Today, we in the Episcopal church are not going along with most other lectionary-based churches. Everyone else is telling the story about twelve-year-old Jesus preaching to rabbis in the temple today. Why are we the only ones talking about this difficult text from John? Because, as Episcopalians, we are bound and determined to insist that today, six days after Christmas, we are still in the Christmas season. And, to my surprise, this reading from John is actually his telling of the Christmas story! Oh, John doesn’t get all sentimental about mangers and donkeys and shepherds. No, he is doing what he always does, he is making it as clear as he can that Jesus is God.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Got it? Crystal clear. I find this scripture pretty impenetrable. Well, let’s try to unpack this. This ‘Word’ is translated from a Greek word: Logos and from Logos, we get our word ‘logic’. So, let’s try that: ‘In the beginning was logic, and logic was with God, and logic was God.’ Somehow, that makes a lot more sense to me. Maybe it’s from Star Trek. Maybe this is Spock’s theology.
Each of the four gospels begins with an account of the origin of Jesus. Mark starts with Jesus as “a man from Nazareth” and reflects on prophesies from Isaiah. Matthew and Luke begin earlier still, starting with Jesus’s conception and birth. John, however, goes all the way back to the beginning of time itself! Jesus, as the divine Logos, was with God in the beginning. Jesus was, and is, God.
I’m going to paraphrase this translation from The Living Bible: “Before anything else existed, there was Christ, with God. He has always been alive and is himself God. He created everything there is—nothing exists that he didn’t make. Eternal life is in him, and this life gives light to all mankind. His life is the light that shines through the darkness—and the darkness can never extinguish it.”
Now we take a side trip to talk about John the Baptist: “God sent John the Baptist as a witness to the fact that Jesus Christ is the true Light. John himself was not the Light; he was only a witness to identify it. Later on, the one who is the true Light arrived to shine on everyone coming into the world.”
Now, here comes John’s nativity scene: “And Christ became a human being and lived here on earth among us and was full of loving forgiveness and truth. And some of us have seen his glory—the glory of the only Son of the heavenly Father!”
Does that make any more sense to you? In this gospel, Jesus is quickly described as God, as the creator of everything, as the true light of the world, and as the son of the heavenly Father. That little baby, born in a manger, has a lot of weight on his tiny shoulders in John’s gospel. That little baby, according to John, is God become flesh.
That baby grows up to show us how we are meant to be, full of life, full of hope, full of joy. Even as God showed us the light of Christ in our midst, we are to allow this light to shine forth in our lives. As we state in our baptismal vows: We strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being. This is how we can be alive in Christ today.
I have found that trying to follow the teachings of this man who lived 2000 years ago brings light into my life. I try to follow the charge to love one another, I try to remember that the last shall be first, most of all, I seek, as Jesus taught, to find God in all people, especially in the poorest and neediest among us. These teachings have opened my heart to a much broader way of living.
As we approach the end of the Christmas season, I’d like to share this beautiful poem with you by Howard Thurman called “The Work of Christmas:
When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with their flocks,
the work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost,
to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry,
to release the prisoner,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among the people,
to make music in the heart.
My favorite part of today’s reading is about light. “Eternal life is in him, and this life gives light to all mankind. His life is the light that shines through the darkness—and the darkness can never extinguish it.” We read this at this darkest time of the year. We read this after we celebrate the Festival of Lights in Montesano, started years ago with candles in people’s yards, bringing light into our dark winter nights. We so need that light at this time of year, indeed, we so need the light of Christ in our lives throughout the year.
“The light shines on in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” Well, that’s true, isn’t it? Light is stronger than darkness. This is also a promise, something to hold onto: light will always overcome darkness. And that light can be our faith: we can be sure of the promise that Christ’s light overcomes darkness, and we can be sure that love is stronger than hate.
On Christmas eve, we light small candles and while singing Joy to the World, we carry those tiny lights out into the cold, dark night. We all bring Christ’s light into the world and it is our continuing task to bring Christ’s light everywhere we go.
Please pray with me:
God of stable, stars, and surprises, of light and hope and new life:
Open our eyes and hearts to your presence in our world.
Open us to your grace, that we might hear again the song of the angels,
And respond with a song in our hearts, and in our lives.