Exploring the Word | Spreaker

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Word of Love, Christmas Day

Isaiah 52:7-10
7   How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace,
     who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”
8   Listen! Your sentinels lift up their voices, together they sing for joy;
     for in plain sight they see the return of the LORD to Zion.
9   Break forth together into singing, you ruins of Jerusalem;
     for the LORD has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem.
10  The LORD has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations;
     and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.

John 1:1-18
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

6There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. 10He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. 14And 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.

15(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.’”) 16From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.

         Last night we heard the story of a special baby born in a manger. We heard a story about young parents following God’s calling on an amazing journey. That story is earthy; while it has some unusual characters like angels, we can picture it pretty clearly in our minds. We can embrace this image of Mary and Joseph bringing their new baby into the world. We can wrap our minds around this child who is born to save us all from our sins.

         John’s Gospel tells the story very differently; he puts it in cosmic perspective. The beginning of John’s Gospel isn’t easy to picture; it’s poetic and philosophical instead of narrative. The way John tells it, we aren’t just talking about a child at Christmas; we’re talking about the eternal word of God.

That notion of God’s word is very Greek and philosophical. In Greek thought the Word, the logos, was the creating power of the whole universe. Underneath the structure of everything we can see, philosophers discerned a hidden power, a hidden logic that bound all creation together. That logic, that wisdom, was the logos, the word.

         John says the word of God was with God at the beginning of time. God created everything through that eternal word; the wisdom of God shaped and molded the whole universe. Not only did the word of God create the objects that make up creation, God’s word also touched the universe with the divine spark, the light of the world. In that moment at the beginning of creation the world came to life; God’s life sparked life and light in every living being God created. The plants and animals and people came to life by the loving, creative touch of God’s word.

         The eternal word of God was active throughout history. God created the world through the word, and God’s word and spirit continued to give light to those who had eyes to see it. Prophets and wise men and women saw the world by God’s light. They pointed others to the light of God’s love and justice. They reminded their neighbors that the world wasn’t really about power or wealth; it was about making sure everyone had enough to thrive.

They pointed to the light even in dark times. Elijah pointed to the light of God’s love even though he was chased into the desert by royal persecution. Jeremiah pointed to the light when he was locked up by powerful people who didn’t want to hear his message. Ruth pointed to the light of hope when she and her mother in law seemed all alone in a dangerous world. Even in the darkest times God’s light still shone; no darkness could quench that light.

Then the truly incredible happened. Maybe God got tired of waiting for people to see the light and change their lives. Maybe God’s heart ached so much because of our wandering, because of how we hurt and took advantage of each other. Maybe God missed us too much to hold back anymore. For whatever reason, one day the time was right and God’s word, God’s light, God’s love became flesh and lived with us.

That move on God’s part changes everything, even though it doesn’t often seem that way. The word of God became a person, the man Jesus of Nazareth. In some ways Jesus’ life seems like more of the same. As John puts it, the creator of the world came to his own people and they didn’t accept him. Like so many persecuted prophets before and after him: the powerful didn’t want to hear God’s word; they didn’t want to see God’s light. When we look ahead in the story, we know the darkness that rejected Jesus led him all the way to death on a cross. But we also know that the cross is empty now because Jesus rose again from the dead.

The story of Jesus seems like the story of so many prophets before and after him, but in fact, everything changed when God’s word became flesh and lived with us. Everything changed because Jesus gives us a new and better vision of who God really is. Before Jesus we saw God through the law and then through prophets. Both of these give important clues about who God is and what God values, but they aren’t complete pictures.

John says, “The law came 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.” The law talks about rules and boundaries. There’s grace in the law because it talks about loving others, caring for the poor, and remembering that every gift comes from God. But the law is, obviously, legal and binding and limiting.

We don’t truly know God until Jesus shows us a picture of God’s heart. Once Jesus comes into the world we see that God’s priority isn’t rules and boundaries; God’s first priority is love, and everything else falls into place behind that.

When we see God through Jesus Christ we know that God is love. When we see Mary giving birth to the savior in a barn, we know that God won’t let anything get in the way of a relationship with us. When we watch him grow up and teach, we see how radical God’s calling is. When we see him welcoming outcasts and sinners we see that the rules are not so important; it’s all about love and acceptance. When we hear Jesus talk about commitment, we know that love isn’t sentimental, but dedicated and tough. Truly, we know God’s heart by watching Jesus live and die for us.

What all that means is that today, as we gather around the story of a baby born in a manger, we have another chance to start over. We have another chance to recognize God’s amazing love for us and respond to that love with lives committed to love and justice. We have another chance to recognize that we are accepted, and welcomed, and loved. We have another chance to reach out to the world around us with God’s love that knows no boundaries and welcomes everyone in.

Today is a new day for hope and love. God’s light shines in the darkness today. It shines in the darkness of our culture, reminding us that love defines us, not success or bank accounts. It shines in the darkness of our fear, reminding us that we are not alone and that God’s love will see us through. It shines in the darkness of our world proclaiming that in the end God’s peace and love will overcome violence and oppression. It even shines in the dark places of faith and power, just like it did during Jesus’ life. It shines out reminding us that God is in charge; that human boundaries and rules are never the last word.

God’s light also shines in the darkness of our hearts, showing us the places in us that are still ruled by fear or jealousy or prejudice. God’s light guides us to be better, to be more loving, kinder, braver. The light leads us to trust more, to rest in God’s care, to risk and love and follow. God’s light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never overcome it.

This Christmas morning look to Jesus the baby, the teacher, the rebel, the disciple, the sacrifice. Look to Jesus, the only son of God, the mirror of the Father’s heart, the eternal, loving word. Look to Jesus and know that God loves you and will shine his light into the darkness until the darkness finally gives way and the dawn of eternal peace shines on every shore.

Thanks be to God.

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