light overcomes the dark

Christmas 1  |  John 1:1-18

Welcome, hardy Vermont souls, to our last service for 2017. I wish all of us, individually and collectively, a rewarding and fulfilling 2018, though I suspect it’s going to require some work on all our parts to get there.

We stand (figuratively) here on the 31st of December at the threshold of endings and beginnings, ready (or not) to launch ourselves into January; that month named after the Roman two-faced god, Janus— god of doorways and beginnings; one face carefully eyeing the past, the other peering into the future. We also celebrate in our northern clime the gradual return of light, as our shortest winter days are now behind us and we now have about 9 hours of daylight. That’s enough cause for celebration in itself.

I’d like to focus a bit on the new beginnings described in today’s gospel; those famous lines from The Prologue of John…


“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. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” [John 1:1-4]

How many of you are perhaps a bit mystified about parts this passage? I suspect there are many outside the church for whom this might just be a bit of mumbo-jumbo…. possibly a few inside the church as well. I like to think this passage as one of those “mysteries of faith”… rather akin to the familiar: “Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again.”

The Prologue of John is frequently described as an early Christian hymn influenced by Greek and Jewish philosophy. (Adam Hamilton, John: The Gospel of Light and Life, 2015) The early Christian communities often excerpted portions of scripture and other sacred writings and sang them in worship, rather like our canticles. Think of today’s Venite, and Benedictus, and last week’s Magnificat as other examples. Much beloved passages of distilled truth…. In these brief 18 verses, John’s Prologue combines references to the Genesis story of the Creation, a formula describing nature of God and of Christ, images of God’s Incarnation of light and life becoming flesh and living among us in the birth of Jesus, as well as the promise of grace and truth transforming those of us willing to believe into the Children of God. These few verses are responsible for a great deal of Christian doctrine and not a few theological texts.

The first four verses of the Prologue revolve around the Greek word, logos, usually translated as Word. For the Jews, the notion of logos would have been captured by The Law, Torah. For the Greeks, logos translates to word, but also conveys knowledge, wisdom, reason and revelation… creative order… the heart and mind of God. In using the word logos, John appeals to traditional understanding of God to both Jews and Greeks. In mirroring the opening passage from the book of Genesis, that logos becomes the very speech of God’s creative act. What becomes uniquely Christian follows in verse 14: “And the Word became flesh and lived among us”; the Incarnation— God in Christ becoming “enfleshed” (incarno) as Jesus. A very different treatment from the familiar and very earthy nativity stories of Matthew or of Luke which we read last week.

This relationship between Christ and Jesus is a subtle one. As Franciscan theologian Richard Rohr jests, many Christians seem to think Christ is simply Jesus’ last name. “The eternal Christ Mystery began with the Big Bang where God decided to materialize as the universe. Henceforth, the material and the spiritual have always co-existed… “ Christ is eternal; Jesus is born in time. “What the historical Jesus allows us to imagine – because we see it in him – is that the divine and the human are forever one. . . . God took on all human nature [Jesus is the archetypal, representative human being] and said ‘yes’ to it forever! In varying degrees and with infinite qualities, God took on everything physical, material, and natural, as himself. That is the full meaning of the Incarnation. [To allow such a momentous truth, to fully believe it, to enjoy it in practical ways, to suffer it with and for others – this is what it means to be Christian!]” What this means is that, “You and I are living here in this ever-expanding universe. You and I are a part of this Christ Mystery without any choice on our part. We just are, whether we like it or not. It’s nothing we have to consciously believe. It’s first of all announcing an objective truth. But if we consciously take this mystery as our worldview, it will create immense joy and peace. It gives us significance and a sense of belonging as part of God’s Great Work. We are no longer alienated from God, others, or the universe. Everything belongs. And it is pure, undeserved gift from the very beginning.” (R. Rohr, Daily Meditations, Dec. 18, 2014)

Still mystified? Let me try a different approach— an appeal to the heart and those who might be left-brain dominant…

<Of the Father’s Love Begotten>

Some homilists suggest reading those first four verses of John substituting the word “speech” for “Word”, transferring the notion of Genesis’ “God said…” into John’s Gospel. Somehow, the notion of, “In the beginning was [God’s] speech,” fails to connect with this musician’s heart. If you remember, earlier I reference John’s Prologue as an hymn. If I apply that notion of “hymn”, and remembering God’s loving and creative act in all of Creation, I might be tempted to substitute the word “song”…

“In the beginning was the Song, and the Song was with God, and the Song was God.”

What could possibly be more fitting for the Incarnation… for the physical manifestation of God’s love for humanity… than the greatest love song ever written, since the beginning of time.


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