Sunday, December 26, 2010

1 Christmas

December 26, 2010

John 1.1-18

+ I think it’s time for me to confess this. And I can do that today because this Sunday if kind of a “low Sunday.” We had a good full house on Christmas Eve—which is a very important day and I’m happy we had a full house that night—but as a result, this Sunday is not one of the big Sundays to expect people in church. It’s sort of an anticlimactic Sunday. It just can’t quite compare to the glory of Christmas Day. So, to you—loyal few—I can be a intimate about something.

I do not like Christmas.

Call me “Father Scrooge.” I am just not a big Christmas fan. Others seem to start getting excited when the Christmas trees go up in September. Or the Christmas music starts being piped through the stores in October. Or the commercials on TV begin the day after Halloween. Not me. Sparkling lights and songs about snowmen and all the rest do little for me. It’s not that I hate the season. I just feel a sort of robotic sense of nothingness about it all. I know. It’s terrible for a priest to confess such sacrilege.

But, to be fair, I LOVE what our Church season of Christmas is all about. I love the Nativity. I love preaching about the Incarnation, about God-made-flesh. So, I’m not quite the heretical priest you might think I am. And so, I find myself during this season clinging to little bits and pieces to keep myself afloat until Christmas passes and we are into January.

Today’s Gospel is one of those lifesavers for me. I love this Gospel reading because it is so different than many of the Gospel readings we get. Most of them are straight-forward narratives. We get the story of Jesus doing this or that, or preaching this or that kind of sermon. But today, in our Gospel reading, we get a hymn. Or at least, a portion of a hymn. It is a beautiful hymn explaining the Word and what the Word is and does.

Now, this hymn was, like the rest of the New Testament, of course originally written in Greek. As you know, I am not one of those preachers who liked to say things like, “Well now, in the original Greek, this is what is said…” I don’t like to hear that outside of a seminary classroom. And I don’t think that helps most of us. But today, Greek is actually going to help us. Now, again, you don’t hear that very often in your lives, do you? Greek is actually going to help us understand this hymn.

In Greek, the word for “Word” is “Logos.” That word—Logos—means more than just a sound that comes out of our mouths. In Greek, it actually means knowledge. We still use the word in this way. We find it such words at zoology—which means, roughly, “words concerning animals” or more correctly “knowledge concerning animals”
—psychology—words or knowledge concerning the mind
—biology—words and knowledge concerning life and so on.

So, what we’re encountering in this Hymn is more than just a word. It is knowledge. But even knowledge doesn’t quite convey what this hymn is trying to say. Another way to translate the word “logos” is to say “essence.” It is the very essence of what it conveys.

In that sense, the “Word” of God brings us the very essence of God. In the Logos of God, we find God. Wonderful. But…what is John trying to tell us in his hymn? John is talking about Jesus, of course. In this passage, he is making clear to us that Jesus is the Logos—the Word of God, the knowledge of God, the essence of God. When we hear his words, we are not just hearing the words of some brilliant prophet or some very wise sage. We are, in fact, hearing the words of God—words that contain the knowledge and essence of that God. Did you ever wonder why, in some copies of the King James version of the Bible, the words of Jesus were in red? This is why. They were in red so that we could pay special attention to what Jesus was saying. What came from his mouth, in a sense, came from the mouth of God on high. See how this is different than those other stories from scripture.

It’s kind of heady stuff we’re dealing with here. It’s not easy to grasp what’s being talked about and it’s not easy to explain to others. However, this concept of the Word—or Logos—of God is really the heart of all Christian theology. In a sense, it conveys perfectly what we are celebrating in this Christmas season. The God we experience at Christmas isn’t simply sitting on some throne in some far-off heavenly realm. God is not sitting back and letting creation work itself out. What this passage shows us, more than anything, is that God is busy. God is at work in our lives—in the world around us. God is moving. God is doing something. More than anything what this scripture is telling us is that God is reaching out to us. And not just one or two times in our history. God has always been reaching out to us. From the first day of humankind to this moment—from the beginning—God is reaching out to us. God is calling out to us. God is talking with us and communicating with us.

And we experience this most clearly in the person of Jesus, who has come to us as this simple baby. This baby, who will grow up to speak to us in human words, is the very Word of God. This baby is the Wisdom and Essence of God. This Word of God that we hear is Jesus and Jesus, as we learn in this passage, has always existed. Even before Jesus came to us as this baby, Jesus always was. And Jesus always will be. God, in Christ, is moving toward us, even in moments when it seems like God is distance and non-existent. Here, in this Christmas season, in this Child we celebrate and worship, God’s presence is renewed. God comes forward and becomes present among us in a way we could never possibly imagine.

There is wonderful antiphon that we can find in the Monastic Breviary used by the Order of the Holy Cross, an order of Episcopal monks. The antiphon used for the Benedictus at Matins or Morning Prayer on Christmas morning is this wonderful verse of poetry:

While all things were in quiet silence, and that night was in the midst of her swift course,
your almighty Word, O Lord, leaped down out of your royal throne.”

There is something so wonderfully powerful about imagine of the Word “leaping” out of heaven and descending among us. There is no apprehension in that act of leaping. There is no holding back. Rather there is almost an impatience on God’s part to be one with us. God comes to us in our Gospel reading today not cloaked behind pillars of fire or thunderstorms or wind, as we found God in the Hebrew Bible.

Instead, God appears before us, as one of us. God’s word, God’s wisdom, God’s Essence leaped down to us and became flesh just as we are flesh. God’s voice is no longer a booming voice from the sky, demanding sacrifices as find in the Old Testament. God instead speaks to us as one of us. And this voice that speaks this Word of God is a familiar one. We cannot only understand it, but we can embrace it and make it a part of our lives.

It continues on in what Jesus still says to us today. It continues on in the Spirit of Jesus that dwells within us and that speaks in us in our lives. The Word is among us. It has leaped down to us, here where we are, on this cold Sunday morning after Christmas. This Word is spoken every time we carry out what Jesus calls us to do. The Word leaps out of us when we reach out to those in need. Whenever we are motivated by the misery around us—when we pray for those who need our prayers, when we reach out to those who need us in any small way we can—that is the Word speaking and leaping forward. And more than that—that is the Word at work in the world.

So let the Word—that Knowledge and Essence of God—be in us and speak through us. Let us all be open to that wonderful reality in our lives. Let our voices be the voice of the Word and Wisdom of God. Let our lives be loud and proud proclamation of that Word in the world around us. God’s almighty Word has leaped down to us. On this First Sunday after Christmas, let us truly rejoice.

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