The Gospel isn’t meant to be gulped down on Sunday morning, but gnawed on through the week so it really becomes a part of us. You’ve got to work at it, like a dog with a good bone! Here’s the Gospel for this coming Sunday — the First Sunday After Christmas and the Last Sunday of 2017 — with food for thought on the power of “showing up” as vehicles of God’s love and light.
In the beginning, there was the Word; the Word was in God’s presence, and the Word was God. The Word was present to God from the beginning. Through the Word all things came into being, and apart from the Word nothing came into being that has come into being. In the Word was life, and that life was humanity’s light – a Light that shines in the darkness, a Light that the darkness has never overtaken.
There came one named John, sent as an envoy from God, who came as a witness to testify about the Light, so that through his testimony everyone might believe. He himself wasn’t the Light; he only came to testify about the Light – the true Light that illumines all humankind.
The Word was coming into the world – was in the world – and though the world was made through the Word, the world didn’t recognize it. Though the Word came to its own realm, the Word’s own people didn’t accept it. Yet any who did accept the Word, who believed in that Name, were empowered to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor urge of flesh, nor human will – but born of God. And the Word became flesh and stayed among us; we saw the Word’s glory – the favor and position a parent gives and only child – filled with grace, filled with truth.
John testified by proclaiming, “This is the one I was talking about when I said, ‘The one who comes after me ranks ahead of me, for this One existed before I did.’”
Of this One’s fullness we’ve all had a share – gift on top of gift. For while the Law was given through Moses, the Gift – and the Truth – came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; it is the Only Begotten, ever at Abba’s side, who has revealed God to us.
The Backstory – What’s Going On Here?
There is no more cosmic setting for the birth of Christ than what John does in these passages. Unlike the matter-of-factness of Matthew or the flowing narrative of Luke (Mark doesn’t have a birth story), John uses the same
language as the beginning of scripture … “in the beginning.” What is happening in Jesus’ birth is a cosmic event that didn’t begin that night in Bethlehem or even with the annunciation … but at the beginning of time.
The key word John uses to describe Christ is λόγος (logos), which is translated here “Word.” Word here is not just letters on a page, it has the richness of meaning of both thought and expression. The Word is the God who
is and always has been, a God who is beyond expression … but at the same time the Word is also the expression of that God in human form.
John’s Gospel, written in the latter part of the first century after the destruction of the Temple, continually wrestles with the question: “Where does God reside now that the Temple has been destroyed.” The prologue to
John’s Gospel gives the beginnings of that answer. God resided in Jesus — the Word made flesh. Jesus lived (literally, “tabernacled” — a reference to the presence of God in the former temple) among us. And for John’s
community, as for us, God in Christ continues to live … in them and in us.
A few things to chew on:
*Where does God live? John’s question is still with us today. The answer John gives is that instead of being in a place, God became human. We all have places in our lives that are holy because of our experience of God
there. John’s story of the birth of Jesus makes it clear that the new temple, the new holiest of holy spaces, is the human form of Jesus. We are where God resides.
*John sings “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” That’s a powerful statement of the enduring power of Christ. But notice also that John doesn’t say that the light utterly dispelled the
darkness. The light of Christ doesn’t make the darkness go away, but the darkness has no power over it. It is a life of presence in the midst of the darkness. John’s Gospel is a reminder that Christmas isn’t supposed to be a joy of ignorance of pain, of fake smiles and denial. Christmas is God choosing to come into lives that are deeply broken … including ours. And God being born in Jesus didn’t stop the tears (Jesus wept, too!), but was a promise we are never alone in them.
The prologue to John sings of God in Christ in poetic terms, in theological terms … but most of all in relational terms. Ponder that last two sentences: “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.”
Jesus is how we know God. And so our greatest opportunity, our highest purpose as Christians is to know Jesus.
This week as you walk through Christmas and beyond, take 10 minutes each day and find a quiet place and pray asking Jesus to help you to know him better. I know it helps me to have a visual focus to my prayer sometimes, so if there is an image of Christ that particularly speaks to you, use that. But however you do it, just spend 10 minutes a day with that prayer. There is no better way to invite a new birth of Christ inside yourself.
That life was humanity’s light – a Light that shines in the darkness, a Light that the darkness has never overtaken.
Just to be clear, this is not God saying “every cloud has a silver lining.” These are much more powerful words than that. This is saying there are huge clouds. Storm clouds. Hurricane force and tornado spawning crowds. They are big and bad and incredibly destructive. AND … they cannot extinguish the love of God. The love of God has never been eclipsed, overtaken or extinguished … and it never will.
This week, in your journaling, write of an experience of God’s love in a time where the forces acting in your life were powerful and bleak. Write of how that love came to you. Write of what happened next. Dream of how God might use you to be that light for another.
God showed up
And the Word became flesh and stayed among us.
Since we got the news that our beloved sister, the Rev. Zelda Kennedy, is nearing her transition out of this life and into the next, many of us have been sharing our Zelda stories.
They are stories of dancing. Stories of big hugs. Stories of wisdom given and injustices fought.
But the most common beginning to all the stories is: “Zelda was there when…”
“Zelda was there when my mother died.”
“Zelda was there when my marriage was in trouble.”
“Zelda was there when I woke up from surgery.”
“After a lifetime of being told that a woman could never be a priest, and certainly not a black woman, I walked into All Saints and there was Zelda, standing behind the altar.”
Zelda has been such a powerful force in our lives because she is one of the finest followers of Jesus that we have known. And that is because she knew what Jesus knew and did what Jesus did.
She showed up.
She showed up when it really mattered and she stayed with us.
And Zelda would be the first to tell us … this wasn’t an original idea. It’s straight from the Gospel. This week’s Gospel, in fact.
The prologue to John’s Gospel is beautiful poetry and it reminds us that what was most amazing about God becoming incarnate, what was most amazing about the Word becoming flesh, is really the simplest thing:
God showed up.
God showed up when it really mattered and stayed with us.
That’s it. Because that’s what love looks like. It means showing up when it really matters and staying with someone. It’s not about having some magic touch or exactly the right words to say (spoiler – there usually aren’t any). It’s about showing up and bringing the love that is the conviction that nobody be allowed to be alone when things get really, really hard. Or even when things aren’t.
God did that … and it transformed the world.
When we do that … it transforms the world, too.
Another common thread to the Zelda stories is “she changed me.” And it’s no surprise. Because that’s the power of showing up when it matters and staying. It changes us. That’s why we have been coming together in our grief the past few days and that is why we will continue to do so … not just now but whenever things get rough. Because when we show up for each other when it matters and stay for a while, God is there and transformation happens.
God did that in Jesus.
Zelda did that for us.
She did that for us powerfully.
But she’s not the only one.
We can do that for each other.
We can do that for the world.
We can be the light in each other’s bleakest moment.
It’s really not that hard.
It’s simple and yet it’s miraculous.
Show up when it matters and stay awhile.
Be there for each other when…
Be the Word made flesh in each other’s life.
Let God transform each other through us.