“A New Word”
A sermon preached by the Rev. Douglas M. Donley
December 13, 2015
University Baptist Church
Here we are on the third Sunday in Advent. We are so close to Christmas, we can almost taste it. Part of us wants it to come now and another part of us would rather savor the waiting, at least until we can get done with finals; and prepare the house or apartment for Christmas; oh yeah and buy, make and wrap all the gifts; and send out the cards; and bake…
We are looking at Creation stories as we prepare for Christmas because Christmas is all about a new thing that God is creating among us. Theologians call this the incarnation, God taking on human flesh, walking with us, struggling with us, arguing, rejoicing crying with us. This image of God has been a liberating image for generations. It means that God is not far off and removed from our lives. God is intimately connected with each of us.
We have looked at the first two creation stories from Genesis and now we turn our attention to the creation story from John’s Gospel. John’s Gospel doesn’t contain an infancy narrative. Rather, it begins with the audacious claim that Christ was present at the start of everything. And the name for that essence is LOGOS. There’s a new word.
Logos is a concept unique to John. It has a connection with Greek theology. He might have gotten it from the ancient philosopher Philo. It’s a cosmological word. And in John’s Gospel Jesus is identified explicitly as God, unlike the other Gospels where Jesus is portrayed as a priest (Matthew), or a prophet (Mark) or a shepherd (Luke). In fact when asked if he was the Messiah, the Jesus of the synoptics often said no, or you’re asking the wrong question. In John’s theology, Jesus is the incarnation of God. Jesus is the ultimate and unique savior. He is Light, Life, the True Vine, the Bread of Life, the Logos existent at the very creation of the world.
In the Logos was life and that life was the light of all. Just like God created light in Genesis 1. In John 1, the Logos is the Light and in that light is life. What is this new word? The opening words of John’s gospel remind us that God is everywhere, in everything. “In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the Word was God.” All things came into being because of the light of God. This implies that everything everywhere is a reflection of God. Everything is holy.
In Spanish, John’s Gospel opens with “in the beginning was the verb, the verb was with God and the Verb was God.” The divine Logos is the name for the essence of God that is a part of Jesus, that part that was before even creation began…
When I was going through my lengthy ordination process, one of the questions that was asked of me was, “Do you believe in the second coming of Christ.” To his surprise, I said, “yes”. “The literal second coming?” “yes.” “oh.” It was a gotcha question and I didn’t do what he expected, push the boundaries of orthodoxy. I had learned from the previous ordination council (I had three), to answer the question but not elaborate. What I didn’t say, but was thinking was this: God has the ability to incarnate God’s self in anyone God chooses to do so. Christ has come again many times and will continue to come again and again. Our task is to pay attention and remember that God is more powerful than we are. I didn’t say all of that, and it wouldn’t have helped me pass the council.
But what we celebrate this season, is this divine LOGOS, this divine Word, this verb that is and was and is to come. That essence of God that was with God at the very beginning of time. John is affirming that God comes into the world at the time when we need God the most, when the words out there are dismay and defeat. God breaks forth and comes to us in the darkest hour of our deepest despair. “Break forth oh beauteous heavenly light and usher in the morning.”
We need a new word, don’t we? All the words we have been hearing are words of fear, words of mistrust, words of terror, words that demonize our neighbors, words that are laced with racial-bias, and these words are radicalizing people to be mean and short-sighted. We need a new word, don’t we? Since Donald Trump made his declaration on Monday that we need to ban Muslims from entering the US, until we figure this out, there have been 19 hate crimes against Muslims, including the burning of three mosques. Luke reminds us that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that the whole world ought to be registered.
Several eyewitnesses have reported that the San Bernardino massacre of two weeks ago was carried out by three athletic white people. A ninety-pound woman could not have been one of them. But we don’t hear about this in the mainstream press.
We need a new word. We need a refreshing world. We need a word of love. We need a word of peace. We need a word of hope. We need a word of mercy.
I miss Stephen Colbert’s old show the Colbert Report. One of the segments he had many nights was called the Word. It was a humorous look at the world of politics, religion and culture. He would talk about a word and rant about the world while behind him translations would show the subtext of his words. It was a clever way to expose the words behind the words of our leaders. What we learned were that there were many layers of meanings to words.
Luckily there are good words out there if we look hard enough.
Good words. There are some good words out there. 195 countries signed an agreement yesterday in Paris to significantly reduce our greenhouse gasses and invest in renewable energy. It could go farther, but it’s a great step in the right direction.
