Sunday, January 04, 2015

Christmas 2B

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.”

I understand why we read this passage from John’s gospel every Christmas season, but, I’m not always happy about it. To me, it sounds bloodless, the abstract ruminations of a cloistered philosopher who comprehends the mysteries of the divine, and grasps truths that leave the rest of us confounded, but who can’t find the eggs in the grocery store.

Maybe I’m missing something but John’s message of the Word made Flesh doesn’t quite make it down to earth. His words to describe The Word betray his message.

After all, we’re here this morning not to theologize about the nature of the incarnation or to speculate about the inner-relationship of the Trinity.

We’re here to greet a baby. A tiny creature who cries all night and fills his diapers. We sing songs about mangers and barns, shepherds and angels, sheep and donkeys.

On Christmas Eve we heard stories so earthy that they have dirt on them and made our clothes smell. Today’s reading only leaves us lost in our thoughts.

John’s Jesus worries me. I worry that he can’t relate to me. Or to any of us. Or to anyone with a pulse and who bleeds red.

I worry that he might come across as human in name only, that he doesn’t understand the limitations of a mortal life. 

I worry that he’s comfortably theoretical, afraid to touch our skin, uninterested in changing our lives or the world, except for maybe writing about it in a journal article. I worry that he came just to have a really interesting conversation.

Just listen to the opening of John’s gospel. He tells, he doesn’t show. He explains, but he doesn’t persuade. He teaches, but he doesn’t illustrate.

“In the beginning...was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word WAS God. The Word was with God in the beginning. All things came into being through him, and without him, not one thing came into being.”

In the beginning....It’s that phrase that John uses a few times...hmmm....sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Upon reading this again, I wonder if John might be up to something here. And I’m not sure what. But it appears that he’s asking us to open up our bibles and turn to page one.

So, what’s going on? The bible begins with these words:

“In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.

Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness God called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.”

“And God said...”

There were six more times “God SAID...”

Starting his gospel by saying “In the beginning...” might have been the first clue. But I missed it so many times.

Why is John asking us to re-read the creation story? What is John trying to tell us?

Is he somehow connecting Jesus to the creation story? Is he re-telling the creation story with Jesus at the centre? And if so, why?

It could be that John is telling a “New Creation” story or a story of a “New Creation”, with the word that spoke the first creation into being in the beginning is now speaking something new into existence. Is “In the beginning...” now “In a NEW beginning...”?

A new beginning...through a Word. A creative Word. A life-giving Word. A Word that God speaks.

It could be that John is reminding us that words have tremendous creative power, that words create a world, words shape us, words build a life. The words we use tell us who we are. Words fashion a people and form a community.

Maybe I shouldn’t have been so quick to dismiss John. Maybe John was on to something and I just didn’t see it. He knew the power of the Word to create. He knew the power of the Word to speak salvation into our lives. He knew the power of the Word to forge a new future.

If I was worried about John’s Jesus I had no reason to be. John knew that the Word made flesh did more than just think lofty thoughts.

John was saying that the Word of God, the Word that spoke something out of nothing, the Word that spoke order from chaos, the Word that spoke creation into being, speaks into our lives TODAY, shaping them, re-molding them, tearing them down and building them up again, John was saying that Jesus - the Word made flesh through whom all things were made, speaks us into salvation. 

This is a Word we could not speak for ourselves, but speaks on our behalf. This Word is not our word, but God’s.

This is why I’m a little hesitant to make Christianity intelligible to non-believers. This is were I part ways with the so-called “seeker-sensitive” approach to evangelism, or so-called “emerging church” leaders. They say that it’s our job as Christians is to make it easy for visiting non-believers to our church to understand the message. That they shouldn’t have to make an intellectual or cultural commute1 in stepping into our churches and experiencing our worship.

They say that we have to use the language of the culture for people to hear our message. That we have to penetrate the cacophony of competing voices to make OUR voice heard. Some suggest that it’s an act radical INhospitality to make non-Christians intellectually or culturally uncomfortable during worship.

