Sunday, January 4th, 2015 – Sermon on John 1:1-18

John 1:(1-9), 10-18

[1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.

5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. 6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.] 10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. 14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

15 (John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, “He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ “) 16 From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.

I can remember back in high school in anthropology class learning about the theory of evolution. And there was always that classic picture of what looked like a hunched over ape that then with each new step progressively became an upright human being. And there were those Latin names for each stage of the evolution of humanity – homo erectus, Neanderthal, and then finally, for us, the modern human being – homo sapien. Homo sapien is the Latin phrase for “thinking being” or “one who can think.” For so long now, humanity has been described as the “thinking beings”. Which is quite arrogant when you think about tit in relation to the rest of creation. As if my compassionate cat at home cannot think. But that is just how it goes. For so long, we’ve been known as the ones who can think.

But more recently, it has been suggested that perhaps we should start going by a different term – homo narrans – meaning “story-tellers.” Some are making the argument that we, as human beings, are not best described as beings that can think, but rather as beings that tell stories. That our stories are the foundation of our culture and our stories are at the very heart of who we are.

Think about it: when someone dies, we don’t sit around simply thinking about them. No, we tell stories about them. Because when we do, in some way, they still feel close to us. And not far off. Or when a child is born, you don’t simply think about the fact that a child was born. No, you tell the story, about where you were when your water broke and how awful the hospital food was. For many years now, preachers have tried to incorporate more and more stories into their sermons, because without a doubt, people remember the stories more than anything else that is said. We are story-tellers. And the way we tell a story is crucial.

It is crucial, because the way we tell a story has a way of highlighting what is most important to us. If you listen to two lovebirds tell the story about how their relationship blossomed, you’ll often hear them disagree about how it all began. Because the defining moment in the relationship was different for each of them. What was important was different for each of them. Yesterday, Greg Gehring and Tiffany Johnson got married. And for Greg, after six months of dating, he knew that Tiffany was the one for him. As if commitment early on was important. But for Tiffany, that moment took a couple more years. As if being really certain before making any permanent decision was the most important thing. Depending on who you talk to, they would tell the story just a little differently.

Well, something similar happens among all four of our gospels. All of our gospel writers are story-tellers. They all tell the story of Jesus, but they disagree about how to tell the story. Where the story should start; about what’s most important. For the gospel of Mark, the story begins when Jesus is in his 30s and being baptized by John the Baptist. The gospel of Luke says, “No, no, no. You’ve got to start with Jesus and John’s birth story. That’s where it all begins.” But then the gospel of Matthew says, “No, no, no. You have to go all the way back to Abraham. That’s where Jesus’ ancestry started. That’s where it all begins.” But then in comes the gospel of John. And where does this gospel begin? In the beginning…

When people read the way John started the story, what do you think it made them think of? Where does the gospel of John think the story starts? At creation. In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth. Only John says, In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. It is this heavenly poetry about the beginning of the Jesus’ story that seems to soar on the heavenly clouds.

Which makes this the gospel of John’s Christmas story, right? If Christmas is the beginning of the story of Jesus, then this is where the story begins for John. All the way at the beginning with the Word. And the Word is Jesus. So what John is saying is that Jesus’ story doesn’t begin at his baptism. It doesn’t begin at his birth. It doesn’t begin with his ancestors. No, Jesus’ story begins all the way back at the beginning of all things. At the beginning of creation.

But then John makes a startling claim. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.

Notice that in this Christmas story, it isn’t Mother Mary who is giving birth, but rather it is Jesus who is giving birth! John says of Jesus, “All things came into being through him.” All things came into being through him. John says the Word, Jesus, has given birth to all things. To the world! And just how a child carries the genetic make up of his or her parents, John is saying that all of creation carries the DNA of Jesus.[1] That all of creation is infused with Jesus.

And I love that Jesus is described here as the Word. The Word of God. You are only as good as your word, people will say. And God says, “I give you my Word. I’m as good as my Word.” And whenever someone says to you, “I give you my Word,” you are then invited to trust that Word. But before we can trust, we first have to listen.[2] And what is God saying in the Word of Jesus?

In the beginning was the Word and the Word was God…And the Word became flesh and lived among us. Or I like Eugene Peterson’s translation of this text: The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. God is saying, “I’ve come down from heaven to be with you.” Notice it doesn’t say that God slipped into flesh, like some Halloween costume that God would eventually abandon after the night was over. It doesn’t say that God came hiding in the flesh, like God was just trying to fit in for awhile. No, it says that the Word of God became flesh. Which means God has permanently come to be with us, by actually becoming part of us. In the fleshy-ness of life. Into the everyday stuff. We learn that it is God who comes down here, not us who go up there.

So when God gives us God’s Word – Jesus – what God is saying is, “I have come down to be with you.” But that is not all. You see, God isn’t simply here to loiter or to just hang around. No, through this Word, God is telling us one more thing: as verse 16 says, From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.

Not only has God come down to be with us, in the flesh, but God has come to bring us something, a present if you will for Christmas. And the gift? Grace upon grace upon grace.

So what does this mean? As one theologian puts it, it means that “all of human life and history is infused with holiness.” Which isn’t to say that everything in life is awesome. “Anyone who has seen the torture chambers of the Nazi regime, any surgeon who has removed a malignant tumor, any reformer who has tried to clean up government, (any parent who has been given a diagnosis for their child) knows that everything is not (awesome). (To trust in this Word of God) does not mean that people do not waste their lives, get hurt or hurt other people. It does not mean that there is no hardship…no evil, no tragedy. (But) what it does mean is that there is no corner of (this life) so hidden that (God’s) grace cannot find it…There is no moment so dark that it can extinguish the light of God which even now shines in it.”[3] It means that there is no God-forsaken place. None. For God is everywhere, seeking to bring grace upon grace upon grace. It means that God is at work in every place at every single moment, no matter how dark it is, bringing light to this world. That is the story that John is trying to tell.

We are storytellers and we have a story to tell. The word of God, Jesus, gave birth to you, which means you are his descendants. You have his DNA coursing through your veins. So do the world a favor and be the storyteller that you are, and tell his story. The one about how he is God’s Word, God’s promise to us to never leave us alone. And I promise, when you tell that story to another person, it will feel like Jesus is right there in the room with you. In the flesh. He will feel close. And not far off. Thanks be to God. Amen.

[1] I am indebted to Alan Storey for this insight.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Tom Long, Shepherds and Bathrobes, pg. 56.

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