2nd Sunday of Christmas
January 3, 2016
John 1: 1-18 You can click on this link to open the reading in Oremus Bible Browser.
The world has been a crazy place this last year, and my heart hurts. I want to know that God is not asleep at the wheel, that there is hope, and how I can live the life of a follower of Jesus without losing my sanity. We’ve had the sweet story of the baby, but sometimes I wonder what difference that makes.
Ιν αρζε η ‘ο λοϒoς. In the beginning was the Word, says John the Evangelist. It’s the first thing you learn in Ancient Greek in Seminary. An echo of the beginning of the Bible in Genesis: “In the beginning God…” Just as we met Luke as an audacious historian – setting the story of Jesus’ birth to a nobody while telling us who all the somebodies were, so the Evangelist, John, is an audacious theologian. No baby, no shepherds, no wise men, no Herod in his story. He has a wider lens. He starts at the very beginning of time, telling us that Jesus was part of the creation of our world, God’s Speech, brimming with light and life and part of bringing all things into being. That light stood up to all the wiles and errors and misunderstanding of the world from Adam and Eve’s first attempt to make the world their own until this very day. In spite of God’s presence with us in Jesus, 2000 years ago, and continuing presence today, the world still seems to prefer darkness, rather than the light. It would be easy to cut ourselves off from the darkness, explains the Russian writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn, except that the mixture of darkness and light runs right through the human heart. And so it seems it has been from the very beginning.
“He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him, but to all who received him, who believed in his name he gave power to become children of God.” John is not talking about “belief” the way I grew up thinking about it. That was a kind of mental gymnastics, in which you had to agree with everything you learned in Sunday School; where if science disagreed with the Bible, you had to choose between them; where if you ever questioned the Apostles’ Creed as the only possibility of how things happened, you were not really a Christian.
No. That is not what John tells us. He tells us that we are created God’s children and it is our trust in that fact that changes our lives. All that follows in this story he is about to tell us is the vocabulary, the lesson, the pattern of what the life of God’s children looks like. Jesus did not just wrap himself in our humanity; he actually came to dwell in it. The word translated as “dwell” is the same word from which “tabernacle” is formed. The tabernacle was the place where God met God’s people, and so Jesus is the place where God and Humanity meet. My Gospel professor, Robert Smith, says it like this: “His flesh is the tent of God’s presence, the place designed by God where humans may enter the presence of God so that their being may be thoroughly renewed. Trusting the enfleshed Word holds the promise of a world as fresh and new as the one that arose on creation’s first morning.” So it is in trusting that this is the truest thing about Jesus and the most true thing about us that we become “children of God.”
Think about it. Other religions idealize the spiritual and reject the physical. Buddhists insist that we can retrain ourselves to get beyond our physical cravings to lead a “right” life. The Greeks thought that only the spiritual was pure. They are all about how we get to God. Ours is the only religion in which the Divine comes to be one with us, in the flesh, with our bodies, as a historical being. He lived so generously, and gave his body up on the cross. John insists that this is our Tent of Meeting, and our Food of Eternal Life. John’s insistence on Jesus becoming us is to tell us that our ideas about what God is like might be seriously flawed: instead of thinking that Jesus is like God, John is telling us that God is like Jesus, with his teaching, with his blessing, with his experience, with his wounds, with his creation of us as his children that we can trust implicitly.
In December I was present at two baptisms and two memorial services. They really got me thinking about how we touch God and are touched by God at those times. On both of those occasions, we light the Christ Candle and claim those persons as God’s own forever. The promises we celebrate on those occasions are what John is telling us this morning, that we are created as God’s children through God’s willingness to bless our human-ness through becoming one of us. The deepest truth about us is that we are created in God’s love, destined for God’s home, and that we can live trusting that this is our story. Would it make a difference in your life if you knew you could not lose God’s love? Would it make a difference if you knew that God created you to be just who you are, with gifts God has given the world through you? Would it make a difference if you knew that God was blessing you and leading you to care about what happens to those around you? No matter who you are, how old or how young, your life in God is permanent, promised by God in Jesus, and everything you do can be a blessing for the world, because Jesus meets you in your own body in this world every day. So go! Be free! Free to love God and free to love the world and free to do good things and loving things. Amen.