By the Rev. Darren Miner
Merry Christmas, everybody! Welcome to Christ’s Mass!
In case you haven’t already figured it out, today is a special day for Christians. In the Episcopal calendar, it is ranked as a “principal feast” of the Church. But it’s an especially special day for this parish. You see, Christmas is the preeminent feast of the Incarnation, the saving event for which this parish is named. So in “church speak,” Christmas Day is our “feast of title.”
As is my custom, I will be focusing my sermon on the Gospel reading. To be honest, this prologue to John’s Gospel is somewhat abstract and difficult to understand. Now, if you attended Midnight Mass or a sunrise service on Christmas, you would get the much more understandable story of Jesus’ birth from Luke’s Gospel. You would hear about the infant lying in a manger and about angels from the highest heaven announcing the Messiah’s birth to a group of lowly shepherds. But if you attend the main Christmas Day service, this service, you get something completely different. You get an excerpt from a mystical poem about the doctrine of the Incarnation. (To be honest, I miss the charming stories of St. Luke, so to make it up to you, we will be singing a couple of carols about “angels from the realms of glory” and “certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay.”)
But enough about St. Luke! It’s time to turn our attention to St. John. So take a deep breath, and let’s plunge into the very depths of Christian mysticism!
As does any good storyteller, St. John begins at the beginning—in this case, the very beginning of everything! While St. Luke starts his Gospel with the birth of a prophet, St. John begins with the birth of the Cosmos, and he tells us about the relationship between God and a divine being known simply as “the Word.” This Word existed with God before time itself was created, and all Creation was mediated through him. In the original Greek, the name of this being is Logos, which can rightly be translated as Word or as Reason or as Order. All three translations apply equally well, I think.
This pre-existent divine person was understood to be the giver of reason to humankind and the maintainer of order in the Universe. He is the light in the midst of the darkness, the Truth that overcomes all lies, the source of life that prevails against death.
In John’s mystical theology, the Logos is the divine self-expression of God’s love for the world. He was “spoken” by God at Creation; was proclaimed to Israel by their prophets; walked among us as a Judean rabbi named Jesus; and continues to speak to us in the Good News of the Gospels, in the sacraments of the Church, and in the face of every stranger we encounter.
Of all these claims concerning the Logos, the bit that most scandalized the Jews of St. John’s day was the claim that the divine Word became a human being in the person of one Jesus of Nazareth, son of Mary and foster son of Joseph the carpenter. This doctrine of the Incarnation was a stumbling block to their faith. Why on earth, they asked, would such a divine being condescend to be born as a human, to be a mewling baby who suckled at the breast of his mother and who needed his diapers changed when he had soiled himself? And what divine being would willingly submit to an ignominious death?
Well, I’ll tell you why the Word became flesh, why he suffered the many indignities of being human, why he suffered the greatest indignity of all, death on a Cross—to save the world! Just look at the state of the world today! Clearly, we need God’s help. We are just not capable of saving ourselves. As you know, sometimes, the only way to help someone who is struggling with drugs or alcohol is to orchestrate an intervention. Well, folks, the world is struggling with sin and death. And the Incarnation was the intervention!
For many, St. John’s claim about the Incarnation of the Logos is impossible to believe. And John knew that it would be! He speaks about how the world that was created through the Logos did not recognize him when he sojourned among them. Even God’s chosen people, the Jews, did not generally recognize the true identity of Jesus. Some two thousand years later, you don’t have to go far to find those who scoff at the very idea that God lived among us as a first-century Judean rabbi. But is it really so hard to believe that God loves us so much that he would do literally anything to save us from ourselves? Is it so hard to believe that God loves us as much as a human mother or a father might? In any case, that is the bold claim of St. John. That is the claim of one who testifies to the divinity that he himself discerned in the face of Jesus Christ. John looked at Jesus, and like St. Thomas, recognized his Lord and his God.
The message of the Incarnation, the message of Christmas Day, is that God is not remote and distant, but loving and caring, and that God the Son was willing to sojourn among us for a time and to suffer death, so that we might know eternal life. As St. Athanasius puts it, the Logos “became human that we might become divine. He manifested himself by means of a body in order that we might perceive the mind of the unseen Father… [and he] endured shame from men that we might inherit immortality.”
In gratitude for the gift of eternal life, we are asked to acknowledge Jesus for who and what he is and to trust our very lives to him. We are asked to live as Children of God, testifying to the Divine Light, as John the Baptist did before us. As disciples of the Incarnate Word, we are expected to be bold enough to share God’s word, to tell others about Jesus without being embarrassed by our faith. Even more importantly, we are expected to live lives that witness to our faith: to be merciful and generous and forgiving and loving to everyone year-round—and I mean everyone! We are called to love the foreigners who gather at our southern border seeking refuge. We are called to love the unwashed men and women who accost us on the street and beg for money. We are even called to love members of the other political party! For we who profess the Christian faith are meant to be radiant reflections of the one true Light, Jesus Christ. So, brothers and sisters, go forth on this fine Christmas Day, and speak God’s Word of love to the world. Go forth…and shine in the darkness!
© 2018 by Darren Miner. All rights reserved. Used by permission.