Text: John 1:1-14
May the grace and truth of God shine brightly upon us, we children of God, Amen.
Our service of Lessons and Carols last night began with a reading from the first chapter of Genesis,
In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, "Let there be light"; and there was light. (Gen 1:1-3)
I looked out at the congregation as the lesson was being read, and I could see some confusion. Was this the Easter Vigil? Were we going to be reading salvation stories? By the time we got to the seventh reading, the one we hear this morning from the gospel of John, all had been made clear – God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one being with the Father, through whom all things were made.
The prologue to the Gospel of John is creed. It is a set of beliefs that are absolutely theological in their composition, beyond history and fact-checking. It is the opposite of those shows cropping up on the History Channel that offer hour-long investigations of whether or not there was a star in the sky, as scripture reports, in the year of Jesus’ birth; or whether or not there is any record of Herod’s slaughter of the holy innocents; or what Jesus’ face would have looked like.
No, there’s nothing historical about this prologue at all. Who can claim to have been present at the beginning, before time, with the Word at the moment of creation? It is beyond even the fossil record. If last night, Christmas Eve, was all about the invisible God made visible in the flesh of the baby of Bethlehem, then this morning, Christmas Day, is about the cosmic Christ, the one who was present before the birth of the whole world, through whom the world came into being, and so who is already and always incarnate in all of creation.
The gospel of John, one of the four accounts of the life of Jesus available to us as scripture, begins with ideas that even the author could not have witnessed. They are faith claims, they are poetry, really, and they move us into that space of belief beyond what we can see.
But that is a space we cannot bear to stay in for very long. We are creatures with bodies, with eyes and ears and noses and fingers and tongues. God gave us senses for apprehending the world into which we were placed, and they are what allow us to know what is real, and what is not. We can only bear abstraction for so long before we need something concrete to point us toward reality. So our creeds affirm, for us and for our salvation he came down from heaven, was incarnate of the virgin Mary, and became truly human. Or, in the words of John,
He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. (John 1:10-11)
So John’s prologue moves from faith claims about the Word that existed before time, and locates itself in history, in the person not of Jesus, but of John the Baptist, to the one who stood at the banks of the river Jordan and heralded the coming of the Lord, the one who would baptize not with water, but with the Holy Spirit (John 1:31-33). The gospel moves from the creation of the world to the re-creation of the human being that takes place in baptism, that movement of the Holy Spirit in which we die and are reborn, when it says,
To all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12-13)
Last night we celebrated the birth of one child of God, Jesus born to Mary and Joseph at the inn in Bethlehem. This morning we celebrate the rebirth of all people who have found new life in the good news that what God has in mind for all of creation – what God has always had in mind for all of creation is life, life so brilliant it shines in the darkest of times like an unquenchable fire, life that is the light of the world and that cannot be overcome.
John’s prologue is about birth, not the baby in the stall, but the birth of the whole world, and the rebirth of the believer, but finally about the birth of the church. Listen to the subtle shift that comes at verse fourteen,
And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory…
John testifies to the truth, but it is a truth so cosmic that none of us could have been there to witness it. It is taken on faith, and faith is not held privately, it is shared. So John says we have seen the glory of God, glory like the awe a parent experiences when looking at his or her first-born child, seeing unconditional love and the truth of creation – that all is love. We have seen this, together. We share this story with each other and with the world. God’s work at creation creates faith, God’s work at re-creation creates a community of faith that shares the story so that all people might be drawn into the restoration God is working in the world.
Ultimately, John’s prologue makes faith claims not only about God, about Jesus as the pre-existing logos, or Word of God, claims that cannot be verified, it makes faith claims about us. The beginning of the story is not just Jesus born in the stable in Bethlehem, it is us reborn as children of God in the church at baptism. And this is why we retell the story of our faith using the words of the creed each time an infant or an adult is brought to the font, because we believe that on Christmas Day something happened for us, and for our salvation.
Christ is born this day in you, in us, in the church. We have seen it, in ourselves, in each other, in the world. The God who has existed since before the story of time began has entered into history again this morning to remake us all, to give us new life, light for all people that cannot be overcome.
Merry Christmas, and Amen.