Christmas I, 12-28-14
Emmanuel Church, Killingworth
That wondrous and poetic gospel is always read on the first Sunday after Christmas. It is almost as if the lectionary were saying to us: “the beautiful, familiar story has been told. The shepherds and angels have gone back to where the belong. Now it's time for 'Theology'!
To get where I want to go today, we have to take a side trip into the Land of Biblical Scholarship. I hope you won't mind.
Scholars agree that Mark was the first of our four gospels written, probably between the years 67-70 CE. Mark was first because both Luke and Matthew (both written in the 80's) doubtless had a copy of Mark before them as they wrote. There is special Luke stuff and special Matthew stuff and they share a second common source--”Q”...for 'Quella”, the German word for 'source'--but primarily the first three gospels follow a common outline. They are even referred to as the 'synoptic gospels', sharing the same synopsis of the story of Jesus. John was the last written—somewhere around the first years of the second century of our era.
In the first three gospels we watch Jesus seeking to understand his mission and determine who he is. But not in John. In John it is obvious from the words I just read that Jesus knows exactly who he is and why he has come.
Think about how the four gospels begin. Mark begins with the coming of John Baptist and his baptizing Jesus. Luke begins with the story of Mary and Jesus' birth. Matthew begins with a genealogy of Jesus going back to Adam before he tells the Joseph story that we combine with Luke at Christmas.
But see where John begins: “In the beginning....” John goes back to creation, before human history, before anything...to the time when only God existed. “In the beginning,” he tells us, “was the Word and the Word was with God” (listen!) “and the Word was God.” The Word created all that is or can be. Remember in the Genesis story how God created: he said “Let there be light” and there was light. God created with 'the Word' and the Word WAS God.
For John, there is no wondering 'who Jesus is'. For John, Jesus is God...The Word that took on Flesh.
Here is this remarkable theological notion that God became human. That God came to live among us—to know what it was like to 'be' one of us. One of the hymns today said that Jesus 'knew our tears and our joys'. God came to be one of us so God could love us 'from the inside out', not from the 'outside in'.
And because of that, John goes on to say in this beautiful passage—one of the most beautiful in the Bible—we can become 'children of God'. If the Holy became flesh, then all flesh is Holy.
Someone asked me once what was the single most significant theme in my years of preaching. It is something like this: God loved us enough to take on our flesh and that made all flesh Holy.
And if you and I could stand in that place and comprehend that for only a few moments a day—that we are the Holy Ones of God—it would transform our lives and, in time, transform the world around us.
But we don't do that. We are so hard on ourselves—we worry if we are 'worthy' of God's love...which has nothing to do with it. God loves us. Just like that. Always and forever. We are God's beloved.
My grandmother used to tell us cousins 'don't toot your own horn', don't speak well of yourself, let someone else do it.
One day my cousin, Bradley was looking in the mirror and said out loud, “Bradley, you are one good lookin' boy!”
My grandmother said, “Don't toot your own horn, Bradley!” And he replied, “Mamaw, he who toot-th not his own horn, that same horn will not be tooted.”
I'm not asking you to always be tooting your horn. But I do hope you know what a wondrous horn it is.
We are the beloved of God. God took on flesh for you, and you, and you, and you and for me. In this season of Light and Love, hold on to that wondrous truth.
Hold on to it. Be loved from the inside out. And forever....Amen.