Christmas has passed, the New Year’s Eve festivities are over, and now we’re left with the glitter, wrapping paper, empty boxes, and perhaps a few empty hearts. For some people, the holidays have been a delightful time of love and giving. Others may look back on the week with a little relief that it’s over. Are we allowed to say that? Can we be honest and admit that sometimes these big days are not as joyful in real life as we want them to be?
But in the passage that you’re about to hear, John reminds us that our big days and calendars are really of little importance to the God who created us. God existed before time itself. So, while we human beings may lift up one day over another, God is consistently present in every day.[I]
Read John 1:1-9 & 14 here.
Now, today’s reading, taken from the prologue to the Gospel According to John, begins with those famous words we all know so well: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” This is where John’s gospel begins–in the beginning. This is John’s nativity story. There are no shepherds, or angels, or a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger. In this nativity story, this Christmas story, John takes us back to the beginning. He echoes the words from the Genesis: In beginning-ness God created; God moved over the chaos and darkness and said, “Let there be light.” And in John’s nativity story, from the very beginning, there was the Logos, the Word. The God who moved over the face of the deep, over the darkness, who spoke and said, “let there be light,” this same God became flesh and blood and dwelt among us. John says, “What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people, ALL people! And, this Light shines in the darkness and the darkness could not extinguish it.”
Wow. There’s a lot going on here. So, let’s pause here for a moment and unpack some this. First of all, theologically speaking, Christmas is about a transcendent God who comes near, becomes immanent, incarnate, God-with-us, Emmanuel. Now, sometimes we talk about the transcendence of God, a God who’s mysterious and unknowable, beyond comprehension–which is true–but here in this text, God the Creator takes on flesh and becomes one of us and lives among us. And to extend John’s metaphor, in the midst of our darkness, in the midst of the chaos of our lives, Jesus comes announcing life and not death. Later in John’s gospel, we’ll hear Jesus say, “I come that you may have life and have it abundantly.” And it’s through this abundance that God has invited us to allow the light of the Sacred to shine forth in our lives and through our actions.[ii]
In his book, Original Blessing, theologian Matthew Fox writes: “We enter a broken, torn and sinful world–that is for sure. But we do not enter as blotches on existence; we burst onto the scene as ‘original blessings.'”[iii] And, oh, how we need to hear that. The incarnation, God becoming flesh, has shown us a different way of seeing life and living in the world. It has shown us that the creation is good, that the world we live in is good, that our bodies are good, that we are indeed, “original blessings.” And as original blessings, we are called to live with love and justice with all that is part of the created order; we are called to be fully human, fully alive. Matthew Fox goes on to say, “Being alive is not the same as going shopping or making a nest in which to escape the suffering of others. Living has something to do with love of life, and the love of other’s lives and the other’s rights to life and dignity.”[iv]
And this is where I believe we find ourselves today. Jesus, the whole concept of a Messiah actually, is intended to show us the nature of God and how we should respond because that nature. Do you see what I’m driving at here? John says, we have received from God’s fullness, grace upon grace. “Grace upon grace.” This phrase, I think, needs to set the tone as we embark upon a new year. A new year when grace will be so desperately needed. We need God’s grace as we continue to struggle with divisions and resentments, controversies and discontent. We need grace as we remain immersed in and surrounded by endless election rhetoric; rhetoric that’s intended to further divide rather than unite. And even as many of us enjoy a stable economy, some of our neighbors stand in need of our commitment to be gracious. Neighbors who still struggle with deep economic troubles. Things like under-employment, the rising cost of housing, and a lack of affordable healthcare have left millions of our fellow citizens behind, still wanting, still caught in a web of poverty.
But perhaps our greatest challenge as people of faith and as a nation, is to understand that this abundance of grace, that this grace upon grace, is not meant just for us. From the very beginning of creation, God intended that grace be shared among all of God’s beloved creation. John says here in our text, that Jesus came as a light to all people. Not just some people, not just religious people, not just people who think and act and believe as I think they should, but ALL people.
My friends, if we as a society could find it within ourselves in 2020 to grasp and then live-into this understanding of grace; a grace that is for all people, a grace that is immanent, a grace that is fully expressed in our acts of faith and kindness and love; if we could begin to practice this kind of grace, if we could become an original blessing to others, might that be a first step on the path to peace; on our quest for justice? Might that finally be the Light of which John speaks? I don’t know the answer to these questions; I don’t even know if we can find this kind of grace within ourselves; but, wouldn’t it be amazing to try?
Amen & amen.
[i] Lillian Daniel In the Beginning (www.ucc.org/stillspeakingdevotional) 2020
[iii] Matthew Fox, Original Blessing, Santa Fe, Bear & Co., 1983, p. 47.
[iv] Ibid. Fox