Sermon preached Dec. 27 at St Barnabas Church, Denver, CO
How does it begin for you? Is there a moment that radically changes your narrative, the story of your life with God? “In the beginning,” these are the words that start the Gospel of John. “In the beginning.” John starts at the beginning because he wants to talk about God on a very basic level. Beginnings are a good thing to talk about as Christmas.
We speak of God using many different languages. I don’t mean languages like Spanish and English, but that when we talk about God we choose our metaphors based upon who we are talking to. With scientists we might talk about the original energy behind the universe. With artists we might talk about the spark of creativity and imagination. So John speaks the language of Greek Philosophy to talk about God. He speaks about God as “Logos,” word.
For the greek philosophers this word, “word” or “logos” held a great deal of meaning. Logos was a way of talking about the principle that tied the universe together. Logos was language, thought, the energy that animated the universe. So much of John’s hymn would sound familiar to a Greek philosopher, or to people living in the world of Greek thought. The Logos was God.
A couple of years ago I met an emergent church leader from England, Jonny Baker. He talked about an English Christian community of skaters who has re-written this “hymn to the logos” using their own language. In England skaters talk about skating, and specifically those moments when all seems to be in synch, when the distinction between you, your board, and the skatepark disappears. They call these moments “flow.” One is said to be “in the flow.” And so they re-write this hymn: In the beginning the flow was with God, and the flow was God. All things came into being through the flow, and without flow nothing was.
This is the way that John uses Logos. John re-contextualizes the language of God for a specific community. And John does more. John starts at the beginning, at the start of all time. He then uses the language of Greek philosophy to talk about God in a new way. John says the Word, the Logos, was with God and the Logos was God. John talks about God primarily as relationship. This pushes Greek Philosopher and traditional Jew alike. The Jewish theologians would say “God is one.” How can you talk about God’s relationship with Logos? Greek Philosophers would be confused about what God there was beyond Logos. Logos seems like enough. This discussion of God as relationship sets up a big fight in the early church over whether Jesus was divine, and this fight eventually lands us with the doctrine of the Trinity. What John is affirming is that God is all about relationship.
If John is challenging the Greek Philosophers by claiming God, Logos, is about relationship, he causes a train wreck at verse 14. John writes, “the word became flesh and dwelt among us.” This is wild. This is like saying, “hey kids, the principle of being that unites the universe has moved in down the street…let’s go help unload the Uhaul.” This makes no sense. Philosophical principles, metaphors for the inaccessible God do not “set up their tent” in the neighborhood, but that’s what the Greek says. The Logos “set up camp” among the people. This makes no sense. It makes no sense.
This leads me to the question: What are the moments in your life that don’t make sense? What hand reached out when it shouldn’t have? Who said ‘I love you’ at a time you felt unloveable, or ‘I forgive you’ when you felt unforgivable? Whose words brought you out of pain? What are the moments that don’t make sense for you?
Hopefully there are several. Maybe there is one in particular. Moments when someone reached out, held us, cared for us, understood. The sacred spaces of time when we could hear from someone who really mattered to us words we shouldn’t have been able to hear. I think that John is writing to say this has happened. God has broken in. God has changed the game. The God who is relationship, has entered relationship with creation in a new way.
We have a God who chooses us. Our God moves into the neighborhood, and disrupts the flow of our daily lives. The dynamic loving presence, the deep breathing rhythm of the universe breaks the veil, comes with a Uhaul and invades our space. This is what Christmas is about. John doesn’t talk about shepherds and mangers, John talks about beginnings. New beginnings. So often in the evangelical churches we are asked to talk about how our relationship with God got started, how did we accept Jesus? John starts somewhere else, not with our action but God’s. God broke the rules to reach out and be with us. Relationship starts not with our action, but God’s. That is what incarnation is all about. Incarnation is a breaking of the rules for the sake of relationship.
As Christians we have a responsibility to theologize our reality, to look for and name God’s presence in our life. If incarnation forms part of the bedrock of our faith, of our understanding about the deep reality of the universe, how does incarnation play a role in our life? How do we become the hands that reach out to the outcast? How do we become the forgivers who forgive the unforgiveable? How do we become the lovers who love the unloveable? More than that, how do we move beyond seeing this reaching out, this forgiving, this loving as simple “social action.” How do we come to see that when we act this way, we participate in GOD’S ongoing work, God’s ongoing incarnation. We break rules because God breaks rules for the sake of relationship, for the sake of love. To the extent we experience and express senseless love, God continues to be incarnated, to begin again in this world of ours.