The Sunday Sermon: Third Sunday in Advent – December 17, 2017
Scripture: John 1:1-18
Jesus: The Word
That’s a beautiful passage isn’t it. In a way we could probably say amen and wonder at the image of the mystery of our faith that John paints for us here. But seeing as our focus is on Jesus as the Word today, it probably makes sense for me to preach something and I’ll pray the Spirit gives me some words to get the wonder and response level up too.
One reason we might get this much depth and theology about God’s work in Jesus Christ in this passage is because this so-called prologue to the Gospel of John is thought to be a hymn the early Church used. Part of this passage might’ve very well been a way the early Christians sang about their belief in and worship of Christ. We find similar Christ hymns in Philippians 2 when Jesus is said to have shared equality with God and emptied himself and took on human form and Colossians 1 where he is talked about as being equal with God and God creating and reconciling all things through him.
But what is John’s purpose by choosing to include this hymn and focus on the Word in the introductory statement to his Gospel story? Well we get a hint right away right when the author writes, “In the beginning.” Now that’s pretty familiar right, we just have to flip to the front of our Bibles and see it right there in Genesis 1:1. So John is telling us this Word is uncreated and eternal. The Word was with God and the Word was God. So in the very being of the Word was the closest connection you could have to God while being distinct in some way. And we see what that distinctness is right away too as God the creator uses the Word to create and bring into action God’s creation of life.
We can think back to the creation story in Gen 1 again, as God said let there be light and there was light. Raymond Brown says this Word of God is an outward active revelation of the will and wisdom of God, stamped on all creation. It is then through this Word that is with and of God that all of life comes into being and through whom an awareness of God comes to all people. Therefore, by claiming that Jesus is the eternal Word, John is saying that Jesus has a claim over all things and in his divine nature as the eternal Word has been part of God and God’s loving and gracious revelation to the World.
We also get this claim that the fullness of life given by God through the Word is the light and truth. This true light, which the Word brings however, comes into conflict with the world. The use of world is a phrase John often uses to discuss resistance to God and Christ. Therefore, the world refuses to see God because as John 3:19 says, people love darkness or rebellion against God instead of the light that has brought forth life. This darkness though can also be thought of as not just containing our human rebellion against the light of the Word of God, but also all things that bring about death that we often cannot as easily explain, which we see all around us. Yet according to John even all of this darkness cannot keep the power of the light of God’s will and love in the world through the Word from accomplishing God’s purpose.
God’s action through the Word, among the chosen people of Israel was an experience of the love and will of God in their lives in many ways throughout the Old Testament. But according to John something new is about to take place. The fullness of the light that was God’s revelation given by the Word was coming directly into the world. And as we have seen this is not some nice essential Garden of Eden or heavenly kingdom world in John’s eyes it is a world that time and time again rejects the one who gives it life, guides it, and sustains it.
Because the people of Jesus’ day and us in the modern world have been so accustomed to living in the darkness, it is vital that we understand and see the radical nature of verse 14. As Jesus comes into the world he not only steps outside of eternity, but becomes flesh. Jesus, the one whom John has just claimed to be the Word who is with and is God, comes to live amongst all the mess in the flesh of humanity and its darkness. The Word of God, which has accomplished mighty things has decided to come directly into our experience and reveal the will of God, restore the knowledge and truth of God, and be the love of God that overcomes the darkness and death.
The Greek word for live among or dwell among here actually means to pitch a tent and make a dwelling. This would have directly confronted many Greek thinkers of the day. Instead of proclaiming and making the path of liberation from the world as many Greeks that followed Plato’s thought hoped, Jesus is God becoming intricately tied to the world (Brown). Jesus as the Word made flesh then is a challenge to anyone who attempts to separate God’s work in Christ from the world. The Word did not come to live among us so that we could escape the world. The Word came to dwell among us so that we could live into the fullness of God’s redemption for us on the earth that brings about eternal fullness of life in the presence of God in the world, and resurrection to new life as those who will be raised like Jesus, in the flesh.
The imagery of the Word of God pitching a tent or dwelling among us is also an allusion to the holy presence of God in the tabernacle amongst the Israelites in the Old Testament. Jesus for John is the embodiment of the fullness of God’s glory, which is now in the world. Yet, Jesus is different then the glory that Isaiah and Moses describe as being to holy to directly encounter. Jesus makes and mediates a way to behold fully who God is. The covenant love that the God of Israel has for this world of darkness is made known to us fully now in the form of a human being. Jesus has become the new dwelling place of the glory of God and in him we come to see God’s heart.
