A sermon for Christmas Day at the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd in Lexington, Kentucky.
Nativity of the Lord – Proper III: First reading, Isaiah 52:7-10; Second reading, Hebrews 1:1-4, (5-12); Gospel, John 1:1-14
On this Christmas morning we find our readings have none of the expected images of the shepherds at night, the angels appearing, Mary and Joseph looking for a place to spend the night, or even the babe in the manger. Instead we have images, of the Word of God made flesh, the Light of the World, and the one who “is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word.”
Word and flesh, light and glory. Philosophy and theology.
For some, that does not have the same impact as the children’s reenactment of sheep, donkeys, and shepherds. But if those images tell us how the Christ Child came into the world, these images tell us who it was and why he came into the world that night.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. …He was in the world, and the world came into being through him.”
The Gospel of John opens with words that evoke the very beginning of the Bible, the very beginning of the world. It is also steeped in contemporary Jewish understanding of how God created the world. God said, “Let there be light” and there was light. It was by fiat, declaration, the utterance of the Word of God by which everything came into being. The ancient Jewish philosopher Philo Judeaus and the Rabbis of the time all understood that God’s Word was more than the commands of any mortal, it was Wisdom itself and had the power to loose and bind, to create and destroy. They read in Proverbs that, “The LORD by wisdom founded the earth; by understanding he established the heavens” (Prov. 3:19) and knew that the blueprints of Creation is the very wisdom of God. John reveals that this Wisdom and Word, who is one with God, who IS God, and through whom all things came into being, was now entering as a human into God’s, their Creation.
John takes us back to Creation, to the very beginning, because it was after Creation that our relationship between God was ruptured. The “great divorce,” as one person has termed it.
Once, God walked with humanity in the Garden, present with us in a very real, physical, and supernatural way, all at once, all together, and it was Very Good. But we demanded not only to know Good, but to know everything. To be “like the gods.” The rest of the Bible, as diverse as the various writings are: history, story, parables, songs, and psalms, is all about God calling out to us, it is about the restoration of that relationship.
We have all had a relationship break down, perhaps only in a small way, a general drifting apart, or maybe in a grand, dramatic break. We are in the season of life where so many of our friends and even family are going through separations and divorce. Occasionally, given time and distance and a whole lot of honest communication, they are able to reestablish their relationship. It requires a desire by both parties to be reconciled.
The author of Hebrews preached, “Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son.” That is the Word of God, it is the Conversation of the Creator with his Creation. All of Scripture, all of history is God speaking to us, sending out his Word, seeking to reopen those lines of communication to reconcile us to himself and, in so doing, to reconcile us to one another. A marriage, a friendship, the bonds between a parent and a child, cannot be renewed if there is not an exchange of words, if there is not an open and honest conversation of what has transpired between them and what needs to change in order to save that relationship, that love, that bond.
Reconciliation also requires light to reveal the truth, to drive out the darkness in which live the lies that whisper and keep us from being honest, with God and ourselves. The Word of God, through whom all things are created, now shines as the bright revealing and revelatory light of Christ. That Word and Light brings life into the world, the light of the truth, that God – the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – was and is always and everywhere present in the world, yearning to walk and talk with you, inviting you back into the family of God.
The baby born, crying out in hunger, bawling for the warmth of his mother, without using any words at all, was and is the very Word of God, asking “Will you come back to me, to walk with me again in the Garden, to tell me of your needs and dreams, your visions and joys? Will you be again my Child?” This is the Word of God for you and for me. And so…
“He was in the world, and the world came into being through him … and to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”