Sunday, January 3. 2016
Text: John 1:1-18 (An Inclusive Version)
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2The Word was in the beginning with God. 3All things came into being through the Word, and without the Word not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4in the Word 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.
10The Word was in the world, and the world came into being through the Word; yet the world did not know the Word. 11The Word came to what was the Word’s had made, and the Word’s own people did not accept the Word. 12But to all who received the Word, who believed in the name of the Word, power was given to become children of God, 13who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of human will, but of God.
14And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen the glory of the Word, the glory as of a parent’s only child, full of grace and truth. 15(John testified to this child and cried out, “This was one of whom I said, ‘The one who comes after me ranks ahead of me because that one was before me.’”)16From the fullness of the Child 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 Child, who is close to the heart of the Father-Mother, who has made God known.
Well, it’s almost over isn’t it? This year’s holiday season is particularly long, especially in the liturgical sense that we have two Sundays between Christmas and Epiphany (which really is Christmas in some places.) We’re not sure how much more celebrating we can stand. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of you stopped a while back. We were inundated with carols and other trappings of Christmas long before the actual occasion and now, when we ought to be singing the songs of Christmas, we’re sick of them.
Is anyone particularly tired this morning? Are you feeling the accumulated stress of the holidays? Are you ready for the peace and quiet of a little ordinary time? I’m sure you’re not alone. The “holiday season,” as we have come to know it, assaults all our senses from before Halloween through the after-Christmas sales and celebrations of the New Year. By now, it makes perfectly good sense that we would be worn out, even if we did not overindulge in welcoming the New Year.
So how many of us got everything we wanted for Christmas? What did you find in your stocking, “hung by the chimney with care”? What wonders waited for you under the tree? Were you completely satisfied with your giving and receiving? I don’t mean to be a Scrooge this morning. I enjoy many of the more secular traditions of the season as I am sure you do. However, as a people of faith, the meaning of Christmas should be more than the festivities of the “holiday season.” It is even more than the beloved stories of the angels and shepherds and Magi and Mary and Joseph and a baby born in a stable.
The writer of John tries to capture the deeper meaning in the Prologue to his gospel. “The Word,” he writes, “became flesh and lived among us…” But note this word is not just any word – like pancake or football or swimming or listen or speak or good or bad or heaven or hell. It is written with a capital “W” but it is not a name like Rick or Oscar or Kathy or Thelma or Daniel or Gerardy or Gandalf or Darth Vader or even Dumbledore. The word is “Word” and John says it is very special. He says this Word was “in the beginning with God” – you know, way, way back when God created everything. How can that be? What do you think John is talking about? What or who is this Word and what does it have to do with the true meaning of Christmas?
At first, John says “the Word was God;” then he says the Word was light and life and glory and truth and grace. That’s a lot of lovely, but abstract terms, challenging to take in and comprehend. So, he says, “the Word became flesh and lived among us.” Now wait a minute. Have you ever encountered light or life or glory or grace or truth walking around your neighborhood? Has God been seen recently at your school or workplace? Was God in line for the “Star Wars” premiere? How is it that God became human? Who is this mysterious Word who is light and life and glory and grace and truth and is both God and human?
Could it be Jesus, the baby whose birth we celebrated at Christmas? How is it that Jesus can be this Word? Let’s play with the question a little. The dictionary says that a word is “A sound or a combination of sounds, or its representation in writing or printing,that symbolizes and communicates a meaning…”
So the Word “symbolizes and communicates meaning.” The Word has come from God to show and tell us something about the meaning of God’s creation and our existence in it.
In Greek “the Word” is translated as “logos” and it means, philosophically, “the principle governing the cosmos…Identified with God, it is the source of all activity and generation and is the power of reason residing in the human soul.” That’s heavy! In biblical Judaism logos is “the word of God, which itself has creative power and is God’s medium of communication with the human race.”
It appears that, after God had tried to communicate with humanity through the law and the prophets, through wisdom and history, through poetry and song, God decided the only way to get our attention was in the flesh, in human form. You know how someone showing up in your space is more likely to get your attention than a text or an email or even a clever meme? So the Word became Jesus, a baby born to an unmarried peasant couple in a backwater village of a small-time country some 2000 years ago, and that same Jesus became the Word – filled with light and life and glory and grace and truth – in the flesh.
Barbara Brown Taylor comments on this passage, “In Jesus, John says, the word becomes flesh. The intangible light, glory, grace, and truth of God are embodied in him. God puts skin on those divine attributes so that followers who want to know how they sound and act have someone to show them” (Barbara Brown Taylor, Feasting on the Word: Year C, Volume 1, pp. 189, 191).
Suddenly light shines out, infiltrating the darkness and wrapping us in its warmth. “To all who accept the Word, who see the significance of that name, power is given to become children of God. Is this the meaning that Jesus came to communicate, that we are meant to be children of God? From the beginning of the time, God has been reaching out to draw us to her bosom. Is this the ultimate Word, illuminated by the Light that has come into the world? God so loved the world that God sent God’s only-begotten child. That’s us – you and me.
In the light of this Word made flesh, Taylor suggests that we each may have a word – potential or realized – that is our word. She says, “Almost everyone has a word that he or she has a gift for bringing to life.” She suggests words like” compassion” or “justice,” “patience” or “generosity.” If you were to allow the light to shine out and illuminate it, what your word would be? Take a moment, reflect prayerfully. What is the word you have the gift for bringing to life? Taylor says, “Until someone acts upon these words, they remain abstract concepts – very good ideas that few people have ever seen. The moment someone acts on them, the words become flesh. They live among us, so we can see their glory” (Taylor, op. cit., p. 191). Light shines out.
She suggests that congregations might also have their defining words – like “hospitality” or “prayer” or “service” or “prophetic.” It is impossible for any one congregation to be all things to all people, but it might have a particular word that is its gift to bring to life. Again, take a prayerful moment to consider what might be a characteristic word for our congregation. Perhaps it is something you see or perhaps it is something you hope for. What word would you like for us to put flesh on and live out?
I encourage you to take your words – for yourself and for our community – reflect on them, pray about them, share them with someone you trust and consider how to make them real in your own life and in the world around you, to put flesh on them in your own living.
“And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen the glory of the Word, the glory as of a parent’s only child, full of grace and truth.” “The true light, which enlightens everyone, is always coming into the world.” Light shines out. Darkness cannot overcome it. Let your little light shine. Amen.