In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit Amen
We know the story of Christmas probably inside out and backwards – though we have been a bit starved of carols this year. I will preach this sermon at St Michael’s and we will have just heard – O holy night from Aled Jones (here is a youtube link to him singing it with Katharine Jenkins – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aYK3sllLD3U) It paints a picture of the angels on the night of Jesus birth. We can see it in our mind’s eye and heart’s imagination, but at this special time it is also good to hear the magical and mysterious words of the beginning of John’s gospel. Where we move from telling the story literally to words with deep imagery and artistry – pointing to the deeper truths of Christmas. This passage from the beginning of John’s gospel explains why Jesus came to save us all and bring us all into the light of God’s love, once and for all and forever!
This reading though deeply familiar, is still yet veiled in mystery. Somehow within it are hidden depths, which are there to challenge our minds. God’s love for us is also in every word to touch our hearts. Something that resonates with the presence of God inside each one of us – his Spirit that inspires us tells us how Jesus came into the world. Also how sending his Son was an entirely different approach than the ones God had tried before.
Remembering God had tried making promises and agreements with his chosen people, and providing guidance on the way to live. God sent prophets, spiritual leaders and even kings to help his people, but again and again his chosen people had turned away from him. Despite all the difficulties and set backs, God still wanted to open his love up to everyone not just the chosen few. So simply and completely he sent his Son to us Jesus.
And yet this passage also brought together the approaches and the patterns of reason in the world John was writing into all those year’s ago. Let me explain what I mean. These words of John’s gospel start at the beginning. In fact – In the beginning to be precise, and the beginning is, of course, a very good place to start! For the early Jewish followers of Jesus they would have heard echoes of the start of the story of creation in Genesis, which also starts in the beginning. Early Jewish followers would have known the word of God was powerful and they would have agreed that in the beginning there was indeed the word, because God spoke words and things happened. God said let there be light and there was. God said let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind and there was. The early jewish followers would have known that the word (the spoken word and the power) was with God and to them it was self-evident that all things came into being through him.
But there is another layer here because not only would the jewish followers have understood the concept in the beginning was the word – so also would the Graeco/Roman ones and the parts of the world approaching life through Greek and Roman thought patterns when Jesus was born! Even if they understood the concept a little differently. These followers understood the word as the divine force to do with wisdom and reason and for them it was an entirely natural way of talking about God. John beginning his gospel like this to his Greek and Roman readers, In the beginning was the word was again a clear and clever reference to God, and as this reading unfolds it clearly it describes how Jesus, the Son of God, the outworking of the word came to earth.
It goes on in verse 10 He (the word/Jesus) He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognise him. Frankly this combination of ideas about the word in John’s gospel is a stroke of genius as it is seemlessly marrying together powerful cultures and ideologies completely alien to each other – across the Jewish and Greek/Roman divide. In all cases really getting to the point about what God was doing in Jesus at the first Christmas but in different ways. This master stroke in the choice of words brings together cultures that we know didn’t mix well and in places were deeply hostile to each other.
Unfortunately in our world and our society today we still know enough don’t we about mixing different cultures and ideologies and just how challenging that can be. Finding ways of unifying ourselves to the common good and shared meaning are extremely important and never more so than in our world today in our pandemic times. Sadly over the years there has been many a conflict based on often unfounded fears of difference, when in reality the common ground was just a misunderstanding away! The lands around Jesus birth – still speaks to us with seemingly irresolvable conflicts between cultures that rumble on and on. We pray for peace there this Christmas and for peace in all the other places in the world where there is conflict too.
Having touched on how this wonderful passage from John’s gospel played out to the people of Jesus’ day. Let’s just take a moment now to dig more deeply into this rich passage and the concept of the word for us, the people of God today. We know that the words we say and use are immensely powerful. They bring meaning and understanding, and in this case hope, love and purpose. Sharing that meaning and understanding is as John’s gospel would have it is the life that is the light of all people. By saying Jesus is the Word – it is saying that Jesus is at the heart of all meaning and understanding and the essence of our communication with one another and our lives. As such this is a very, very powerful statement indeed.
For me one of the critical points of understanding in the Christian faith is the recognition of Jesus occupying the central part of our lives. When we share with those around us we gain meaning, understanding and love from those we meet. All of which start from God’s love for us and all his children. Our capacity to love and be loved is rooted and grounded in God’s love for us. It is in all our experiences of compassion and care that God is really present with us. The God who was with the word Jesus from the beginning and the God we know in every breath and dwells with us through the power of the Holy Spirit that Jesus left with us.
This passage also brings together aspects of the Trinity, God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The word (Jesus) the Son was with God and the word Jesus gave us the power to become children of God – which is a reference to the Holy Spirit. Jesus as word – meaning and purpose to life, is also the light that shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot and will not ever overcome that. This also is something we need to be extremely thankful for. Through the Holy Spirit, we know God is with us in the good times and the bad and there is nothing no matter how bleak or painful that God cannot love us through and gently guide us through.
One of the main conduits of this providential care is those we are given to travel with. Christianity is not and never has been a solitary pursuit, but one founded in relationship with one another, our companions on the road and in relationship with our loving God . We may be socially distanced from one another in 2020, but love brings us together. God will be with us forever loving us in this world and the next. That love is something that no darkness can take away. Our experiences today of all this are just a foretaste of the intimacy and joy that dwelling in and with God for eternity will be like.
In Church – We often say the words Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit etc, but there is a slight different variant of that Glory to God, source of all being, eternal Word and Holy Spirit. Brings to the fore Jesus as the word –
The word is all our experiences of love, meaning and understanding.
The word is for yesterday, the word for this moment and the word for all our tomorrows in this world and the next.
Thank you God for Jesus coming into the world at the first Christmas our eternal word, our meaning and our light. Amen