Why did Jesus come to be born a human child? For this world, for your life…now.
Second Sunday of Christmas (Year B) – January 4, 2015 – John 1:1-18
St. Jacob’s-Spaders Lutheran Church, Harrisonburg, Virginia
“For This World” – Pastor Evan Davis
Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.
From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life;
Whose misadventured piteous overthrows
Do with their death bury their parents’ strife.
The fearful passage of their death-mark’d love,
And the continuance of their parents’ rage,
Which, but their children’s end, nought could remove,
Is now the two hours’ traffic of our stage:
The which if you with patient ears attend,
What here shall miss, our toil shall strive to mend.1
Who remembers this from high school? It’s the prologue to Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet. It’s beautiful, and it sets the tone for the whole thing. But shouldn’t someone tell William that we usually try to keep the audience in suspense for the whole play? He spills the beans right at the beginning! – they’re gonna die – both of them. These star-cross’d lovers, Romeo and Juliet, born from these two households bearing an ancient grudge, are fatally fated. They will die, and in doing so, they will bury their parents’ strife. We know the whole story from the very beginning, and all that’s left is to fill in the details.
I think Shakespeare took his cue from John, because that is exactly what John does. In this prologue to John, as we call it, John lays out the whole story, the whole gospel in lyrical beauty. All condensed into 18 verses. By necessity, then, John is speaking in grand, poetic pronouncements. Poetry doesn’t explain all the details. He doesn’t really get to them later, either, because his gospel is almost entirely Jesus talking with other people…just like a play. All his gospel’s explanation is here in the prologue, yet John is not explaining how Jesus became human, not how Jesus could be the Word, not how he became flesh, but simply that he did. Christians have argued, fought, killed each other, empires have been split, churches cut off from each other for over a thousand years over the “how” question. What matters here is the amazing “what.” And that “what” is told in poetic verse, rich with imagery and meaning. John is giving us a prologue to ground us through the story, to remind us of what’s important. As as we learn the prologue, we see that it becomes a prologue for our own lives of faith too.
In the beginning….have you heard that somewhere else before? Of course you have – at the beginning of Genesis. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. That is as far back as we can possibly go as created beings. And John is going that far back too. In the beginning was the Word. In Greek, the logos. As in the words “logic” or “logarithm” or “logistics,” this word can also mean “reason” or “idea” or “message.” In the beginning was the Thought, the Idea, the Message of God. And the Word was with God. “With” implies being in relationship, being alongside God, distinction from God. And the Word was God. Woah. The Word, the Idea, Thought, or Message of God is both distinct from God and is the same as God. God is in relationship with God’s very self. There is distinction within unity. Woah! He, the Word, was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. And this Word became flesh, and lived among us. As a great scholar puts it, “This primordial Word, which was in the beginning with God, a partner in creation, in relationship with God and who is God, has now become human.”2
Think about how human Jesus was…later we translate in verse 18 that Jesus “is close to the Father’s heart.” More literally, John wrote that Jesus is in very bosom of the Father. The image here is of breast feeding. Jesus is God, and Jesus is a child of God, as intimate with the Father as a child nursing at his mother’s breast. Jesus was that human. Jesus got hungry. Jesus spit up. Jesus got sick – he might have had the flu. Jesus was screamed at, people threw stones at him and tried to kill him, and he had to persevere to stay true to his message, his calling, on the hard days.
What John wants us to know is that the true light which enlightens everyone, the most important truth about the universe, the very identity of God, is known and seen most clearly in a human life. God hit the streets in a human being. God can be most fully and clearly known in a mortal, dependent human life. This changes everything.
It means that God is utterly committed to human life, to the creation. God showed up in Jesus and is willing to die for us so that we will experience abundant and eternal life…now. That’s why he’s here – to restore humanity and the whole creation. Sometimes we think it’s just about heaven. We tell “St. Peter at the pearly gates” jokes because our faith has really been focused on getting into heaven. They are funny, though [insert joke]. We have this amazing promise that God’s love will hold us through this life, through death, and into resurrection life. We can trust that, but Jesus came for the here and now, not just another world. It’s not just about speculating about the next life. We don’t know “how” that will all happen. All we know is “who” – God the Father will take care of us just like the Father took care of Jesus. That’s the second thing that can be part of a prologue for our lives this year – the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not, and cannot, overcome it. Darkness cannot overcome the light of God, and so we have nothing to fear in the end. God will take care of us. We don’t have to be afraid of other people, other cultures, other nations, other religions…or the future. God’s got this – we don’t know “how,” we don’t know even know “what,” but we know “who.” The one who created all life became life so that life would be what it was meant to be. Our faith is primarily about how we live, here and now. Because abundant life is now. Eternal life starts now. We’re not just about issuing credentials for heaven. We’re here to teach people how to live abundantly – how to follow Jesus.
And what does that life look like? It looks like witness. “He came as a witness to testify to the light…” Our life is about witness – in word and deed. That’s why John the Witness shows up right here in the prologue. Our lives, which is what God cares about, free from fear and full of trust, are about sharing the love and teachings of Jesus Christ / boldly proclaiming God’s abundant love for all through word and deed. Wait, I think we figured that out already! It’s our purpose statement.
John pointed to Jesus, and we can to, by living and speaking as Jesus did. Later in this gospel he says that he is the Way. The Way for our lives is Jesus – the one who trusts, who feeds, who heals, who washes our feet, who teaches, who gives his life. This tells us that church is not primarily about us, not about self-preservation, it’s about the mission, the kingdom, pouring ourselves out for the sake of the world. Church needs to serve the kingdom, not the other way around. Our purpose is not to keep the church going forever – it’s to be disciples of Christ, whatever that means for the institution of the church.
In 2015, church is about how we live as people, as families, as a community of faith together. This year, and every year, church is about walking the Way of Jesus together, living as Jesus lived, because that’s what God cares about, that’s why we’re baptized as witnesses, that is abundant and eternal life. And we live this life unafraid – free to risk it all, to risk being in relationship with anyone, not worrying about what happens to the church, because as long as we are witnesses, walking in the Way of Jesus, WE are the church, receiving grace upon grace, here to witness to the light shining in the darkness. Amen.
1William Shakespeare, Act 1, Prologue, Romeo & Juliet, http://shakespeare.mit.edu/romeo_juliet/romeo_juliet.1.0.html (accessed January 3, 2015).
2Karoline Lewis, Commentary on John 1:1-18, https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2303 (accessed January 3, 2015).