Lessons for the Feast of the Nativity (Christmas III): Isaiah 52:7-10; Psalm 98; Hebrews 1:1-12; John 1:1-18
THE INCARNATION IN THE FOURTH GOSPEL
I love Christmas and I especially love the way John tells the Christmas story. Perhaps rather than saying this is John’s “Christmas” story it makes more sense to say that this is John’s story of the Incarnation. It bears little resemblance to the Christmas that we know. There are no angels and no shepherds. There is no Bethlehem, no inn, and no manger. There are no stars and no wisemen. For all of it, there is not even a Joseph nor a Mary. No, indeed, John follows the rhythm of Rogers and Hammerstein, starting “…at the very beginning, a very good place to start.”
John transports us all the way back to the beginning of time…actually, to before the beginning of time. Before anything at all was created, before the world began, the Word – the Logos – the Christ was with God. No, the Logos was God.
The Logos was God. In the beginning, the Word was God. How astonishing! And we are indeed meant to be astonished. We are meant to be hushed, to be brought to silence in the holiness. All of our fumbling theologizing about Christmas and the Incarnation is silenced as we push the story to the very beginning of all things.
That is right: all things. In the very next strophe (John 1:3), we are told is that “all things were made through him.” There really is no mistaking John’s meaning here. Through the Incarnate Logos who is God from before the beginning of all things was the One through all things were created – all things, everything and everyone. I don’t know about you, but that is simply breathtaking and astonishing.
And it would explain a lot about who we are as a Christian people baptized in the Episcopal tradition. You see, we are those people who have promised, and continually promise over and over again, “to seek and serve Christ in all persons.” Not some people, not even most people, but all persons.
So the Good News that John is proclaiming at the outset of the fourth gospel may not be so great after all. It can be somewhat unfortunate news because very often we do not want to recognize the Word in all persons. It can be disconcerting news because too often we do not want to seek the Christ in everyone. Honestly, you don’t mean everything, do you?
So perhaps we wish that John had started his Gospel with something a little less, with something maybe not at the very beginning. The beginning, it turns out, might not a very good place to start after all. It is hugely inconvenient to start there because it leads to all this seeking and serving of persons, quite frankly, we just would rather not seek and serve.
Christmas is so much easier if you just stick to the nativity scene and think about Mary and Joseph, some cuddly sheep, and a cow in the background. Christmas is easier if you stick to the shepherds falling all over themselves with excitement like so many children under the Christmas tree, which, just as inconveniently, does not seem to be a part of the story either. John is making it all just a little inconvenient.
That is, until you get to the part about light. “In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:4-5).
THE LIGHT & THE WORD
Legend holds that Martin Luther lit the first Christmas tree with candles so as to make it look like the stars in the sky! When we light candles, we access ancient energy – a cyclical life-giving energy. The bio-chemistry of it is unmistakable: Energy produced in photosynthesis by a plant’s absorption of the sun’s energy is passed up the food chain to grazing cattle to produce tallow or on to bees to produce beeswax. The candle then produced will light even the gloomiest of nights with a cryptic sunlight, returning the complex fat or wax molecules to the form in which the plants found it in the first place – water and carbon dioxide that can be incorporated into living things all over again.
The Word, the Logos, the Christ that was at the beginning and through whom all things came into being is in all of that. The Logos is in the photosynthesis. The Logos is in the tallow and the beeswax. The Logos is the cryptic sunlight. “Without him not one thing came into being.” Or, as the old Authorized Version says, “without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:3b). Oh, my!. That is simply astonishing.
This is more complicated than Christmas ought to be or, rather, it is probably more complicated that we want Christmas to be. But here it is, in black and white, Christmas through the eyes of the Fourth Gospel:
And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth…And of his fullness have all we received, and grace for grace. (John 1:14, 16)
“Dwelt” means something like “pitched his tent” among us. When we pick up our tent stakes and move on, the Word pulls up and travels with us. But not just a part of the Word, it is the fullness we have received. Simply astonishing! The fullness of the Word from which all life, all things, all light doth proceed, is shared with us all. As in “all.” Not some, not a lot, but like creation itself, all persons and all things receive this grace. “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound.”
THE WITNESS TO THE LIGHT
So it started on the one hand with the Word, the Logos, the Christ and all that he has done since before time, in time, and beyond time. And then on the other hand is John the Baptist, the man “sent from God” (John 1:6a) who “came as a witness to testify to the light” (John 1:7a). “He himself was not the light, but came to testify to the light” (John 1:8)
So I was thinking, maybe we could do that, too. Maybe we could bear witness to the light that comes from the Word who was with God, who was God in the beginning.
Maybe we could be like John so that others might believe through us and the light, which enlightens everyone, might shine forth on everyone. Maybe we can be little “John the Baptists” – or, better, we can be Mary the Baptists, George the Baptists, and Ellen the Baptists. You see, it is all together that we are the body of Christ. Alone, none of us can get the job done, fully exposing the light to the world; but, together the world can be lit, the world can be changed through us.
So I was thinking that this is exactly what we are called to be and to do We are called to bear witness to the light, just like John. And we are asked to do all in our power to help others do so as well. This is what is meant by seeking and serving Christ, the Word, the Logos, in all persons, everywhere, at all times.
Now, none of us can be Christ unto ourselves for the whole world. Yet, we each carries Christ for a particular piece of the whole. We each carry light to an essential part. We are, in other words, each essential light-bearers that make up the Church and without each part the Church would not be whole and could not bear the fullness of the light. That is why, when we baptize new members of the Body of Christ, the whole body is changed and made new. That is why it is so important to take the promises we make seriously. Especially the promise to do all in our power to support one another in our lives in Christ. Together, through Christ, we are the fullness of the light. Together, in Christ, we bear grace and truth. Together we can seek and serve Christ in all persons. Together we can strive for justice and peace for all people, and respect the dignity of every human being. We are the body of Christ.
Together we make up the mosaic that is the Word, the Logos, the Christ, for the world. Merry Christmas! God bless us every one. Amen.