance to music education. Throughout all of his professional and personal experiences, the Apostle Paul’s words to the church in Rome have been a guiding light that has kept him grounded in whatever work God was calling him into – “Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” (Romans 15:7) Bishop Craig is a graduate of the University of Mary in Bismarck with a Bachelor of Science degree in Music Education and a Master of Science in Strategic Leadership. He also holds a certificate degree in Theological Education for Emerging Ministries (TEEM) from Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary in Berkeley, CA. He was ordained as a Minister of Word and Sacrament on September 16, 2010. Outside of his life as Bishop, Bishop Craig enjoys reading, all music, a little golf, a cold beverage with friends, and intentional times of quiet. And, of course, spending time with his wife Wendy and their adult twin daughters Ilia and Taegan. View all posts by Bishop Craig Schweitzer

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