First Sunday after Christmas - December 29, 2019
Christ Episcopal Church, Milford, De
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.”
It’s that time of year. As sure and certain as death and taxes every three years this passage from John will appear as the gospel reading for the first Sunday after Christmas. Well, in the Episcopal Lectionary, this passage from John happens this time every year.
Perhaps it’s more like Brigadoon, that mythical Scottish village which is the stuff of Broadway musicals that makes an appearance for only one day every 100 years – and every night at the Shubert on West 44th.
Every three years this time of year John’s gospel arises out of the mist of Christmas tinsel and paper and the fog of too much Holiday Cheer to call us deeper into the mystery of the Incarnation of God.
The early hearers of this word would have been shocked by John’s words.
“In the beginning . . .” would have been familiar words to John’s original audience. If you’ve spent some time in church they may have a familiar ring to them.
You’ll find them as the very first words in the very first chapter of the Book of Genesis, “In the beginning, God created heaven and earth.”
Ah, yes. Now we remember. So imagine hearing John’s words and expecting one thing – one familiar thing that you and your parents and your parents’ parents through generations of people have heard for hundreds of years.
Except, John changes it. “In the beginning,” he says, “was the Word. (capital ‘w’)”
Wait! What? No, no, no. He has it all wrong. It’s “In the beginning God created heaven and earth.” But, John says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
And, in case you missed what he was doing, John puts an even finer point on it:
“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.”
It’s a new creation. It’s creation fulfilling itself and re-creating itself and evolving.
I can only imagine the heads snapping to attention that morning around the synagogue when John spoke those words (or those words of John were spoken). Heads jerked. Some walked out angrily muttering, ‘revisionist’ and ‘heresy’.
But others, the majority thankfully, stayed. They listened to the deeper meaning of John’s words about the Word of God in Jesus bringing about a new, deeper understanding of creation.
In English there is no other meaning for the word ‘word’. It means what it says. No nuance.
In the Greek, the word used is ‘logos’ which means a thing so true to a thing, nothing else can come of it. In the beginning was the LOGOS, and the LOGOS was with God and the LOGOS was God.
So, hear it now, this way: In the beginning was this one true thing and the one true thing was with God and the one true thing was so true it WAS God.
In Hebrew the word often used is “Tzofia” a borrowing of the Greek word ‘sophia’ (for wisdom), meaning in Hebrew, ‘watchman’ or ‘guard’.
Wisdom is the one who waits at the gate for us, calling over and over to us to return.
Other translations use the Aramaic word ‘yida’ or the Hebrew word ‘yada’ meaning the knowledge that is gained by knowing someone intimately.
It is not simply knowledge, the acquisition of information. It is much deeper than that. It is being the One true thing so true that it is one with the Source of All. It is Wisdom that calls to us from the gate over and over and over again.
So, what John is saying here is something beyond, something deeper in meaning than mere words can carry.
He is saying that this Jesus is the one who embodies Logos and Tzofia and Yida.He is saying that Jesus is that light that separated the darkness at the beginning of creation.He is saying that Jesus is the knowledge that was sought after by Adam and Eve in the Garden.
I’ve given you a lot of information. Now, let me give you a story to help explain it.
I grew up in New England – Massachusetts, to be exact – where winters could only be described as harsh. When a Nor’easter came through, we could almost be assured that we would lose electricity. As a child, I was desperately afraid of the dark, but when we lost our electricity during a Nor’easter, I was terrified.
The sound of the wind howling and blowing the wet snow pellets against our windowpane sparked my child’s imagination.
I just knew there was a huge monster right outside our door, scratching at the window with his long nails or teeth. The darkness in the house only made things that much worse.
Just at the point I felt I was going to scream, my mother would appear with a large blanket, some pillows and a lantern with a large, thick, white candle. My father would light the candle in the lantern and carefully close the glass door. We all crawled under the kitchen table and pulled the blanket all around us and we’d cuddle and snuggle around the light of the lantern.
Sometimes, my parents would tell us stories. Sometimes, we would sing. But then we’d settle down and just cuddle around the light.
The snow was still pelting the windows. The wind was still howling like a fierce wild beast. There was safety and shelter under the table, wrapped all snug and warm in a blanket, cushioned by pillows with my parents.
But, it was the light that brought me the most comfort. There were no words to describe the sense of safety and security I felt from that light. But even at that young age, I knew that the light needed tending and care ‘lest it go out. That’s why it was in a glass lantern.
It wasn't just concern that it would catch fire to something which inspired my father to keep a close watch on the candle. It needed to be tended to carefully so it wouldn't go out and we'd be in darkness again.
When I listen to John’s gospel about the Word being the Light, an image of my childhood home arises out of the mist like Brigadoon, and I’m suddenly under that kitchen table, in the middle of an old fashioned New England Nor’easter, gathered around the light in that lantern. Safe. Protected.
Some people are comforted every year by the image of the traditional nativity scene – the image of the Holy Family gathered together in the stable, surrounded by lowly animals.
But I find myself comforted by the poetry of St. John that draws me deeper into the mystery of God.
The one true thing I know, that is the source of all that is true for me is this: It is deep within a paradox that the mystery of the Incarnation is to be found.
In the beginning, as it is at the end, the love of God comes among us as vulnerable and delicate as a child. God comes to us as a light that needs our tending and support.
It is both the brightness and the vulnerability of that light that calls to us, over and over again, and draws us in and closer to the mystery of the Incarnation.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.