A Sermon preached on the First Sunday after Christmas, December 29, 2019 by The Rev. Beth Lind Foote, Interim Rector.
Sometime over the Christmas holiday, my son showed me something cool on the iphone. You can scroll and scroll and scroll the iPhone calendar app forward into the future, maybe out into infinity? We found out what day of the week our birthdays are going to be in 2050, when I will be 92 years old and he’ll be 60. Then I started scrolling backwards, backwards, through the 18th Century, and farther. It was mind-blowing to have an infinity machine in my hand.
On the last Sunday of the year we tend to look back on 2019 and look forward to the next year, essentially scrolling back and forth through the calendar of our lives. Today’s Gospel reading is known as The Prologue of the Gospel of John. Like the iPhone calendar app, the Prologue takes us on a time traveling trip. It invites us to scroll way back to the Beginning, and then into a new dimension altogether: the mystery of the eternal truth of the Christ.
John’s Gospel was the last Gospel to be written, around the year 100, in Ephesus, now part of Turkey. Ephesus was an important Roman port city, one of the largest slave markets of the Roman world where peoples from all parts of the Empire were brought together. Scholars believe The Gospel of John written by the followers of John, “the beloved disciple,” in this multi-cultural community of believers which tradition says included Mary, mother of Jesus, and Mary Magdalene.
John’s Gospel is different from the other three Gospels. Matthew, Mark, and Luke are fairly linear narratives of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. John’s Gospel approaches the story from a more cosmic perspective right from our opening lines of the Prologue.
The Prologue echoes the familiar beginning of Genesis: “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good: and God separated the light from the darkness.”
Compare that with what we just heard. Can you hear the similarities? Both Genesis and John begin with “In the Beginning”, but John begins the story of Jesus the Christ before The Beginning. Both talk about the light coming into the world. It is a new creation story for a new, redeemed world.
In the Gospel of John, we see Jesus from the divine perspective. John shows us Christ rather than Jesus, the 1st century man. There’s no guessing here about what Jesus is up to. He’s coming into the world as The Christ, The Word, directly from God.
Let’s take a minute to unpack what John means by The Word. The Word is a translation of a Greek philosophical term LOGOS, that refers to the principle of reason that governs the universe. The Greek philosopher Philo spoke of LOGOS as the source of creative power in the universe. Rabbis related LOGOS to Torah, wisdom from God.
With that understanding of Logos, we see how The Prologue says Christ was always there, before the beginning, with God the Creator, who came into the world as Jesus. The Prologue is a foreshadowing of the language in the Nicene Creed, which dates from the Fourth Century. See if you can hear the similarities when we recite the creed in a few minutes.
So what meaning might the Prologue have for us this particular morning on the last Sunday of 2019? Here are a couple of my thoughts.
When I scrolled the iPhone calendar back and forth I realized that my life inhabits a particular space on the continuum of time, I’m was born mid-century 20th century and hope to live to the mid-century 21st century. We live in the dimension of the particular. The Prologue shows us that Christ has always existed and also entered time in the 1st century, as Jesus. He is the cosmic link between eternal divinity and time-bound humanity, who inhabits the whole of time. As mortals, we live our lives as Christians in that tension between the particular and the eternal.
Then there’s the metaphor of light in both our passage today and in the beginning of Genesis.
John’s Gospel says, “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.”
The Biblical scholar Alexander Shaia writes that the light vs. darkness theme in this passage has been misinterpreted for centuries and has led to a duality of thought in western civilization. Either/or.
Shaia says that the original meaning of the relationship between light and darkness in this passage came from Aramaic, Jesus’ native language. Aramaic had a more nuanced vocabulary around light conditions during all times of the day. No segment of the day or night was wholly dark or wholly light. Alexander Shaia writes, “Light and dark coexist. John’s line is not about light banishing darkness; rather, it acknowledges and honors the reality that light and dark always play together in infinite variations.”
Today on the last Sunday of 2019, our world is locked in dualistic patterns: our society has split into factions speaking past each other. This year we’ve seen how this kind of dualistic either/or thinking feeds nationalism, sexism, racism, and Anti-Semitism, all the destructive patterns that diminish our humanity.
How do we follow Christ in such a world?
Perhaps Alexander Shaia is on to something: light and darkness are both elements in our world, and they play together. It feels lately like the darkness has grown. But maybe we’re just more aware of it. And perhaps that is something to take on in 2020, that we must acknowledge the darkness in order to open ourselves more fully to the light of Christ. And, in 2020 we can let the light of Christ shine more brightly through us.
My hope for all of us this coming year is that we can take in the joy expressed in the Prologue of the Gospel of John, and meditate on the creative power of the Christ, who is not only the historical figure of Jesus, but who is a living presence in our faith, in our parish, and in our lives. Sometimes that simple truth amazes me and then opens my heart to accept the light of Christ.
By gathering here at the altar this morning, we offer ourselves to accept the fullness of Christ and his grace into our lives. As the Gospel of John says, “Christ is the fullness through which we receive grace upon grace.” This gives me hope for 2020.
May the mystical, beautiful, vision of John’s Gospel wrap your year in love and joy. Amen.