1/5/2020 Second Sunday of Christmas The text is John 1: 1-18.
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. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, “He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ “) From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.
Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
The first line of John’s Gospel: “In the beginning”; where have we heard these words before? They are the very first words of the Old Testament; “In the beginning…God created”. This is the description of the beginning of everything; creation, time, space, the entire universe. And John is placing Jesus right there with the Father when God started it all. The Synoptic Gospels; Matthew, Mark, and Luke are very similar in the approach they take to document the birth narrative of Jesus. In these we find John the Baptist in the wilderness foretelling Christ’s coming, the manger scene, the Magi, and the rest. John takes a much more spiritual direction. He writes that Jesus is the ‘Word’ of God. Now, we accept that anything biblical as God’s word, but John declares that the actual ‘Word’ of God is Jesus Christ incarnate. The ‘Word’ in Greek is ‘logos’, and it has a rather expansive definition. It refers to the spoken word; but also means thought, study, or intention. Thus, John tells us that God brought Jesus into being from the beginning, and that he was with God before time itself began. Christ is the result of the divine reason or the mind of God.
Now, while the epiphany experienced by the Wise Men in the manger is the one that is most remembered and celebrated by the church, it doesn’t quite rise to the spiritual heart of the matter like John’s gospel does. These astrologers from Persia had been keeping the sky under watch for quite some time when they noticed what is thought to have been a ‘star’ moving toward Bethlehem. This was most likely a meteorite, and these cosmic events were thought by the ancients to be the revelation of a momentous event. And they were prompted to follow this strange astronomical body in a dream. Odd, isn’t it that the first people, after the shepherds to visit the infant Jesus were probably Zoroastrians; followers of a religion that included stargazing as part of its belief system? They were likely not sure where the wandering star might lead them, but they did, in fact come to believe that the baby Jesus was the long-promised King of the Jews.
Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh; three precious gifts, three Wise Men, right? Not necessarily. The Synoptic Gospels don’t tell us how many Magi came in search of the Christ-child. But everyone assumes there were three, one for each of the gifts they brought. Okay, so we don’t know for certain how many Wise Men there were, not really a major problem. ‘We Three Kings’ as we sing in the Christmas carol? Again, probably not. ‘Kings’ was likely a term that came to describe the Magi over time. In actuality the Wise Men (if indeed they were all males) were most likely just followers of this ancient Persian religion; Zoroastrianism. They witnessed a bright star as it rose in the sky, and based on their astrological equations they were inspired to follow it, believing that it foretold the birth of a great king.
And the word, ‘Magi’? I’m sure you’re not surprised that this is the root of the word ‘magic’. Ancient Persian Magi were thought to have the ability to discern future events through their astrological observations. While this was considered to be akin to a science in ancient times, most modern people view astrology as superstition. Thus, the correlation between Magi and magic.
Do these revelations diminish the importance of their visit to worship the baby Jesus? Not in the least; I would suggest that they serve only to highlight the paradoxical nature of Jesus; God in flesh. The whole concept of the Creator-God coming to live among his creation as one of them is counterintuitive at best. The discussion of God becoming incarnate as Jesus; fully human while fully divine is one for another time. What is, I think deserving of deeper examination is a discussion of how Jesus’ arrival is announced, responded to, and, hopefully understood. God was letting the world know that He, Jesus, God-in-flesh was to be a light for all the nations, Jew and Gentile alike. So, two thousand years later, why is there still so limited an Epiphany, yet so much unbelief? Why is it so difficult for people to accept the Good News of God in Christ, yet be so quick to embrace astrology, The Psychic Network, or folks like John Edwards contacting their dead relatives, and all sorts of other new age baloney? I think it’s because belief in the occult and other kinds of new age ‘spirituality’ doesn’t require very much effort from the follower.
If John Edwards and other psychics tell someone that their deceased Uncle Billy says ‘Hi’, nothing else is required. If the so-called ‘psychic’ tells someone that their future is bright all that’s required is paying their fee and waiting for the good stuff to happen. But when a person is guided by the Holy Spirit to be open to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, when the realization of who Jesus is and what he came to do occurs, when that personal Epiphany happens, things change. Just as God turned the world on its ear by announcing Jesus’ birth to Persian scientists; just as Jesus during his entire ministry disrupted the normal attitudes and behaviors of the people he encountered. Just as five thousand people ate their fill from a few loaves of bread and some spindly fish. Things changed. And once we truly accept that Jesus the Christ is God incarnate, when we experience that personal epiphany, things change for us too.
But it’s John’s writings this morning that truly focus on the reality of Christ’s identity and mission. John was the gospel writer to announce that Jesus was part of God the Father, along with the Holy Spirit; long before the earthly incarnation through Mary. Before time was time. It was the intention, the ‘logos’ of God that Jesus would be present from the beginning and would, at the proper time walk in flesh among God’s people. John states that Jesus ‘lived among us’. The Greek he uses is ‘skenoos’, which translates to ‘pitched a tent’. What a wonderfully graphic description of Jesus’ willingness to be one with creation!
The Wise Men recognized the glory of the infant Jesus; John understands the reality of the persona of Christ as an equal part of the Trinity, one with the Father from the beginning. John writes that everything that came to exist came through God the Father, with Jesus at his side as an active participant in creation. John uses these words to describe just what Jesus’ walk among us was to be for the world; life, light, power, truth, and ‘grace upon grace’. All this in a few short verses. And the final line in this morning’s reading; ‘No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.’ By this we share in the epiphany, the realization, the awakening to the identity of this meek infant lying swaddled in the animals’ feeding trough. It is Jesus the Christ, God-in-skin, willing to come to earth as a mortal being to share in all that human life entails. All the joy; along with the pain, suffering, fear, and ultimate death that are part of the human experience. Imagine that, our God who created the galaxies and all that the universe contains, loved his creation enough that he would come down from heaven to live among his people as one of us.
And this is the crux of what we ought to take from the Epiphany story; that our God, our creator has already walked our path in this life. Nothing we could ever experience will be foreign to God, for Jesus has already ‘been there, done that’. Everything that causes us fear, worry, grief, or pain has already been witnessed first-hand by God in the form of Jesus Christ. Whenever we pray for relief from our troubles, we can be assured that God fully empathizes with us, for Jesus has already ‘pitched his tent’ among us and lived as we live. So, pray boldly, tell God what’s on your mind without shame or fear of rejection. Because, through God’s grace and the earthly walk of Christ Jesus we are assured that we are heard and that our pain, our worries, and our fears have already been experienced by our God. For Jesus Christ was the Word, with God, ‘in the beginning’.
Will you pray with me? Good and gracious God, we have been blessed with knowing that you came down from heaven to live among us, your beloved children. We are thankful that you clothed yourself as a mortal to walk our path before us, and that you now intimately feel all that we experience. May we always remain strong in our faith and understanding that you are our God, full of life, light, truth, and grace upon grace.
And in Jesus’ name together the people of God say…Amen.
God is good, all the time. All the time, God is good. Amen.