Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

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Sunday, December 30, 2018

YEAR C 2018 christmas 1

Christmas I, 2018
Isaiah 61:10-62:3
Psalm 147
Galatians 3:23-25, 4:4-7
John 1:1-18

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Happy sixth day of Christmas to everyone!  I hope you’re enjoying those geese a laying.  Tomorrow you should be getting seven swans.  There’s a surprising amount of poultry in these twelve days.  But on to more important matters . . .

In the beginning was the Word.  It sounds like the start to a fable doesn’t it?  As if we should all cozy up to the fire with egg nog and blankets so Father George can tell us the ancient tale called “The Word Who Came to Dinner.”  Even though most of the coming year we will be hearing from Luke’s gospel, we always get the opening of John’s gospel this time of year.  And, as a reminder, John’s gospel is kind of esoteric . . . by which I mean, “trippy.”  You cannot talk about the opening to John’s gospel without sounding just a little bit off your rocker.  And, with that disclaimer, let’s jump right in . . .

In the beginning was the Word.  Funny thing about words . . . they never appear in just one form.  Or, I should say, they operate on many levels.  If you’re reading a book, and you come across the word “dog,” you see the shape of the letters on the page, and your mind tells you those shapes together spell the word “dog.”  But then you might also get a mental image of a dog.  Some sort of vague archetype at least, if not your actual furry beast waiting at home by the fire, drinking your eggnog this morning, or chasing your six geese.

Dog is a word.  But “dog” only makes sense because you’ve seen a dog, or loved a dog, or been bitten by a dog.  “Dog” does not exist outside of having some concept of what an actual dog is.  Swirls on the page get translated into letters in your mind, and then into a word, which then calls up the appropriate concept of dog, and you get a mental image of a dog.  I bet you’re probably picturing a dog right now, aren’t you?  Okay, enough of my Timothy Leary talk.  Here’s why I’m bringing all that up.

When you hear the phrase, “In the beginning was the Word,” what do you picture?  A giant 3D version of the word Word floating through the stars and rotating slowly as light reflects off it?  I can admit to you that this is still what I picture . . . until I make it stop.  A canopy of stars and a giant four-letter styrofoam “Word” spinning out from a nebula.  Four years of seminary, and nine years as a priest, and the opening of John’s gospel still turns me into a kid watching an episode of Sesame Street.  Brought to you by the letter W.

But lest you think I slept through seminary, let’s go to the Greek.  (I promise it’s just for a second.)  When we see “the Word” in today’s gospel, it’s from the Greek logos, which is the spoken word.  But what I am picturing in my Sesame-Street mind is lexis, the written word.  Lexis is my spinning styrofoam that needs mental interpretation to get meaning.  Logos is spoken and heard, and skips the whole writing thing entirely.  And so why is that important?

Think of John’s gospel opening like this: In the beginning was the spoken word.  Or, in the beginning was the speech.  And now, think of the opening of Genesis: In the beginning, God said . . . And it was good.  The spoken Word of God.  In the beginning was the spoken Word of God.  And the spoken Word was with God, and the spoken Word was God.  Through this spoken Word all things were made.

And this Word, this spoken Word, became flesh and dwelt among us.  So think of that for a moment: The spoken Word of God, by which all things were made, becomes flesh and dwells among us.

I think one of the dangers of our careful Trinitarian formulas is that we often miss the beautiful symmetry, hiding in plain sight.  When we see the words on paper, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, there’s a chance that our mind reads the words, and then forms a mental picture of three white men, standing in the clouds: An old father with a beard, a younger son with a beard, and a little guy with a sheet over his head.  Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.  We can’t help but carry our immediate images in our minds, bizarre though they may be.  (Remember, I freely admitted to that spinning styrofoam Word.)

So, let’s try thinking of the Trinity in a different way.  God the Father speaks, the breath of the Holy Spirit comes forth, and the Words formed are the spoken Word of God.  This is how creation comes to exist.  God speaks it into being, through the breath of life, and the spoken Word of God.  Maybe that’s not so radical after all, right?  Certainly more helpful than three guys standing in the clouds.

