And the Word Became Flesh

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The First Sunday after Christmas
Charles Graves IV
St. Paul’s Within the Walls
December 27, 2015

Every year, on the Sunday after Christmas, we in the Church set about to read this very same message – the first words from the Gospel of John.

It’s strange message to be sure, but it’s a message so important in fact that it sits front and center in our church all day long. Though you may never have noticed, the gold band sitting between Christ the King and the Apostles below bear some important words in Hebrew and Greek. On your left side are the first words of the New Testament in Genesis – “In the beginning God created the heavens and the Earth”. And on your right are these first words from John’s Gospel: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

It’s no mistake that John the Evangelist (not to be confused of course with John the Baptist) reflects the imagery of Creation in these very first words of his Gospel.

I have to say, unusually I really love how John thinks here. The other three gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke in their own ways begin the story of Jesus completely differently. Matthew spends his first 18 verses in a grueling recitation of Jesus’ genealogy, going through Mary all the way back to King David and back to the great Patriarch, Abraham. (and so-and-so begat so-and-so, and they begat so-and-so). Mark – preferring to give the cliff’s note version of the story doesn’t even tell the birth story at all, nor does he give any of the backstory. Within the first 8 verses of Mark’s Gospel, Jesus is already an adult being baptized in the River Jordan. The third Gospel, Luke, goes back to the parents of John the Baptist, telling the story of his own unusual birth before getting to the now-familiar tale of the Angel Gabriel’s prophecy to Mary and Joseph.

But John the Evangelist – the fourth Gospel – goes an entirely different way. Instead of sticking to the facts of the story (Mary did this, Joseph did that, so on & so forth), the Gospel of John the Evangelist starts out downright mystical. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was in God, and the Word was God”.

What does that even mean?

Try to diagram a sentence like that and it throws you through so many loops that the Church has tried for two millennia to try to untangle it. And if you go looking for clarification in the next two verses, you’re not going to get it. “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.”

Perhaps the first great mystic in the early church, John the Evangelist jumps into playing with so many illusive and ethereal terms that he just sort of leaves you floating in some kind of odd spiritual sky-bubble. It’s not about the facts anymore with John. The other Gospels have done that for us already. But I’ll tell you what…

It’s about planting the age-old story of Jesus into our hearts, souls and spirits.

Those of you who know me well, know that I’m a “just the facts” sort of guy. I like lists, and objects, and rules, and facts and physical realities that I can see or touch or hold in my hands. By and large, nothing gives me a headache and makes my eyes cross faster than a boatload of unreachable concepts that are constantly being reexamined, reworked, and redefined. It’s like trying to grab onto a bubble that a child blows into the air. Spend extraordinary energy trying to grab it, and you will still find yourself holding nothing but a fistful of disappointment and bewilderment.

The God we serve is infinitely more illusive, despite (or perhaps because) that same God is present everywhere and at all times. God is not constrained by the languages, or words, or facts, or numbers, or buildings, or theories that we humans try ceaselessly to construct. Try as we might – as we have since the days of Adam and Eve – the God we serve just can’t be tied down.

Sometimes, or often for that matter, it can be extraordinarily frustrating to try and try and try again, failing every time to wrap our arms around exactly who and what this God is. It’s like Sisyphus pushing that infamous rock up the hill only to have it roll down on top of us time after time after time. But we keep on working at it, don’t we?

We think that if we meditate hard enough, or busy ourselves enough with this good deed or that one, or if we educate ourselves enough, or if we advocate hard enough or fight the battles of social justice hard enough than maybe, just maybe, we can apprehend God and tie God down to the model of our own expectations.

But Guess what – I don’t know about you, but I’m awfully glad that the God of Heaven isn’t constricted to the facts, rules, and expectations that we try to create. At least for me, every time I catch a little glimpse of the Divine in this world – whether it’s in the everyday course of life or in the extraordinary moments of amazement that catch us by surprise, this God is so much bigger, so much more beautiful, so much mightier, so much sweeter, so much more merciful, so much more loving than I ever could have thought to imagine.

And that very revelation is why we’re reading John’s prologue on this first Sunday of Christmas. Having just celebrated the birth of the almighty, all-powerful, all-consuming King of Heaven being born into this world as a feeble little vulnerable baby in a dirty little stable in Bethlehem – how can we not revel in God shattering our expectations. How can we not look up from this world of calendars and schedules, facts, and figures, rules and regulations to focus on what’s REALLY important in this world.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” “And the Word became flesh and lived among us”

My dear friends, take some time this week to look up from the hustle and bustle of this busy world and take some time alone, in the company of the Living God. Say that phrase to yourself, repeating it, praying it, breathing it into your body and your soul and your spirit.

“And the Word became flesh and lived among us”
“And the Word became flesh and lived among us”
“And the Word became flesh and lived among us”

Taste the sweetness of those words in your mouth this week. Do not try to grasp them. Do not try to fully understand them. But let them carry you away toward the transcendent beauty of the God who passes all understanding.


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