Sermon for Year B, First Sunday After Christmas
By The Rev. Torey Lightcap
December 28, 2014
St. Thomas Episcopal Church
The Prologue of John contains such beautiful and dense poetry
That we could be hardly blamed for wanting
To just frame it and put it on a wall and stare at it.
In fact, many theologians have called it a hymn,
And many Bible scholars have said that that’s precisely what it is --
A song that you might’ve sung.
For myself, I know that linguistically it’s just clean, beautiful Greek.
But whatever it is -- whether it’s great literature or good grammar
Or a word-painting or a song -- and I guess it’s all four of those --
If all we do is admire it for its external qualities -- if we do that for too long,
Then we’re worshipping the Bible rather than God.
That’s called bibliolatry, and it’s not something we want to do,
No matter how tempting. So --
To avoid that impulse, we have to ask some questions to keep a fair assessment going:
Who wrote it? When? To who? Where? And why? --
What points did the writer feel it was important to make?
What we find is that John here is trying to give some basis to answer the question
That for Christians is perhaps the central question,
Nothing more or less than this -- “Who was Jesus, anyway?”
“Who was Jesus?”
We think that at least a few generations had passed
Between the time Jesus finished his earthly ministry
And the time the Gospel According to John was composed.
You can imagine that there were people wondering
Who this person was who was still being talked about.
The number of people who had actually seen him in the flesh had probably dwindled down
To being very few indeed, if any.
And so his legacy was changing, as it was yet being held and knit together.
And even this primal question -- who was this guy? --
The nature and meaning and intent behind it was changing because people were evolving.
The firsthand accounts were being handed down and passed along in an oral tradition,
And some Gospels had been written down,
Composed from different sources:
Sories from eyewitnesses, lists of sayings, lists of signs and miracles.
John may have come together in a different way,
But it was still after an answer to this fundamental question of Jesus’ identity. Who was he?
That question has not been frozen in time or stopped evolving. That’s exciting.
We are still asking it, aren’t we? “Who was Jesus?”
We’re people, too! People who have doubts and uncertainties and questions
And all manner of ideas of our own, and our own lenses and experiences and interpretations.
Who Jesus has been “identified” as down through the centuries,
Has radically shifted in some ways and remained the same in others.
New people in new and different circumstances will have different needs,
And out of those needs will see Jesus accordingly.
We may as well be honest and say why we want to know.
I think that in his Gospel, John is intentionally giving us a set of answers to that question --
Answers that are flexible enough to be able to address
Just about anyone living in just about any circumstance in just about any time.
Even if some of it feels a little bit like a riddle.
John says that Jesus is the Logos of God --
That is, the Word of God --
Which is to say, “a communication whereby the mind [of God] finds expression.”
“Word” is good, but it’s only a start. Logos is a many-layered term, deep and rich.
The logos is the saying, the speech, the reason, the plan, the compuation, the reckoning;
The proverb, the proclamation, the instruction;
The assertion, the declaration, the speech of one, and the discussion had by all.
And not just the discussion, but the very matter being discussed -- the subject matter.
Not merely the reasoning used, but the reason itself;
Not just the grounds for discussion, but the question under consideration;
Not just the talking, but the whole motive for speaking in the first place.
Bottom line: because John calls him the logos, we can understand Jesus
As being “the independent personified expression of God.”
Now if that doesn’t twist things up a little, we should listen better and I should repeat louder.
Jesus is “the independent personified expression of God.”
The Word is “with” God, and yet it “was” God.
What a beautiful paradox of “unity and distinction”:
How can something exist alongside something else
But also, at the same time, be the thing that it exists next to?
Christ the Word is mystical union. Very God, with God, and with us.
Perhaps too much is made of these distinctions in our theology and our thinking,
And not enough is made of the similarities and the unity.
After all, Emmanuel means “God with us.”
That’s an insight that wants to go deeper than we’re generally willing to let it.
After all, there is a great strain of thought in the Orthodox Christian traditions that goes like this:
In Christ, God became one with us so that we could become one with God.
Now, this great Word, this union -- this conversation, this reckoning, this articulation --
It is pre-existent. It precedes all things, and nothing comes into being without it.
The Word is the one great mediator of all creation.
We can only locate and understand our lives in relation to this one life.
We’re meant to be constantly pinging our lives off of the one life of Jesus -- being taught.
More than that: this one life of Jesus is the light shining in the dark
That cannot be overcome.
As one writer has said, “only in turning to the logos can one come into one’s own reality.
“To have light is also to have life, and both come from the same source.”
So one answer to the question of who Jesus was is this:
He is the one that people are constantly coming back to
In order to shed light on how they are to live their own lives;
He is the one whose followers cannot understand themselves
Unless they keep his light before them.
We’re told, on just this score, that “the light shines in the darkness,
And the darkness did not overcome it.”
A better word than “overcome” is “apprehend.” The darkness has not apprehended the light.
Apprehended: “comprehended,” “understood,” “seized,” “overcame.”
It was St. Francis who said that
“All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle.”
Because darkness is inert; it can’t move; it doesn’t think or feel; it’s just a lack of light;
And the light is always ready to overcome it -- is built specifically to overcome it.
If anything, it is the light, the logos, the Word and the conversation,
That apprehends the darkness and banishes it.
And then we move to John the Baptist.
John’s Gospel is at pains to show us that John the Baptist is not the light of the world.
John is simply the finger pointing to the light, the Word, the mediator, the Messiah.
John says, “Don’t get us mixed up.”
Finally, “the Word became flesh and dwelled among us,” full of glory, grace, and truth.
“Dwelled,” “tented,” “tabernacled,” “abided.” Among us.
It came and set down its roots.
And what was the effect? Evident grace heaped up upon evident grace.
John will tell us, much later, at almost the end of his Gospel, that
“Jesus did many ... signs in the presence of his disciples, ... not written in [the] book.
But [that] these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah,
The Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”
That’s the whole point for John:
The light came to live with us, and it does so forever, and we have life because of it.