Today is the first Sunday of Christmas. You know that there are 12 days of Christmas, and that those twelve days begin, not end, on Christmas Day. Christmas continues right up to the Feast of the Epiphany—although in many places, Christmas decorations remain in the church until February 2, which is Candlemas, or also the Feast of the Presentation in the Temple. Continue reading
“In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God”
We live in difficult times. The world is a dangerous, scary place. The future looks bleak. Not only are the problems we face apparently beyond our will and capacity to solve. It’s not just the ongoing wars, a challenging economy; Climate change seems to be occurring at a frightening pace—with reports this week about warm temperatures in the Arctic causing unprecedented ice melting.
It’s not just the immensity of the problems, in recent years truth and reason themselves have come under attack. First it was Stephen Colbert and “truthiness.” Now, we are victims of “fake truth” the manipulation of the media, and a widespread and vicious attack on science.
Some of this latter can be blamed on a certain understanding and worldview within Christianity. It’s been a practice among some Christians for centuries to draw a sharp contrast between faith and reason—to argue that one must believe in spite of evidence to the contrary; that faith in God goes against reason. In recent decades, that view has led to some Christians making contortions in their efforts to explain away the theory of evolution, the fossil record, the big bang, arguing that scientific evidence like fossils were given by God to test our faith, or worse, planted by Satan to deceive us.
In a way all of this has led us to this point; where we’re not quite sure of anything; that every position no matter how supported by scientific evidence, is only a matter of opinion.
These majestic, transcendent verses from the very beginning of the Gospel of John reflect and present us with a very different perspective. John is writing from within a particular worldview that permeated the Hellenistic culture of his time. In the beginning was the Word, in fact, in the beginning was the Logos—more than word, it could be translated as reason. You could understand it as the underlying order of the universe, natural law, if you will.
John is asserting not just that God created the universe, but that this created universe is imbued with divine order and reason; that it makes sense, and also, that by exploring the universe, we can come to know something about the nature of God.
Of course, to translate logos as “word” is to make another important theological point—that at the very beginning of things, the second person of the Trinity was present, involved in creating the universe. Indeed, in Genesis 1, God creates by speaking the universe into existence—God said, “Let there be light.”
This is all well and good, but the reality is that the world we experience only dimly reflects the divine order and creative power that brought it into being and maintains it. Our fallen natures have clouded our reason, and creation itself bears signs of our disobedience of God.
We experience our own sin and fallen-ness, we know our broken-ness and the broken-ness of the world, and we struggle to know and to love God and ourselves. Given that, we’re tempted to experience or understand God as utterly beyond us, beyond our comprehension or understanding, remote, uncaring, unmoved or unmoving.
The word became flesh and dwelt among us. This is the heart of this passage, the heart of the gospel, it may very well be the heart of Christianity. The God who is utterly beyond us, incomprehensible, infinite, has become one of us, has dwelt among us. The God who created the world and us, has come to us in human form, becoming human, sharing our lives and our existence.
But more than that, the word we translate as “dwelt” could be translated as tabernacled or tented—it’s a reference back to the experience of the Hebrews in the wilderness when they created a tabernacle to be a symbol of God’s presence among them as they wandered through the desert.
That’s one way we should think about it, that in the Word becoming flesh God tented among us, taking on a frail, temporary body like ours, but also that God journeyed with us, that God journeys with us, that God is with us as we wander through our lives.
It’s a remarkable journey that we make through our lives, it’s a remarkable journey of struggle, change, and love. There’s a remarkable journey in this text, from before time and the universe existed, to the Word becoming flesh and tenting among us.
To ponder that mystery, not just what the words say, but the mystery of the nature of God to which it bears witness—a God beyond our comprehension and imagination, but a God who so cares for us and loves us, that the very Word of God comes to us, becomes one of us, dies for us.
To contemplate that God, the God we see dimly in the beauty of creation; the God we see clearly in the incarnation; the God we see in the words and life of Jesus Christ; the God whose self-giving love embraces the whole world in his outstretched arms.
To contemplate that God, to contemplate that love, and to begin to express and share that love; that is what and who we are called to be by Christmas. Thanks be to God.
What does it feel like to say that familiar greeting this year? Are you filled with Christmas spirit? Are you ready to enjoy the annual celebration with joy overflowing, get-togethers with friends and families? Are you full of Christmas cheer? Or does it all, in spite of every effort, seem like Christmas this year is a little darker, our hope and joy dimmed by a nation and a world that seems to be spiraling out of control in violence, environmental degradation, and fear. Continue reading
Christmas may be over in our culture, but for us it continues for twelve days, through January 5. I don’t know whether any of you actually observe the twelve days of Christmas in any way, about the only nod Corrie and I make to the traditional season of Christmastide is to leave our Christmas tree up through the duration. In the stores, I assume the Christmas decorations are down and the Valentine’s Day displays are up. While many people’s outdoor decorations remain, the number of discarded Christmas trees curbside is growing by the day. We’ve moved on to other things—last minute plans for New Year’s, thinking about what January will bring, bowl games, NFL playoffs, all of that. Christmas is receding into the past, now memories, hopefully joyful memories, but memories nonetheless. Continue reading
In Maryanne Robinson’s Gilead, the elderly Protestant pastor is going through decades of sermons, ostensibly to put them in some sort of order for posterity. His sermons are written on paper. The exercise gives him the opportunity to reflect back on his ministry, on those many years of being with his congregation, on the changes that took place over those decades, and also, to ask about the meaning of it all.
I haven’t preached anywhere near as many sermons as that, and I’ve preached in several different contexts but I do go back and look over what I’ve written before. It is fascinating to do so. I find myself drawn back into the life of the parish in which I preached the sermon and very often into the mood of the time, even if fewer than five years have passed. Rereading those sermons often brings to mind members of those parishes, the struggles they were going through, and, inevitably, those people who have departed this life.
Very often I go back over past sermons in hopes of finding some nugget to include in the sermon I’m currently writing. This week, not having to write a sermon for the First Sunday after Christmas Day, I went back over some I had preached over the years. Given the heightened anxiety over terrorist attacks again, I thought it might be of interest to others: