Jeremiah 31:7-14; Psalm 147:12-20; Ephesians 1:3-14; John 1:(1-9), 10-18

Second Sunday after Chistmas Day Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary 10 January 2010

Christmas 2C 10 January 2010 Textweek

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

In the beginning was the Word. Not the protestant word of biblical truth, not\r the Catholic word of papal authority. In the beginning was the Word - the Logos, the very breath and being of the Divine.

The beginning of John’s Gospel: his starting point for teaching about the revelation of Christ is quite different to the more common narratives we have listened to over Christmas. John’s “nativity” is very different to the nativity scenes that are so vividly portrayed in church mangers, so different from the nativity that’s sung in carols, and depicted on countless Christmas cards. And if we look a bit closer we find that each of the four gospels, in seeking to explore the revelation of Christ, starts from a different point. Matthew starts with a genealogy, he starts by giving us the birth certificate of Jesus, the purpose being to provide a “proof’ of Jesus coming from the house of David, a fulfillment of Old Testament prophesy. Luke begins with the annunciation – but not to Mary, rather the annunciation of John the Baptist to Elizabeth. That’s the important starting point for Luke. Mark starts his nativity with the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist (which we celebrate next Sunday). They’re all different, quite different. And John, as we hear today, identifies Christ with the Word, the Logos - the creative actuality, the actual breath of creation, the Word. It’s really quite auspicious that the song we sang before listening to John’s gospel was ‘Away in a Manger’. There’s a real comforting noise to this song. Theologically it takes us back to Sunday School; it takes us back to a simple understanding. ‘Away in a Manger’ is a song for many of us from our childhood. We can go back and feel that comfort. John’s gospel takes us into each and every tomorrow. It doesn’t look back, nor does it look forward; it looks to the fullness of the moment.

Do we ever pause and ask ourselves what purpose is there in the Holy Scriptures? Are they written specifically and particularly for the church? And how were they constructed; where do the words in the Bible come from; how are they put together; with what purpose? Basic questions that each of us will have some idea of, but so often passed over, leaving us with assumptions and only a faint appreciation of their value and their potential.

Four Gospels and each with a different starting point, yet all speaking of one process. It’s as if the gospels provide us with windows through which to look; they provide us with directions of approach; they provide us with stories to open our understanding. But do we ever ask, ‘windows to look at what? directions to approach what? open our understanding of what?’ The answer to these What questions, like every answer to Sunday School questions, is almost always Jesus. However, what we see in John’s gospel is a movement beyond, way beyond, the life documentary of Jesus. It’s a movement beyond the What questions to the Why questions.

John begins the process of unwrapping the Christmas present, and as we participate in the unwrapping, so too we find ourselves as participants in that which we are unwrapping. There’s a lovely image, I forget where from, of a woman sitting in a rocking chair knitting, and if you follow the wool that hangs off the needles, what she’s knitting is herself. It’s a beautiful image. What we are hearing today is a similar image: as we unwrap the gifts of Christmas, what we find is we are unwrapping ourselves.

“To all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God”. As we unwrap the child of God, we see ourselves as children of God. John not only looks beyond the historical event, he opens to us the paradigm of eternity – a life that is not bound by birth or death, nor bound by the appearance of the ‘everyday’. More than that, much more, he brings together the ancient schemes of heaven and earth. The shift, the theological shift that John gives us is bigger than the movement away from seeing the earth as a flat disc at the centre of the universe. John brings together heaven and earth, that for thousands of years have been pushed apart and separated; John brings them together in the incarnation of the Word.

If we only look into the scriptures through one of the gospel windows, we will only see a part of the picture. If our theology, if our understanding of the Divine and of ourselves comes from ‘Away in a Manger’, we will pick up a thread of the story, but it is just a thread. If we look just through that one simple window we might see a special birth, we might see a special child and so come to think that Jesus is special. But how easy from there to fall into the distortion that Jesus is special and I am not! Or that Jesus is more special than I am. How easy it is as we look through the ‘Away in a Manger’ window and see the ‘child’ and so immediately ‘know’ that God is “The Father” opening up a gender distortion that has undergirded inequalities for centuries.

John takes us beyond the partially obvious into a deeper and fuller understanding, a fuller understanding of life and of our participation in the creation of life: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him,”

All things came into being through him and the “him” being referred to here is the Word. It’s a masculine noun in Greek and therefore readily translatable in its application to Christ: ‘him’, he is the Word. However, to avoid further distortion we should appreciate that the Logos (the divine word) parallels and echoes an Old Testament tradition. In the Hebrew tradition, it was Sophia who was considered to have been with God from the beginning of Creation; Sophia, which we translate as ‘wisdom’. In Proverbs 8:27-31, Sophia says:
When God set the heavens in place, I was present,
When God drew a ring on the surface of the deep,………
When God fixed the clouds above,
When God fixed fast the wells of the deep,
when God assigned the sea its limits-
and the waters will not invade the land,
when God established the foundations of the earth,
I was by God's side, a master craftswoman,
delighting God day after day,
ever at play by God's side,
at play everywhere in God's domain,
delighting to be with the children of humanity.

These two traditions give us two more windows through which to look at the nativity scene. In modern English, ‘word’ is gender neutral, and I think that is conceptually closer to John’s understanding, for in Christ, Logos, the divine word, the masculine noun, and Sophia, the wisdom, the feminine, are both evidenced together in their fullness. Once again John takes us beyond the partially obvious.

The opening verses of John’s gospel, John’s nativity, open us to a life-affirming worldview and it seems to reach way beyond the orthodox traditional understanding. I would almost say as we read John’s gospel we should rename that song ‘Away with the Manger’.

v3 - All things came into being through him. Neither Christians nor Jews are God’s chosen people, for ALL are of the Divine breath.

v4 - In him was Life, and the life was the light of all people. The Word, the logos, the Christ, is in verse 9, The true light which enlightens everyone’. It is our true light.

Quickly go back to an earlier question. “Do we ever pause and ask ourselves what purpose the Holy Scriptures serve?” They guide us toward enlightenment, the true light that enlightens everyone. They guide us towards being enlightened, and that’s an understanding we’re beginning to appreciate as Western Christians, now that we’ve opened our ears to listen to some of the Eastern traditions.

And then in v12, “to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God”. And this is where we find a life-affirming enlightenment. Christmas is not about a special child, it is rather that all children are special; all can be empowered to become children of God, all can find themselves in the manger, all can know themselves as with God in the moment of creation, for every moment is the moment of creation.

As we unwrap our Christmas present, so we unwrap ourselves; as we unwrap ourselves we discover the divinity within. And it’s in that discovery that we might sing in chorus with Paul: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will.

In Advent we waited for the Christ Child. At Christmas the waiting came to an end; revealed in the manger, in the lowliness of the everyday, we saw Emmanuel, God with us. Led by one light, the star in the east, we see the true light. Now, in each and every moment that follows we must seek that light in each and every other. We must reveal that same light in ourselves, recognizing that we are the gift of Christmas.

The Lord be with you
Peter Humphris