Sunday, December 28, 2008

1 Christmas

Dec. 28, 2008

John 1.1-18

“In the beginning…”

These are the first words of today’s Gospel reading. And they are appropriate ones if ever there were any. This reading from John is really in effect an echoing of the creation story at the beginning of the Book of Genesis. Both begin the same way, with the same words—in the beginning—and both tell of God’s working in our midst. In effect, they’re the same story, told from two very different perspectives.

In Genesis, we hear the story of God creating the earth and eventually the creation of humankind. In John, we hear the story of how God existed at all times and that with God, there existed God’s Word.

Now we’ve heard this passage from John so many times that it’s become quite familiar. It is just as familiar, in many ways, as the creation stories in Genesis or the story of Noah’s ark or any of those familiar stories we know so well from scripture. But the difference between those stories and what we heard this morning is that they were stories in a very real sense. They were basic narratives that are easy to relate to and easy to re-tell over and over again. What we hear at the beginning of John’s Gospel is different because it is, in fact, a hymn. Or at least, a portion of a hymn. It is a hymn explaining the Word and what the Word is and does. The hymn was, like the rest of the New Testament, originally written in Greek.

In Greek, the word for “Word” is “Logos.”

That word—Logos—means more than just a sound that comes out of our mouths. It 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. I think the more correct word would be Wisdom. The Word—the Logos—of God is the Wisdom of God.

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.

What is John talking about here? John is talking about Christ, of course. Christ is the Logos—the Word of God, the knowledge of God, the sense of God. When we hear his words, we are not hearing the words of some brilliant prophet. We are 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 pay special attention to what he 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.

Now that sounds wonderful—at least to me. I’m a priest and I like theology. I like systematic thinking about God and Christ. I like examining words in Greek and exploring the full range of their meanings. It’s what I do. But for the rest of us, this passage is a difficult one to wrap our minds around.

“The Word was with God and the Word was God.”

Those are hard theological concepts—concepts that the Church as a whole has struggled with from almost the very beginning.

In the ancient Church, people fought hard to interpret what this meant exactly. Some felt that the Word—Christ—was similar to God, but was not equal to God. Certainly they did not feel that Christ was God. Others truly believed that Christ the Word—the personified Wisdom of God—was God, plain and simple. Just as our words are part of us, just as what we know is a part of us, so is the Word and knowledge of God a part of God.

A lot of dirty deeds were done over this simple passage of scripture. People were banished, people were tortured, some were even killed. But no matter what we might believe about Christ’s co-equality with God, this scripture does do a lot in helping us understand who and what Christ is.

Let’s take a look at what God is doing in this scripture. God 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, God is reaching out to us. God is calling out to us. He is talking with us and communicating with us.

This Word of God that we hear is Christ and Christ, as we learn in this passage, had always existed. Even before Christ came to us in the person of Jesus, Christ always was. And Christ always will be. God, in Christ, is moving toward us, even in moments when it seems like God is distance and non-existent.

There’s an excellent book I read a few years ago called the Disappearance of God. In it, the author explained that when we look at the Bible as a whole, we find God slowly disappearing from creation. As the Old Testament progresses, God seems to be pulling back further and further from our lives. God no longer speaks to his prophets as he did to Adam or Abraham or Moses. There were fewer and fewer visions of pillars of fire. There were fewer instance in which God worked miracles in the lives of his people. God no longer went out before the armies of the Israelites and fought their battles for them. By the time we get to the New Testament, God seems to be gradually fading away from the lives of humans.

But then we come across the Gospel of St. John. Here, in a sense, God’s presence is renewed. God comes forward and becomes present among us in a way we could never possibly imagine. God appears to us in the Gospels not cloaked behind pillars of fire or thunderstorms or wind. Instead, God appears before us, as one of us. God’s word, God’s wisdom, became flesh just as we are flesh. God’s voice was no longer a booming voice from the sky, demanding sacrifices. God instead spoke to us as one of us. And this voice is a familiar one. We cannot only understand it, we can embrace it and make it a part of our lives. And even after Christ dies and rises again from the tomb and ascends to heaven, the Word, in a very real sense, remains among us.

It continues on in the first followers, who wrote it down. It continues on in what Jesus still says to us today. It continues on in the Spirit of God that dwells within us and that speaks in us in our lives.

The Word is among us. It is spoken every time we carry out what Christ calls us to do. The Word is spoken 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 more than that—that is the Word at work in the world.

So let the Word and Knowledge of God be in you and speak through you. Be open to that wonderful reality in your lives. Let your voice be the voice of the Word and Wisdom of God. Let your lives be a loud and proud proclamation of that Word in the world around you.

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