Grace upon Grace
First Reading Isaiah 61:10-62:3
Psalm Psalm 147:13-21
Second Reading Galatians 3:23-25; 4:4-7
Gospel John 1:1-18
The first Sunday after Christmas Day. Jesus is tucked away in the manger. The shepherds have returned to their flocks rejoicing. The wise men are on their way bearing gifts. I imagine this is a time when Mary and Joseph pause for a moment and bask in all that God has done, and marvel and wonder about the new addition to their family. Their thoughts must be on future possibility and promise. Before looking ahead, perhaps in moments such as this we should reflect on what just happened. The prologue from the Gospel according to John offers us a revelatory rewind to ponder the past and the possibilities.
John goes all the way back, to “in the beginning.” This should bring to mind the first words of the book of Genesis, “in the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth.” The same Greek words, ‘en arche’, begin the creation of the cosmos and the incarnation of Jesus Christ. But Genesis 1:1 is not what John is talking about. John is referring to THE beginning. Absolute beginning, as in the beginning of eternity, as if that can even be defined on human calendars, or understood by human minds.
And John does not place Jesus in the scene by name. Instead, it is the Word that is present with God in the beginning. John refers to Jesus as the Word in describing the Incarnation. “The Word became flesh and lived among us.” Word here does not suggest the booming voice of God from a cloud, the silence in the whirlwind, messages from angels, or even the word of the Lord delivered by the prophets. The Word is not a ‘word’ as we imagine, not spoken or written, but the ‘logos’, the divine principle of reason that gives order to the cosmos and unites the human mind with the mind of God. The Word is oneness with God’s mind, and is presented to humanity so that all might believe. If we are one with the Word and the world, then we recognize our Creator in the coming of Christ, and all the ways the Spirit continues to be made manifest all around us.
The story of life and the story of Jesus begin in the very bosom of God. The presence of the Son is co-eternal with God, and part of our salvation history, even before we have any knowledge or experience of it. These words and ideas should seem familiar to us. Each week we affirm our faith in the words of the creed, “We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty ... We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ ... eternally begotten of the Father ... of one Being with the Father. Through him all things were made.”
In all the cosmic, spiritual language, the gospel of John is explicit. The Word comes from God, dwells with humanity, and returns to God. In his life and words and deeds, Jesus speaks and acts as the incarnate expression of God. The same power that created our world and humanity also is responsible for the Incarnation. Jesus gives visible expression in the world to the invisible power and presence of God. Jesus offers light and life.
John also laments the human conflict of those who do not choose life, those who cannot or will not accept the light. The divine Savior has come into the world, and while rejected by many, offers eternal life to those who accept Him. The reality is that some will refuse to know the Word revealed in Christ, and this reality remains in the world.
Early in our relationship with God, before the Word became flesh, perhaps words were taken more literally, and human relationship with God was defined by the most incarnate expression available, the Law. Adherence to the Law was understood as what leads to righteousness, right relationship. Following a list of do’s and don’ts seemed like the way to please God and follow God’s commands. But God hoped for more. Jesus came not to abolish the law, but to fulfill ... not to argue, but to explain ... not to limit, but to expand ... not to divide, but to unite ... not to exclude, but to invite ... not to create boundaries and division, but to offer freedom. We are freed by the simplification of the Word offered by Jesus Christ. Love God, love one another. If any law or decision or action is not about this love, then it is not about God.
God invites all of us into the holy family, into God’s love. Paul describes this as adoption. We have no inherent right to call God Father, but by God’s grace we are adopted as children of God. God sent Jesus Christ, so that in adopting this one perfect human, we may follow, and be adopted by God and heirs to the kingdom. Accepting the gift of adoption requires choice. We have been given freedom to choose.
By divine love and immeasurable grace, God has given God’s self to the world, and it is a gift meant to be shared. How are we choosing to share the Incarnate Word in the world? We will later pray for the ministries supported by St. Paul’s. Does God’s example of limitless grace suggest this is enough? We are freed from the burdensome Law to accept God’s grace and apply the law as stated by the Word. Love God. Love each other. This is our metric for every action and every encounter with God and with everyone we meet. We are free to love the unloveable. We are free to invite the outcast. We are free to include the excluded. We are free to serve those in need. We are free to comfort the suffering and afflicted. We are free to share our blessings with those who do not feel blessed. The Word is not limited to letters on a page. God’s grace cannot be contained. We are now the hands and feet that continue to present Christ to the world, long after Jesus outgrows the manger. We have been commissioned and anointed by the Spirit to continue planting God’s garden, rebuilding the ruined corners of the world, and proclaiming God’s love and promises in words and deeds. God’s work in the world is to reconcile and restore wherever humanity has created conflict and division. As children of God and disciples of Christ, this is our work too.
Today and every day, Christ’s presence among us is a gift of new beginning. God continues the work of creation, forming something from nothing, making the old new again. God continues to invite the world into light and life. God continues to offer the Spirit to clothe and guide us. The Word is a gift for all the world. Let us spread the Word. Amen.