The Christmas Story Starts With Eternity
Updated: Jan 4
Merry Christmas, Grace. This morning is pretty much one year to the day that I was first with you here, presiding as a deacon while you were in the middle of your search for a new priest. At the time, you thought you were going to hire someone part-time, and, of course, just as you changed your mind and decided on a full-time priest, I was about to be finally ordained as a priest, so I jumped right in with my application. Hopefully it has been as good a decision to call me as your priest for you as it has been for me.
This morning’s sermon is really more of a brief reflection than a sermon, about our chosen reading for this morning, the Prologue of the Gospel of John. Now, to let you in on a little trade secret, we priests are actually given several readings to choose from on Christmas Eve and Day, and I chose this reading from John because it has always meant something important to me. When I looked back at the sermon I gave here a year ago, I realized that I had also chosen this passage to preach on.
This year I started thinking a more closely about the times and reasons this passage has been so important to me. I think, first of all, as a kid, I found it kind of mysterious and poetic. It was less of a straight-ahead story as the other Gospels tell the story of the coming of Jesus. I have to admit, there was also a bit of a Star Wars feel to it, sort of a “Long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away” kind of feeling: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” I could almost see those words in yellow letters crawling up the movie screen.
Many years later, I would return to these words and be just as mesmerized, but for different reasons. I may have mentioned in one of my previous sermons that I actually spent a large part of my adult life away from the Christian tradition. In my twenties and thirties especially, I was what some call “spiritual but not religious.” I became a fairly advanced yoga practitioner and meditator, and my relationship to God became much more mystical and internally spiritual. I came to feel a certain amount of peace, a lot, actually, and I know for certain that my yoga and meditation helped me through some difficult bouts of depression, in my twenties especially. Still, something was missing.
It wasn’t until I turned 40 that I realized what I was missing was Jesus. And one of the things that made me realize that was this Prologue of the Gospel of John, which was just as mystical and internally spiritual as any of the yoga books I’d been studying. It opened me to an understanding that Jesus, as the Eternal Christ, had been with us long before Christmas, that he was one with the Father, and with the Holy Spirit, since, well, the beginning. John’s Christmas story doesn’t start with a baby, it starts with eternity. This was the invitation into coming back to Jesus I had been missing.
These days, when I read this passage, I think a lot about how it relates to Christmas, to the way God chose to become flesh among us. The more I study about and meditate upon the word “Logos,” which is the original Greek for “the Word,” the more I realize just how much of God is contained in that word, how many aspects of God are found there. Logos means wisdom, knowledge, logic, reason, and revelation. All these things are part of the essence of God, and these things are what were incarnated into being through Jesus at Christmas. But also, all the love, and grace, and goodness of God come into the world at the birth of Jesus. Jesus is the literal embodiment of all those qualities.
What’s also happening is that God and Jesus and the Word, this Logos, are in relationship with each other. There’s an intermingling of components—God and the Word—in relationship that becomes incarnated in Jesus. And this relationship becomes the great theme of the Gospel of John, where Jesus says over and over again, that in order to know God, you must know me. And if you want to know me, you must love one another. I think that’s worth repeating: in order to know God, and Jesus, we must love one another
This is a whole other leap beyond the spirituality that I was chasing in my yoga and meditation, which were solitary and isolated pursuits. To know firsthand the relationship between God and Jesus, we must learn to love other people, other humans, to be in relationship with them. This, then, might be the greatest gift of Christmas: the gift of learning that we know God by being in relationship with each other. This is the light of the world—that by loving one another, we know God.
But the other exciting thing—and this may be hard for us to totally accept—is that in this embodied relationship we have with God, this relationship that was given on Christmas Day, God wants to know us. God wants to know us so badly that God actually came down to be one of us. In fact, God couldn’t bear to stay separated from us. The last verse of the reading this morning says that God lived among us; some translations say that God made God’s home among us. This God of wisdom, knowledge, logic, reason, and revelation wanted to make God’s home among us!
In the midst of all of our brokenness and sinfulness, and our pains, and doubts, and depressions and anxieties, and our griefs, and hatred, and anger and fear, in the middle of all that, God cannot bear to be separate from us. Even when we refuse to go to God, God insists on coming to us. And God pursues us. This is the God of Psalm 139, of whom David sang, Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? And the answer, of course, is nowhere. God is always in our presence; God is always abiding with us. And this abiding isn’t merely a statement of faith, like the ones we make when we say the Nicene Creed, as we will in just a couple of minutes; God’s abiding is the living presence of eternal life, a life of deep meaning and inexhaustible love.
God’s presence will not let us go, even when we try to escape it. Even when, in the words of another song we often sing at Christmas, we are prone to wander, prone to leave the God we love. Grace, this Christmas, God’s not coming to visit, God’s coming to stay. As we go out from our beautiful sanctuary today, let us remember that in loving one another, not only do we get to know God, but God gets to know us. It is a relationship that is mystical and internally spiritual, but also eternally present in the here and now and eternally loving. It is a relationship in which God makes God’s home with us, because there’s no place that God would rather be. Amen.