Thursday, December 26, 2013

In the beginning was the Word (Rick O'Brien, Dec. 25, 2013)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  The pure poetry of John’s gospel is, in my mind, unparalleled in the entire Bible.  And yet, John is far more than a poet.   John has much to tell us of God and of Jesus Christ, even if it is not like the other synoptic gospels.  For unlike Luke and Mark, John’s gospel has no account of Jesus’ birth.  No angels, no shepherds, no wise men.  No Little town of Bethlehem, no Hark the Herald Angels, no Silent Night.  John tells us nothing of the birth of Jesus, nothing of the Christmas event that we celebrate this morning.  So why then, with all of the other gospel stories we could read, do we have this particular passage from John, on this of all mornings?

It would be a mistake to assume, since he doesn’t mention the baby in Bethlehem, that John has nothing to say to us of the incarnation and divinity of Christ.  Indeed, John helps us to connect the Christmas stories we know so well with the identity of Jesus Christ and helps us to begin to comprehend how he relates to God.

In the beginning was the Word.  Words are powerful things.  The giving of someone’s word is a solemn event and has great import in how we relate to one another.  Once a word is spoken, it cannot be taken back.  Think of the Old Testament story of Jacob and Esau.  Jacob deceived Isaac into giving him the blessing instead of his brother Esau, but because the word had been spoken, it could not be taken back.  The word had power and even though Isaac wanted to change his mind, he could not because he had to live by the word he had spoken. 

When I was growing up I was taught that your word is your bond.  How you kept your word spoke volumes to other people about your character, your trustworthiness; indeed your word defined who you are.  Going back on your word was not something that could be contemplated, as your word was literally part of who you are.

Think also about how God created the world.  The book of Genesis tells us that the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep.  How did God change this?  Did he strap on his tool belt, head down to Home Depot for materials and start swinging a hammer?  No, of course not.  God spoke into the darkness and said “Let there be Light”, and there was light.  God’s word separated the light from the darkness, created the dry land, and brought forth every living creature including Adam and Eve.  The word of God was the instrument of creation, establishing our reality and all that we know.  Words truly are powerful things. 

John recalls the creation story in Genesis when he tells us, In the beginning was the Word.  And we know that the Word was the instrument of creation.  He goes further though in telling us that the Word was With God, and that the word WAS God.  How can the word be with God, but also BE God?  That would mean that the Word was somehow separate from God, but also part of God.  That would mean then that the word was not something created by God, but instead was an integral part of God himself.  John is telling us that Jesus, the Word of God, is part of God.  Even though we call Jesus God’s son, John is helping us to understand that Jesus is far more than that. 

I am a father and I have three sons.  There was a time when I existed, but my sons did not, as they had not yet been born.  If Jesus were simply the son of God, the same would be true for him.  That would mean that there was a time when God existed, but Jesus did not.  John’s gospel is telling us that this is not the case, that Jesus the Word was with God in the beginning, was part of God, and was the action of creation on behalf of God.

Even though John does not tell us about the birth of Jesus Christ, he is helping us understand that Jesus is more than just one of us.  He is not simply a man sent from God, but he is in fact God himself.  God loves us so much that he gives up his divinity to become like us, to experience the pains and the joys we feel. 

I recently heard a song that said, “Many men have tried to become Gods, but only one God has become a man.”  That spoke to me at a deep level.  History is littered with stories of men who have tried to become God.  Pharaohs, Kings and Emperors have been doing this for millennia, each trying to impose their will upon the world and make it into the image they chose.  Refusing to be satisfied with their humanity, they sought riches and power in a vain attempt to become like God.

Even in our own lives, how many of us want to play God, trying to recreate our jobs, our relationships, our very lives in the image that we would choose?  I thought about this over the past week with the great furor over the mega millions jackpot.  The media was only too happy to cover the story of a chance for life-changing riches.  Enough money to forget about the cares of your everyday life; to remake yourself in whatever image you choose.  Doesn’t this sound like we too are trying to become God?  To have the power to do nearly anything we want?

And yet John reminds us that our God did just the opposite.  God gave all of that up in order to become one of us.  Jesus the Immanuel (which as you know literally means “God with us”) left behind the divinity of God to take on our humanity, coming to earth not as a grown man, not as a wealthy king, but in the frail form of an infant born to a poor carpenter and his young wife in a stable.  Hardly a fitting location for the most powerful human to ever walk the planet, and yet that is what God chose to do. 

And so, as we gather this Christmas morning with the great cloud of witnesses who have celebrated this Blessed event for more than 2,000 years, let us remember the angels, let us remember the shepherds, let us remember the wise men.  But let us also remember the Word, Jesus who surrendered his divinity to become one of us.  For God loves us so much that he was willing to become one of us in order that we might share in his eternal life.