First Sunday after Christmas Day, December 31, 2017
Isaiah 61: 62-3, Psalm 147, Galatians 3:23-25; 4:4-7, John 1: 1-18
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Today’s Gospel is taken from the prologue or introduction to the Gospel according to John: “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (Jn 1:1)
It often seems very poetic (it is) and very theological (again, yes) and very difficult to understand. I like Chaim Potok’s opening to his novel In the Beginning, which starts with a simple sentence: “All beginnings are hard.”
I wonder: is understanding this opening really that hard? It certainly seems so.
Here’s one way to start unpacking its denseness. When I was visiting down here in September, I went to the Shenandoah Caverns. As most of you know, they’re dramatic and you truly are enveloped in darkness. But then there are those dramatic moments where you can see light, both natural and the kind of light that you “know how to turn on” as one little boy described it.
When we look at this Gospel passage the good news, both capital and small letters, is that we are not alone, that there is someone who knows how to “turn on the lights” and that someone is Jesus Christ.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God, and the Word was God. This, for John, is the Christmas story and it is set in the context of creation, “In the beginning.” Creation is not an event of the past but the ongoing life of God with his people. John echoes and continues the Genesis story of creation, “In the beginning, God said, ‘Let there be…’ and there was….” Land, sky, vegetation, living creatures from the water, birds of the air, living creatures from the earth, and humankind made in the image and likeness of God.
John’s nativity story is about a new creation. It is not about shepherds and angels or a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger. It is about God who has been present before creation, and who moved over the chaos and darkness and said, “Let there be light.”
This same God who brought the world into being, brought order out of chaos is now visible in the world as a human being.
By “becoming flesh” or becoming human, God took on our human nature. At the same time, God shows us a bit of God’s self, of the nature of being divine. Through Jesus, God was renewing humanity, making a new creation. John tells us, “the true light that enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.”
We’re still in the Christmas season. Christmas, says St. Gregory of Nyssa, is the “festival of re-creation.” It is God giving God’s own life to God’s people. It is as if God said, “I want humanity to see my face. I want them to hear my voice. I want them to touch me. I want them to smell my sweat. I want them to eat my body. I want to live their life. I want them to live my life.” “And the word became flesh and lived among us.” This is God in the flesh, the divine human, holy humanity.
Imagine what that means for us. It means we are holy and intended to be holy, not as an achievement on our own but as a gift of God. This is the gift of Christmas. We have been given the power to become children of God. This happens not by blood, or the will of the flesh, or the will of people, but by God. “And the Word became flesh and lived among us.”
God sees humanity as the opportunity and the means to reveal God’s self. Yet far too often we use our humanity as an excuse. “I’m only human,” we declare, as if we are somehow deficient. We fail to see, to believe, to understand that in the Word becoming flesh and living among us we are God’s first sacrament. Human beings are the tangible, outward, and visible signs and carriers of God’s inward and spiritual presence.
Have you ever thought of yourself as a sacrament? Have you ever looked at someone across the street and said, “Hey, look! There is the sacramental image of God?” Why not? Why do we not see that in ourselves and each other? After all, “The Word became flesh and lived among us.”
In the Jewish tradition, rabbis tell a story that each person has a procession of angels going before them and crying out, “Make way for the image of God.” Imagine how different our lives and world would be if we lived with this as our reality and the truth that guided our lives.
Everywhere we go the angels go with us announcing the coming of the image of God and reminding us of who we are. That is the truth of Christmas for us. It is also the Christmas truth for the person living next door, for those we love, for those we fear, for those who are like us and those who are different, for the stranger, and for our enemies. “And the Word became flesh and lived among us.”
The implications are profound. It changes how we see ourselves and one another, the way we live, our actions, and our words. It means that Christmas cannot be limited to an event. Christmas is a life to be lived, a way of being. It means that Christmas is more properly understood as a verb rather than a noun.
How many of you were asked this week, “How was your Christmas”? We should stop asking, “How was your Christmas?” Instead, we should be asking, “How are you ‘Christmassing?’” Are you recognizing the Word become flesh in your own life? Are you recognizing the Word become flesh in the lives of others? Do you see the procession of angels and hear their voices?
“And the Word became flesh and lived among us.” The Word became flesh and has never ceased living among us. The Word became flesh and will never cease living among us. So, make way. Wherever you go. Whatever you are doing. Whoever you are with. Make way for the image of God. Christmas your way through life.
 Chaim Potok, In the Beginning (New York: Random House, 1975), 1.
 Philip D. Jamison, Feasting on the Gospels – John, Volume I, Location 424.
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