Black lives matter has given us good words. The words are sometimes laced with anger and rage and even profanity. But this is a profane time. And we need to recognize the words of liberation amidst it all. They are calling for dignity and justice and they are rocking us out of our complacency.
This past Tuesday, I was walking across the bride on University Avenue just past the Purple Onion. On the bridge trellis were scarves. I thought it was a public art thing. But then I looked at the scarves. And attached to each of them was a note that said “I am not lost. It’s cold outside. It you need to keep warm, use me.” The best thing about it was that it didn’t say who sponsored it. It was a random act of kindness. It was a good word.
We offer good words in the donations that we give during Advent, to feed the hungry, welcome the refugee, provide little things that will enhance the education of people in Leon, Nicaragua and warm up those who are cold during this season, especially those experiencing homelessness.
Molly and Margie Green are coming to Nicaragua with us in January. They are members of First Baptist Church of Morristown, New Jersey. Here’s a conversation that Ten-year-old Molly with her Mom Margie the other day:
"mom, if I became president I think my major platform would be that black people and white people are equal and deserve the same rights... And that women should get paid maternity leave. And they should get paid the same as men. And that Muslims are nice people and aren't terrorists. And that war is just going to end up with more war and the idea of bombing children is gross. A child should be able to live out their life regardless of who they might become. Basically I think I'd talk a lot about human rights."
*stares out the window for a minute and looks at me with a smile*
"I think I'd make a really good president."
—and a little child shall lead them…
The incarnation is what we celebrate at Christmas time, God’s ability to come to earth, inhabit a human form and lead us toward the light from which God came.
Religious wars have been fought over the nature of Christ and what John actually meant by the first chapter of his Gospel.
The main point it that there is something of God that was there at the beginning of time. And this something also sought to redeem the world. That’s what we have in Christ Jesus, the incarnation of God.
As the choir sang, The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. We beheld the glory of the creator, full of grace and truth. In the beginning was the word. Light came to its own and its own perceived it not.
Jesus Christ is a new creation, a new Word, full of grace and truth. Full of grace and truth. Truth, that which we can trust and grace that which is of God and is forgiving and redeeming and sustaining.
Jesus Christ, the counter-cultural radical mistrusted by politicians and pastors alike. This is the New Word.
I think the idea that God does not just rule from on high, but comes down to earth and inhabits human form is a liberating concept. Think of the three stories we have had.
In Genesis 1, God is far off—creating by a word, “let there be light”. And it was all good.
Then in Genesis 2, God walks in the garden along with the first creatures, and adds blessed complexity to our lives. We can make our own good and bad choices, because we have eaten the sweet fruit of knowledge.
As we get to John’s Gospel, we find not only was God there at the beginning, but that God was destined to take human form. And that this human would point us toward God and toward each other. The new word for this is Logos. God made flesh, dwelling among us.
With each creation story, God gets closer and closer to us. We may or may not understand or perceive it. But God is here. God is always smuggling God’s self into the world in unexpected places. Be it a homeless refugee couple from a forgotten hamlet, who are forced to give birth in a stable. Or be it a middle-eastern refugee looking for safe harbor, or be it the crazy person on the street, the new word that God gives us is Logos. But our response to that word is what will make all the difference. Maybe that word could be welcome.
Maybe what we ought to be celebrating is not so much what God did in Jesus, but what God is doing in you. What good word do you have to share? What brings you hope? What keeps you getting up in the morning and helps you sustain yourself through the thick and thin?
You may have heard that the new Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau welcomed Syrian refugees this past week- the first of 25,000 they have vowed to welcome. They were greeted by children’s choir singing and Islamic song in Arabic. What a great way to welcome in Christmas.
As the ancient Rune of hospitality said:
'I saw a stranger yestreen
I put food in the eating place
drink in the drinking place
music in the listening place
And in the sacred name of the Triune
He blessed myself and my house
my cattle and my dear ones
And the lark said in her song
often often often
Goes the Christ in stranger's guise
As we prepare for Christmas, remember that the new word is an old word that has taken on new meaning. May we live our lives transformed by that word. It will make all the difference.
As the carol sang,
Love came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, love divine;
Love was born at Christmas,
Star and angels gave the sign.
Worship we the Godhead,
Love incarnate, love divine;
Worship we our Jesus:
But wherewith for sacred sign?
Love shall be our token,
Love shall be yours and love be mine,
Love to God and to all people,
Love for plea and gift and sign.