Christmas 1, B
I sat staring at a blank screen cogitating on this sermon. The family summoned me to the dinner table, then most politely asked about the subject of the sermon. It’s John’s Christmas story, I told them. Since no one changed the subject, or looked terribly pained, I went on.
I explained that Mark – our primary evangelist this church year, doesn’t have a Christmas story. His narrative begins with baptism and moves expeditiously through to Easter. The author of Luke gifted us with the Christmas story we know and treasure: Mary and the manger, donkeys and woolly sheep, shepherds, stars and choirs of angels. Legalistic Matthew eventually tells the story of Joseph and Mary and the babe, after expending more than 300 words to describe in painstaking detail who begat whom among Joseph’s forebears.
The kids were still chewing, so I went on, warming to my story. But John, I said, John’s Christmas story is something completely different.
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.…And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory. That…is John’s Christmas story.
Right, they said. Can we have dessert now?
Yes, well. I have to admit to a bit of a love/hate relationship with the Gospel of John, myself. I appreciate the rapid-fire communication style of Mark, the certainty of Matthew, the unstinting compassion of Luke, but the sheer high-minded, well, wordiness of John wears me down on occasion. All the same, over the years this has become my favorite Christmas story.
J.B. Phillips wrote a book called “Your God is Too Small”. I have not actually read this book. I have no idea if it is brilliant or complete hogwash, but the title alone is worth whatever effort he may have put into the rest of the book. “Your God is Too Small”
In our on-going effort to know God, to experience the sacred, to connect with the divine we unwittingly diminish our image of God, break down the sacred into digestible bits, squeeze the divine back into that tiny, cute, straw filled manger from whence it came. We want to squish God into a box of our own devising. And there God sits, our own private God-in-a-box; providing on-demand comfort or justification or ritual or guidance.
In the beginning there was only chaos. Then out of the void appeared Erebus, the unknowable place where death dwells, and Night. All else was empty, silent, endless, darkness. Then somehow Love was born bringing a start of order. From Love came Light and Day. Once there was Light and Day, Gaea, the earth appeared. This is the Greek creation myth.
From Judaism: In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Today’s evangelist offers nothing less than the creative force of all the cosmos wrapt in flesh and living among us unfettered by restrictions of time or culture or creed or nation or barn or baby-ness.
I saw a cartoon the other day depicting one character – I think it was a mouse – bemoaning the state of the world and the optimism of his colleague, “How can you be optimistic about 2018? The world is so messed up. What do you think it will bring?” His busy associate answers, “I think it will bring flowers.” Skeptical, the first mouse snorts, “Flowers, how come you think that?”. “Because” answers the second mouse, “I’m planting flowers”
For as the earth brings forth its shoots,
and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up,
so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise
to spring up before all the nations
God has planted the light within us, among us, the light for all people, the light to enlighten the darkness. We can bury what we know of the light back in a box, deep within, stored away with the Christmas decorations and the wrapping paper, or we can plant it in the world around us, blossoms of light and life and love bursting forth in the darkness