What’s The WORD?

December 25, 2014

Christ Church Episcopal, Norcross, GA

Christmas III
Isaiah 52:7-10; Hebrews 1:1-4; John 1:1-14

John’s gospel account of Jesus coming into the world is powerful and poetic. It doesn’t tell of the birth of a child in a stable in a little town called Bethlehem, but instead, the opening words of John’s gospel bring to mind the creation story of Genesis, which begins:

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 he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day. (Gen 1:1-5, NRSV)

But, John’s gospel backs up even farther. It doesn’t begin with the creation of the heavens and the earth, but instead, with the nature of God. In light of the incarnate Jesus, God can no longer be understood in the same way God was understood before. After the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, there was a deeper understanding of the complexity of God – that this one-God whom the people of Israel followed is actually a three-in-one-God: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Now, while this doesn’t seem too complicated to you and me, having heard of this Trinity God from the beginning of OUR religious context, this was pretty radical stuff a couple of thousand years ago; certainly for the people of Israel. One thing that set them apart from the gentiles was their devotion to ONE God, not may gods. Remember, the first commandment brought down by Moses from Mt. Sinai was:

I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods besides me.” (Ex. 20:2-3)

So, then comes Jesus, and Houston, we have a problem!

But, it’s only a problem if we see Jesus as separate from God. If instead, we understand Jesus as being an incarnation, a being-made-flesh of this same God, then it’s merely a deeper understanding of God.

Using my relationship with my parents as an example:

When I was a child, I had a limited understanding of my mom and dad. They created me, they clothed and fed me, they made rules that I needed to follow, and punished me when I broke those rules (and rules were broken). They also loved me, they taught me things about the world, they shared their understanding of God with me, and I knew I could go to them when I was scared or sad and they would comfort and protect me.

As I got older, my understanding of my parents changed.

In my early teens my parents separated, and in that moment, even though they got back together, they lost their “perfect person” standing in my eyes. In the long run, this was actually a good thing, but at the time, it was hard to understand.

Then, a few years later, right after I graduated from college, my dad’s mother had a stroke. I spent several days at the hospital with my family. The aunts and uncles with whom I had spent countless Sundays around Grandma’s dinner table seemed different now. My dad, the oldest, was thoughtful and stoic, while my uncle Andy, the baby of the family, was allowed to cry openly. Upon reflection, although I had seen my father as a sibling, until that time in the hospital, I’m not sure I’d ever really understood him as a son before.

So, with new circumstances, we shift our understanding of the people we have known in our lives. And, this is no less true for those early believers. With the entry of Jesus, and the revelation of who Jesus was – the incarnation of God on earth – the overall understanding of God shifts.

This revelation prompts John to reframe God in this new context, allowing for the eternal co-existence of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the three persons of the one God, from the very beginning of creation:

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

From: theewordbecamefleshdotorg.wordpress.com/

From: theewordbecamefleshdotorg.wordpress.com/

In this opening verse, John’s gospel doesn’t identify Jesus by name, but refers to him as The Word, λόγος (logos). Logos means the reasoning; the thought or the plan. The use of the word logos explains the purpose of this incarnation of God in flesh. God came in human form to provide for us a clearer understanding of God – to provide more directly the reasoning; the thought; the plan of God for us.

John states that the Word existed at the beginning of all things, and nothing has come into being without it. So, before the heavens and the earth were created, before the “Let there be light” moment in God’s creation, the reasoning was there (wherever there is). In this reasoning was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

So, from the very beginning, God’s plan was for us to have life; vitality; vigor. [After the long day yesterday, I’m not sure how much vigor I have right now, but I trust God will pull me through!]

The image associated with life is that of light. Darkness, on the other hand, is used to portray those who do not understand God’s reasoning or plan – it represents unknowing. John’s gospel says:

He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not [receive] him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God…

By believing, we receive the power or the choice to become children of God. So, like many things in our life, it’s a choice. We are given the ability, if we look and listen to The Word, that is, to Jesus, to comprehend God’s plan.

And, because the purpose of John’s gospel is to get it’s hearers to make this choice, to get off the fence and pick a life that follows Jesus, the argument being made uses stark contrasts, like you might find in a courtroom litigation. You are either in the light or in darkness; you are good or evil; you’re a child of God or a child of the world; you’re either with Jesus or against Jesus. And, while this kind of contrast can be compelling when making a case for “our guy” Jesus, it can be off-putting to those who see it as polarizing and judging. This is one reason I struggled fiercely with the gospel of John. It seemed so exclusive.

But instead, I contend that John’s primary purpose throughout the gospel is to show the connectedness of God the Father, and God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. These three elements comprise the one God that has a plan, a reasoning, for how we are to be. Jesus boils this down to loving God and loving others as CHRIST loved us; as GOD loves us.

Throughout time God has been in relationship with us, imperfect humans that we are. Through Moses, God provided the laws – the rules that imparted the guiding principles of God’s reasoning. Jesus came into the world to be a physical presence of God and a living example of what it is to live into God’s reasoning. So while Moses was given the Law, Jesus brings grace and truth, and says…

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep… I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. (Jn 10:11, 14-17)

So, just when we think John is so EXCLUSIVE, we get this offering of inclusivity… “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.”

At the conclusion of John’s gospel we find the final reasoning of God’s plan in the words the resurrected Jesus.

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’ A second time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Tend my sheep.’ He said to him the third time, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ And he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep.’ (Jn 21:15-17)

Jesus came into the world to embody the extent to which God is in relationship with us, and to reveal more directly what God’s purpose is for humankind. The sheep that we are to feed are not only those in the light, but more frequently, are those who find themselves in darkness, including us, at times. We are ALL people of God and all worthy of God’s love and grace.

May we spread that grace to others this Christmas season, and throughout the new creation!

I invite your thoughts and insights.

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