Jesus as the Word made flesh in the world then is the embodiment of all that God promises and proclaims. Therefore, John can later say in his Gospel that Jesus is the not simply attesting to the truth, but is the truth, is the way, is the life. Because in Jesus we see fully God’s truth of grace and love. In Jesus we see God’s way that is glory through humiliation, sacrifice, and death on behalf of others. In Jesus we receive new life that binds us back to God, allows us love as he did for us, and to witness in confession, deed, and hope that darkness shall not overcome God’s purposes. The Word made flesh tells us that Jesus reveals all of what God has desired for creation in and among our human experience. Therefore, belief in him should bring us to put our trust in him, our decisions in him, our and the world’s transformation in him, our hope in him, and our responsive action in him.
However, as John says in verses 10-11 when this light is in the world he is not recognized and even his own chosen people cannot accept him as the true light of God’s will and wisdom, because of the darkness present. As believers in Christ we have been born again in our baptism of the Spirit, which has made us sons and daughters of God. However, I think we can also say that even in this close relationship with God we now share as a community of believers we too do not recognize his light many times. So just as more people in the Western world today are turning away from belief or at least community response to the light and new life in Christ, we as people of God face the same sinful temptation to not live into the fullness of life God has graciously given us and is continuing to offer us more fully in Christ. As Charles Wood says, “we have embarked on a journey of transformation. There is so much to unlearn as well as much to learn as we are led into truth under the guidance of the Spirit of truth.”
The darkness in the world cannot overcome God’s work in us and we have already been made into new people reconnected to God by the Word made flesh. Jesus knew however, that even those of us transformed by his work would need the Holy Spirit to remind us of who we are and transform us again and again to live in response to him as the fullness of God’s love, truth, and will among us. Through the Holy Spirit we are made aware of the presence of Christ through faith dwelling among us and his work of redeeming the world caught in darkness. As the Church universal and Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church we are called to follow the commandments of Christ and witness as John the Baptist did to the true light that has come into the world.
However, too often we are blinded or fail to respond to the grace we have received and glory we have experienced in Jesus Christ. As with the rest of our world, we do not listen to Jesus command to “love each other as he has loved us.” Sacrificial love as a way to bring glory to God is almost a surprise to us even in Church. It is not that we are not drawn together as people who love God and each other through Christ. But, we are still resistant to personal and communal transformation in our lives and the world that bring people into right relationship with God and fullness of life for all people and all of creation, unless it conveniently fits into our ideologies, time schedule, pocket book, political agenda, ethnic/racial group, theology or our capacity to think of what the grace of Christ can do through us.
When we stray away from living into the presence of Jesus Christ in all we do we even start to believe that darkness has overcome the world. It is not that we are called to be overly optimistic and the necessity of Christ’s coming in the flesh, scripture, and our experience tells us of the reality of sin, evil, pain, and death in our world. However, the one who dwells among us that was before the world began whose glory we see in our lives through faith, love, hope, grace, lament, community, scripture, Communion, and mission can lead us in another approach to the world and our local community.
Our work as Christians, although imperfect and still bound to those categories I mentioned above, should above all be bound to Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh and his work of bringing light and life. Therefore, of course we should be involved in work to love and grant justice for all people for the fullness of life, because we have seen and experience the Word who is with and is God do that for us and the world. Of course, we should proclaim the Good News that Jesus came to live for, die for, raise again for, and transform the world because in him alone is the fullness of God’s truth and love. Of course, we should seek to live out our Communion with fellow Christians, because through it we will be one as Jesus and the Father are one that witnesses to the reality that Jesus is the reconciliation of the world. Of course, we should look to feed the hungry even in this rich community and in our Church, because Jesus is the bread that has given life and has come to be the providence of God in material form that continues through those who believe in him. These are just a few of the things Christians can’t agree on, because we look first to ourselves as the answer to all problems, as opposed to Jesus Christ, that works amongst, despite, and at times even against the people of God in order to bring new life and God’s love. So witnessing to this Word Incarnate in our lives brings challenges, but if we seek, pray, and live out life as a community wrapped in the fleshy love of God in Jesus Christ we will be participating in the work of God that can transform the world.
This summer I met a pretty wise guy in Germany who spoke a little more into who this Word of God is and what the Incarnate Word does in our midst. He said, “Eternal life is God’s substance. Eternal life is not only unending life, but life of such intensity that it flows over and calls forth life. All finite life stems from the infinite life of the living God. Hence all finite life longs for the eternal source of life. There is movement in God’s eternal life. The living God goes forth in Christ and brings life. He looks for the lost. He lights a lamp in the dark night of the soul.”
These were the words of Jürgen Moltmann one of the most famous living theologians in our Reformed tradition and a German who saw the greatest darkness of Nazism, combat as a German soldier, and the religious suppression of Communist East Germany and yet still is most famous for writing a theology of hope. As we prepare for the celebration of the coming of the Word made flesh, may we be reminded that this eternal life source has called us from the darkness of the world into eternal life that is the intensity of life God’s eternal Word spoke into all of creation at the beginning of time and brought by the baby in a manager, God’s revelation to the world, to speak and restore life again and again.
Shawn Harmon, Student Minister