And then, the spoken Word of God becomes flesh and dwells among us.  Jesus is the spoken Word of God.  In Jesus, God is speaking not in words but in the flesh.  In a living, breathing, human being.  The spoken Word of God has become a visible, tangible human being.  No longer do we have to come up with some images in our minds about spinning styrofoam letters and men standing on clouds.  We don’t have to guess what the spoken Word of God looks like.  Well, I take that back: we’ve got a couple thousand years of mostly European artists’ interpretations in our collective memory.  So we probably do have a stock image of Jesus that we carry around in our heads.

But let’s not think about how Jesus looks and let’s concentrate instead on what Jesus does.  When the spoken Word of God walks on the earth, wonderful things begin to happen.  Water turns to wine, the lame walk, the blind see, sins are forgiven, the dead are raised to life again.  Jesus isn’t sent to earth on some kind of reverse spacewalk where he’s in radio contact with the Father ship through prayer.  Jesus is the Word that God has spoken into creation.  And when the spoken Word of God is in our midst, things are brought to perfection.  Things are returned to the way they were meant to be.  If you want to hear God speaking, look at what Jesus is doing.  Jesus is God’s “Make it So,” if you will.  The answer to the question, “What would it look like if God’s words became an actual person?”

“What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”  I have always loved this little phrase.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.  That’s the basis of all our Christmas movies, right?  In fact, that’s the basis of all movies . . . or, all good movies.  You know, the cavalry riding over the hill, darkest just before the dawn, just when all hope seems lost, the little spark catches fire once again and the flame burns bright, and everyone drinks egg nog and sings songs.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it.

The interesting thing about light is that it isn’t pushy.  It’s not like wind, or water, or even fire.  Those forces can just bowl you over and overwhelm you.  But light . . . light is different.  You can close your eyes and shut out the light.  You can turn your head and ignore the light.  You can squint, or get sunglasses, or close the blinds.  But that doesn’t eliminate the light.  You can stop seeing it, but you cannot send it away.  You can reject the light, but the light still shines in the darkness.  Always there.

And honestly?  We won’t often admit it, but we prefer the darkness.  Because light is judgement in a way.  Light exposes who we are, and what we do, and how we live.  And, because of that, the more light there is, the more hopeless things can seem.  It’s a powerful irony, actually.  Because the light shines in the darkness of us.  And yet, even the despair of our darkness cannot overcome it.  And there is the hope: The light shines in the darkest places of us.

Because what has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, all the darkness--all the darkness, all the time, and the darkness did not overcome it.

We need not fear this light.  Because this light is the very spoken Word of God.  Remember?  The spoken Word who heals, and forgives, and brings life and resurrection.  The light that has come into the world is the spoken Word of God.  The same Word that declared from the beginning, “It is good.”

And then there’s this curious phrase, “And the Word became flesh and lived among us.”  The word that we get as “lived” is actually tabernacled, which is not usually a verb in our world, I know.  You probably think of that little box over by the altar when you hear the word tabernacle.  But as a verb, you can think of it as like, camping among us.  Not a permanent structure where there are utility bills and a garage to clean out.  More like, you know, pitching a tent on your front lawn.  The spoken Word does not buy a house in your neighborhood, but rather camps among us.  Ready to move when the time comes.

And that’s important because of this:  The tabernacle, as you may recall, is the portable dwelling place of the Divine Presence for the Israelites as they wander through the desert.  It was God’s tent, which the people brought with them on their journey in the wilderness.  The importance is clear, right?  God did not stay back in some building in Egypt; God goes with the people through the desert of their lives, present in all their troubles and triumphs.

The spoken Word became flesh and camps among us.  The spoken Word of God goes with us, walks with us, journeys with us.  We need not fear, because this spoken Word is with us.  What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

And this spoken Word reminds us where to look to find the light and life.  This is my body; this is my blood.  Given for all people, for the forgiveness of sin.  The body and blood which we keep in that tabernacle right over there, as a matter of fact.  A reminder throughout the week that the spoken Word of God dwells among us in the darkness, and in the light.

God.  Is.  With.  Us.  Emmanuel.


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