Sunday, December 24, 2017

12-24-17 “I Believe, Even When”

12-24-17 “I Believe, Even When”

   John 1 isn’t the passage we expect to hear at Christmas. We’re accustomed to stories of proclamations to shepherds in their fields. We’ve heard of angelic visitations to Zechariah, and Mary, and Joseph, so now we’re ready for something concrete, we want a baby - give us the baby! And our reading from Luke obliges - we have a baby, born in a manger  - and the crafters of our Christmas Carols are given a marvelous story about which to wax poetic.
   But there’s still John. Like Mark before him, John doesn’t bother himself with including a birth story, heralding angels, or watching shepherds. Nor is there a genealogy with all of those begats and strange-sounding names. There’s no tale of a star or wise men; not even a drummer boy to play rum-pa-pa-pum. 
   No, John begins in his gospel “in the beginning.” Literally. Not concerned with the details of how this earthly birth came about, John is enamored with    looking at the bigger picture of what it all means. That’s how John is - less concerned with how things happened and more concerned with their meaning, with what Jesus means. We can learn from John in that regard.

   The opening verses of John’s gospel remind us that God refashions chaos into order. The word translated from the Greek as “the Word” in John’s gospel is “Logos.” And it has a much deeper, much broader meaning than what we think of when hear it spoken as “the Word.” When we hear the Word, with a capital “w,” our minds interpret that as “word,” lower case “w” which is what we think of as printed on the page, which leads us to thinking of the Bible as God’s word and in doing that we completely misunderstand what it is John is trying to tell us. The Logos, in the Greek philosophy that John pulls from here has a deep resonance, representing the principle or power that is the glue of the universe. The Logos of God, the Word of God is not to be understood as ink printed on the page, it is that force which holds all things in the universe together. The Logos is not a book and it is not a being, but it is being itself. Logos is the wisdom, the power, the love of God that creates all things and is in all things, and in which all things are in God! How do we even begin to wrap our heads around this existential idea with which John begins his gospel? 

   John does it by framing this unimaginable meaning within the story of Creation. “In the beginning…” - those words echoing the opening words of Genesis, the first book of the Bible, the first words of Holy Scripture. 
“In the beginning was the Word,” the Logos, the power, the will, the love, the being, the intent, the plan, the glue, the force, the love of God. Before the Big Bang of God’s first revelation, before the first iota of star dust or dark matter or anything else material, there was the Logos…in the beginning.
   John reminds us that, as in the beginning God brought order out of chaos, in the person who was coming, the Son, the Logos of God in flesh, Jesus would bring God’s logos to earth, would again bring order to the chaos that Creation had become. And not a minute too soon, we might add.

   Because things are chaotic out there right now, aren’t they? Things are chaotic on many levels. There’s chaos on a global scale, there’s disorder on a national scale, there’s disarray on a local scale. The Advent and Christmas seasons - marked by the prophetic words Hope, Joy, Love, and Peace - are mired in confusion and chaos as the pagan gods of consumerism, commercialism, and materialism seek to replace those prophetic words with their own pathetic mantras - SALE, SPECIAL, BUY, and SAVE! 
   And amidst all of that, having traveled that unholy gauntlet for these past weeks and months we come to this passage today in a culture that theologian Cornelius Platinga describes as having a “deep societal suspicion that life is ultimately no more than what we make it…that in the prevailing wind of human self-achievement, God is not the source of new beginnings or new life, we are.”

   If that is true - if we are the source of new beginnings and new life, then it is no wonder there is so much disorder, disarray, and chaos in the world. John, however, would differ with that understanding, and offers us a different story, a life-giving story, a story that has the power to transform into new life not only that which is at best, chaotic within and around us, but also that which is dead within and around us. 

   Our series for Advent explored the larger Christmas story through the lens of “I Believe, Even When…” suggesting that God calls us to trust and to faith, 
even when all around us seems mired in messiness, drowned in depression, or lost in loneliness. We explored the traditional stories of Mary’s willingness to let it be with her as God said as well as with Joseph’s change of heart when the will of God was made known to him by an angel. Last week we explored Mark’s gospel, which as we said, like John’s gospel includes no birth story, but about which we suggested that the incarnation, God made flesh in Jesus Christ, could be likened to an invasion of God into the world. John, though, goes back - way back, back before the birth, back before the prophets, back before the Creation - to the beginning, the very beginning, to let us know that even then, when nothing else was, God was. 
Long before Mary was even a gleam in her mother’s eye, eons before Bethlehem was even a speck on a map, back to when there was nothing but chaos - as the world appears to many of us now - John tells the story of order (Logos) emerging out of chaos and darkness. There is no more important Christmas story that we can tell than the one John offers in these verses: “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.” (v. 9)

   Christmas in our society is often associated with “belief,” in particular with belief in Santa Claus. Regardless of whether, or how, that belief carries on for you in later years, John invites us to reclaim Christmas as a season of belief for people of all ages. Not belief in a jolly old elf who sees you when you’re sleeping and knows when you’re awake, who knows if you’ve been bad or good so be good for goodness sake - although that is, unfortunately, how many people have come to think of God. And not belief as we often think of it as being simply agreeing with an idea about someone or something - like whether you believe in ghosts, or UFOs -  but belief as trust in someone or something. To trust in someone or something is a much bigger commitment than belief as mere agreement with an idea. John, in his gospel, would have us believe or trust in the “Logos” of God who is made flesh, incarnated, in Jesus the Christ, who will speak and water will become wine to remind us that we have our life in his life; who will speak in a man disabled for nearly four decades and who will stand up on his own, reminding us that God will overcome whatever holds us down if we will but trust; who will speak to the hungry and those who have nothing to eat will be filled, with more of God’s abundance left over. 

   John’s prologue is a perfect, if not predictable, text for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, not because it shares the old, old stories that we long to hear, but because it assures us that we can trust in the One who is the source of our Christmas joy. The only question for us is whether or not we will place our trust in the good news of this life-giving, new-beginning, ever-creating “logos” that is God made flesh in the Christ child, whose birth we celebrate today. 

   So on this remarkable day, may the true light that enlightens everyone, who comes into the world this day, come into you and your life as well, that the light that is the logos of God will dispel the darkness and chaos within and around you, that you might once again share in the Hope, the Joy, the Love, and the Peace that is the Love of God in Jesus Christ for all the world. Amen. 

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