And while, yes, we welcome all people to our church the way people welcome guests into our homes. We make sure they have a place to sit, we ask them their name.

And here at First Lutheran Church we make an effort to make sure that our faith isn’t buried in churchy language that’s lost on most people. And we try to make worship meaningful, applicable to every day living. And that’s an important goal. And I think we do a good job translating our faith to those who don’t speak the language of church

But there comes a time when there will be a disconnect between where the non-believer is and where we are. There will be a gulf, a distance, between what we say and how a non-believer will experience it.

And that’s okay. It’s meant to be like that. After all we preach a message that does not belong to the world. Jesus may be God’s Word made flesh but even his own people didn’t recognize him, so what makes us think that people today would be any different?

The distance between us and the non-believer is where Jesus does his best work. It’s a holy discomfort where we realize that Jesus’ message of new and everlasting life isn’t something that we create on our own, but it comes from far beyond us, yet also has taken up residence deep within us.

I’ve heard it said that becoming a Christian is like learning a new language. There’s a lot of truth in that. When you learn a new language you are given a fresh lens in which to see the world. You’re given a whole new vocabulary to describe what you see. 

And the words you are given have shapes and nuances that can’t be translated back to your native language. They describe life and existence in ways you couldn’t express previously.

And that’s what faith does. It give us eyes to see our world differently, and new words to describe what we see.

As we journey toward the end of Christmas, the Festival of the Incarnation, the celebration of the Word made Flesh, we remind ourselves that this season is about God speaking a new world into being through Jesus. It’s about God giving us a whole new language, a fresh set of eyes through which to see the world.

No longer do we see the world through the darkness of sin and death, but because of Jesus, God’s Word, God has given us eyes to witness to the light of mercy and peace of new and everlasting life.

No longer do we despair over the world as a people without hope, but we place our hope in Jesus - God’s Word, through whom God is healing the world.

No longer do we give in to vindictive and vengeful spite, but through God’s Word, God is speaking us into being a people of forgiveness.

And the Word never stops speaking. The Word never stops becoming flesh. In us, as the Body of Christ, the Word speaks it’s message of life and salvation, so we can speak that Word. That Word is on OUR lips. That Word speaks through US. As the Christ’s living body, we are God’s Word speaking today.

In the love we give to others, in the joy we have in receiving God’s mercy, in the tears we wipe dry, and in the compassion we show to the hurting, the Word becomes flesh and lives through US.

In the kind words that WE speak. In the whispers of concern. In the private caring conversations and public proclamations of forgiveness. In those words of challenge that make us grow. In the words of a story that shapes us.

In the spirited words that guide us confidently down unfamiliar paths. In the encouraging words that support us as we trek out into unknown adventures. In the inspiring words that propel us to go further and higher in life than we ever thought possible.

In the healing words that WE receive, in the Words that speak truth to our self-created delusions, in the words of grace that lift us when we are at our lowest, in the fiery words that trouble our consciences, in the soothing words that hush our anxiety, in the consoling words that calm our sorrowing hearts.

In the sympathetic words that support us when we fail. In the reassuring words when we are afraid.

In the compassionate words when we grieve. In the resurrection words when we are dying.

These are God’s words. These are the words that give flesh to the Word - God’s Word that lives among us, full of grace and truth.

These are the words that create, the words that join our story with God’s story. These are the words that God speaks through us - God speaks through YOU, because God is always speaking words of hope, peace, joy, and love into a world through the words you speak, God is always speaking words of mercy, forgiveness, and healing, through the life you live.

You are God’s creative Word become flesh. You are God’s living Word speaking life and salvation. You are God’s eternal Word dwelling in YOUR world, wherever you are, and wherever you go.

And at the end, we know that God - in Jesus - has the final Word. And that final word is “Life.” New life. Abundant life. Everlasting life.

May this Word be always on our lips. May this Word always become flesh and live among us. May this Word always fill us with grace and truth. Amen.


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