In The Bleak Midwinter : Choir of Kings College, Cambridge
1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.
5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. 6There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. 10He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. 14And 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.
15(John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’”) 16From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.
Dear God, we come here this morning hopeful for a word from you to meet our needs, hopeful for a little light to help us see our way better, a little light in the darkness. So startle us, O God, with your truth, and come into our lives with your light and your love in Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
It’s hard to think of the New Year beginning, when everything just seems to keep going. How do we begin something that has not ended? I always find myself reflective in the New Year. I am always hesitant to make too many plans and to start making chicken scratches on my to-do list. In these beginning days of the new year, with the earth dormant and the image of a new born child just coming into the world, my temptation is to become introspective, to let my monkey mind slow down and become more contemplative. Maybe we all struggle with the idea of such new beginnings in life because we have been there, done that, made those false starts and felt the disappointment of failing. We’ve promised ourselves, or God, or the stars above… not to swear so much, or to be so self-absorbed, or to be so blunt, or …you fill in the blank. And the first hour or the first day or two things seemed to be off to a good start, but pretty soon it all went downhill fast, and before you knew it you were right back to the same old ways. I think about that email that was making the rounds not so long ago, the prayer for the day that said,
So far today,
I’ve done all right.
I haven’t gossiped.
I haven’t lost my temper.
I haven’t lied or cheated.
I haven’t been greedy, grumpy,
Nasty, selfish or overindulgent.
I’m very thankful for that.
But in a few minutes, Lord,
I’m going to get out of bed.
And from then on, I’m probably
Going to need a lot more help! Amen.
How do we start this new year? Do we start with a list? Do we start with a vision? Do we start with a review of the past year? Each of the Gospels starts in a different. The Gospel of Matthew, begins by looking to the past. The author begins with a genealogy, in which he explains Jesus’ ancestry. The Gospel of Luke, after the writer introduces himself, begins in a story telling manner, In the days of Emporer Augustus, a decree went out…The Gospel of Mark begins very abruptly, no fluff comes from Mark. – He is very plain-spoken He just begins, This is the Good News of the Gospel.
But the Gospel of John, is the most outside the box. He begins with poetry. Listen to his words –
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He [the Word] was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him.
“In the beginning was the Word.” Remember the first words in the book of Genesis: “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep,” and then a word was spoken. God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. I don’t think it is a coincidence that the Gospel of John and the First Chapter of Genesis are so similar in nature. Both writers were poets who stared at blank piece of paper, wondering how to begin, and they began with poetry. John connects the Word made flesh to the beginning of time. Eugene Peterson suggests that John is rewriting Genesis 1 and 2. And that the Gospel of John is the creation story with Jesus Christ present with the creator.
Creation, in the Gospel of John is now tied to the Word. In the beginning was creation and in the beginning was the Word. In the beginning is God’s impulse to speak, to communicate. God speaks and creation happens, which, because it is a product of God’s self-communication, contains the reality of God: God revealed in sun, moon, stars, in lakes, and oceans, and forests. God revealed in nature. But there is more to it than nature.
The Gospel of John says the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. “In him was life, and the life was the light of all people.”
I had a teenager say to me the other day, after reading this passage, “that doesn’t make any sense – what does that mean?” That is exactly what the Gospel writer wants us to be asking. What does that mean?
The Gospel of John was written for two audiences the Greeks and the Hebrews – both of whom had different ways of understanding the why the world was the way it was. The Greeks had a desire for meaning and truth. Greek philosophy sought the logic of things. The Greek word for what searched is called logos. Everything, even suffering stemmed from that same logic.
The Hebrew people understood fate differently. They believed not in mindless fate, but in a God who was invested in their daily lives. They believed they were a chosen people, with a chosen purpose.
Why do good or bad things happen? The Greeks would say there is a logical explanation. The Hebrews would say, because God willed it to happen.
The Gospel of John was written at a time with these seemingly opposing voices were loudest, and John writes the opening words of his Gospel with these two perspectives in mind. He says in the beginning was both God and logic. In the beginning was the word. In the beginning was logic, the logos. Order. Before God there was chaos. With God there is order. God brings order out of chaos, meaning and truth. There is no logic that can exist outside the logic of God.
This short season of Christmas, which ends today and the coming season of Epiphany, which begins tomorrow is about trying to get our heads around what it means that the whole God became fully present in a loving relationship with us in the person of Jesus Christ. So the Christian faith is not fundamentally a theory or an ethic, or an institution or the fuzzy feeling we have on Christmas Eve. It’s fundamentally about a person, the word made flesh. Christianity is the story of that person and that person’s relationship with humanity.
A relationship we often neglect and pack away in the basement for eleven months out of the year. The fact is we distance ourselves from this organic, living God and we see him as out there somewhere. We go to him when things are really bad, that we can turn to at times of sorrow or tragedy or fear, that’s good enough for us. Now that religion may be a religion, but it isn’t Christianity.
Christianity is more materialistic than that.
You may recall a song “From a Distance.” It was written by Julie Gold and has been covered by Bette Midler, Nancy Griffith, Cliff Richard and others. It gives a wonderful picture of the world from a distance. “From a distance, there is harmony, and it echoes through the land.” And then it says, “God is watching us, God is watching us, God is watching us from a distance.” Sounds pretty, but is it Christianity? No no no no no no. It misses the whole point. God is not some spiritual being who may have time for us when he’s not reading the paper. He’s not a benevolent grandpa who is watching his children play at the bottom of the hill while he smokes his pipe in his rocker. God joins in! The word became flesh! The logic the meaning of the universe became human.
If God is watching us from a distance then he can stay distant, and frankly so can we, but a God who becomes human is a God that comes up close and personal. God is more materialistic than we give God credit for. Christianity is real, tangible, it begins with the cry in the night of child pushed out into world, a naked man hanging on a cross, and the wonder of a man defeating death opening the gates of glory.
Preacher Sam Wells makes the argument that we should stop trying to be more spiritual than Jesus. Because after all the spiritual message of Christmas is that God became incarnate – literally took on human flesh. God became material. Real. Tangible. If we want to really get what it means to be a Christian, Well’s argues that we need to become materialists. Godly materialists. Godly materialists seek God in human form “Godly materialists are like shepherds roaming around Bethlehem looking for Jesus among single mothers and teenager parent and homeless people and those who live among farm animals. Godly materialists are those who seek Jesus in the refugee, escaping for Egypt to save his life, the immigrant, those at greatest risk
The way to celebrate Christmas is to be more materially present with people. To be more human, more honest, more vulnerable, more genuine.
To offer ourselves as friends to others, to hug those who no one hugs, eat with those with whom no one eats, listening to those to whom no one listens, touching those whom no one touches, remembering those whom no one remembers, loving those whom no loves. That is how we celebrate our material God. Christmas is not an idea. Christmas is not a feeling. Christmas is the stuff of life. It is the reminder that God is with us. Emmanuel.
The operative word here is a the verb “with. “When somebody says, I am with you. You know they are connected. They are along side you. They are in the hospital room, not leaving, staying the night. They are in the car, on the way back to school. They are in the interview, at the grocery, on the trip. God with us. Right there. With us.
In him was life, and life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.
Thanks be to God. Amen.