John 1:1 “In the beginning was the word and the word was with God.”
Christmas Day is not half over and already many people are exhibiting symptoms of the “post-nativity” depression! Needles are dropping from trees that were cut in July and put up at Thanksgiving. Scraps of wrapping paper and ribbon peep out from under furniture. Our clothing is tighter around the waistline and we are almost sick from the excess of the Christmas feast. We are like the little boy who unwrapped package after package on Christmas morning. Finally sitting up to his chin in wrapping paper and bows asked, “Is this all?”
The Third Proper (sets of readings) for Christmas are not of mangers and shepherds, but the cosmic hymn of the mysteriously glorious origin of the Son of God recorded in prologue to St. John’s Gospel. To see what John is up to here we need to go back to the beginning of the Hebrew Scriptures. Genesis 1:1 is usually translated from the Hebrew into English as, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” A more descriptive English translation can be found in Everett Fox’s brilliant translation of the Five Books of Moses. Here Genesis 1:1 goes like this, “At the beginning of God’s creating of the heavens and the earth.” Here the emphasis in on process and the sense is more verb than noun. The Hebrew word is “Dabhar,” which can be legitimately be translated, “creative energy.”
It is no accident that this is the very language that John uses in the prologue to his Gospel. “In the beginning was the WORD,” says John. Here word is not a noun so much as verb. We could accurately say, “In the beginning was the Creative Energy: the Creative Energy was with God and the Creative Energy was God. The creative energy was with God in the beginning. Through the Creative Energy all things came to be, not one thing had its being but through the Creative Energy. Through the Creative Energy all things came to be, not one thing had its being but through the Creative Energy. All that came to be had life in the Creative Energy and that life was the light of humanity . . .. The Creative Energy was made flesh, it pitched its tent among us, and we saw its glory, the glory as is his as the only Son of God, full of grace and full of truth.”
Here is the deepest mystery of the Christian faith! How can this be? How is it possible that God has come among us becoming authentically human? Yet this is the core belief of our faith. We have been thinking, reflecting and fighting about how this is so ever since.
H. Richard Niebuhr spoke to this mystery when he said, “Jesus Christ is not a median figure, half-God, half-man; He is a single person wholly directed as man toward God and wholly directed in his unity with the Father toward man. He mediatorial not median!”
Let us reflect on this glorious mystery.
1. Jesus is fully human, wholly directed as a human man toward God. There was no alienation, no sin, between Jesus as a man and God as creator and Father. The alienation that has existed between humanity and God since Eden is overcome in the person of Jesus, the Son of God. It is essential to realize that all that Jesus accomplished as a human on earth was not accomplished through his divinity! The acts of Jesus, his preaching, his teaching, and his healing were done through his human obedience to God NOT because he was God! Thus he demonstrates for us what we are intended to be, authentically human.
2. Jesus is wholly directed in his unity with the father toward humanity. The important thing to say here is not that Jesus is like God, but rather to say that God is like Jesus. God, of course, is totally outside the realm of our understanding. As John says, “No one has ever seen God.” God is not playing hide and sick with us, it is just not possible to experience God the creator directly. Traces of transcendence are revealed in creation, but that is not enough to intuit God adequately. So in the fullness of time God’s son appeared, so that we believe we can now know who God is. So when someone asks, “what is God like?” The answer for Christians is, “God is like Jesus.”
The incarnation is good news because by the coming of God’s son in the flesh heaven and earth are joined and the alienation between God and humanity is overcome. Our God has acted! Alienation is overcome by LOVE! The incarnation changes everything. There is nothing so broken; nothing so jaded; nothing so twisted that it cannot be made new.”
- What happened in Bethlehem of Judea on that day when the calendar moved from one to one, there being no day zero
- The Creative Energy: the Word has become flesh, the One who forgave those who crucified him, forgives us.
- The Word who was baptized in the Jordan comes to us in our Baptism and claims us as his own.
- The Eucharistic elements of bread and wine are more than mere bread and wine. Here the Word become flesh, broken on the cross, comes to us in the broken bread.
- The same Word become flesh, drank the cup of suffering, comes to us in the cup of wine: the cup of salvation.
- As the Word of God became flesh in Jesus, the Christ, so the truth of the Good News of that same Christ should become flesh in our lives.
We are to go from here to be for those in world what this Word become flesh is for us. That is what it means to be the Church, the Body of Christ. The creative energy of God has come and dwelt among us and behold all things shall be made new! The Ideal and the Real here unite in the Actual. Is this all there is? Yes, and it is sufficient.
Merry Christmas! Amen.
Note: This is the text of a letter read at services today. This same letter went out to parish via email went this afternoon. Join us, please. John+
July 10, 2016
Beloved in Christ Jesus,
These past two weeks have displayed the depth of anxiety in the very ground of our nation. Chronic anxiety promotes polarity, such as seldom seen in the history of this republic. We are tempted to the sin of despair. The shootings and deaths in recent days reveal the terrible wound in the body politic. The body of Christ has a vocation to pray, fast and proclaim healing for racism, tribalism, and all “isms” that would prey on souls in our nation.
As Rector of Saint John’s, I call on the brothers and sisters of this household of faith to spend Monday, July 11, 2016, in fasting and prayer. If possible, please fast from dawn until sundown. If not that, please fast the noon meal. Your clergy will join you in fasting and prayer for Memphis and West Tennessee. The church will be open for prayer during the day on Monday.
Your clergy will join Memphis clergy brothers and sisters at Hope Church for prayer from 6:30 – 8:30 Monday night. Please invite any who will to join in this day of prayer and fasting for the good of our souls and the healing of our country.
Rector of Saint John’s Episcopal Church – Memphis, Tennessee 38111
The multiplication of cells UNRELATED TO THE PURPOSE OF THE BODY, is what we call cancer
– Lesley Newbigin
The Holy One spoke to me through a TV commercial a couple of days ago. It caught my attention such that I searched for it on the internet. You can find it posted just before this one. The pitch was for an online house search outfit. I won’t give away the story but what caught my attention was the punch line: “You are not looking for a house — you are looking for a place for your life to happen.”
Commercials always have a “hook” that catches us in deep places. That industry works hard finding ways to arouse the two motivations of all human affairs: fear and desire. Once the commercial has us then we are offered a way to safety or satiation. The quality of the offer is everything from the sublime to the sinister. For whatever is for sale a market can be found and precisely targeted. Greater care is taken in the sale of toilet paper than is considered for the spreading of the Gospel! The words of Jesus come to mind, “The children of this world in this their generation are wiser than the children of light.”
Now back to my basic notion. Looking for a house is about shelter, while looking for a place for your life to happen is about soul. I am no good as a realtor but matters of the soul are my work. What I know from soul work is that there is a certain loneliness that just goes with being a human being. We are solitary in a body. Regardless of how much we might hope for we can never get closer to anyone than body to body. We long for relationship that is permanent, dependable and rich. But deep commitment does not guarantee we will not finally be alone. Many relationships founder because they are not designed to carry the weight and intensity of our deepest needs. We need from each other what can only to found in God. A collect from the Prayer Book resonates:
Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.(1)
What I seek is the place where my life can happen in the company of Christians who seek the same. We call it the Body of Christ.
I will explore these notions in the weeks ahead.
(1) The Collect for Proper 20 of Year C. – September 21, 2013