John 1:1-14, 16
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. 16From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.
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 habilis, 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 a bit arrogant if you ask me. As if my compassionate cat who comes running any time my child cries doesn’t have the capacity to think.
But more recently, 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. It has been suggested that perhaps we should start going by a different term – homo narrans – meaning “story-tellers.” We are storytellers – our stories are the foundation of our culture and our stories are at the very heart of who we are.
Which makes sense to me: 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 comes into your life, you don’t simply think about the fact that you have a child now. No, you tell the story, about where you were when your water broke and how awful the hospital food was. Or what you were doing when the adoption agency called. We are storytellers. 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 tell different stories. Because often the defining moment in the relationship was different for each of them.
Well, something similar is going on in all four of our gospels. All of our gospel writers are storytellers. 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, you can’t start when Jesus is 30. You’ve got to start with Jesus’ birth. And John’s birth story too. That’s where it all begins.” But then the gospel of Matthew says, “You can’t start with Jesus’ birth. 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 John says, “No. No. No. Where it all begins…is where it all begins.”
In the beginning…
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.
Which makes this the gospel of John’s Christmas story. 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.
And through this opening, 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. 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. Jesus is the one who is giving birth as John says, “All things came into being through him.” All things came into being through him.
What is most important to John, this storyteller, is that the Word, Jesus, has given birth to all things. To the world! To you. To my cat.
If that is true, then just how a child carries the genetic make up of his or her parents, all of creation carries the DNA of Jesus. All of creation is infused with the Word of God, John says.
So, according to John, today isn’t Jesus’ birthday, it is ours. The Word of God has given birth to all things, which makes it our birthday and a day in which we are once again born and claimed as children of God.
But then John’s story doesn’t stop there. Because this isn’t just about birth. He goes on to say, and I never noticed it before – This Word of God, this light of all people that shines in the darkness, this true light (Jesus) enlightens everyone.
Jesus, the true light of the world, enlightens everyone, John says.
Which is simply remarkable. Not only does he give birth to all things, but he illuminates all things as well.
Today is our birthday. And the light illuminating our face doesn’t come from a cake full of candles, but rather from the light of Christ shining upon us and within us.
But, get this, John’s story doesn’t stop there. He takes it a step further. The true light, Jesus, enlightens everyone and is coming into the world even though the world did not know him.
Jesus enlightens us and comes to us even when we do not know him.
Which is good news.
It’s good news for those of us who struggle to know Jesus. Or for those of us whose family members struggle to know Jesus.
So Christmas for John is not simply when we celebrate the birth of Christ, but when we celebrate the birth of all things. All of us. It is when we are reminded of where we come from. And to whom we belong.
That is the promise that gets proclaimed today for Duke. That God has claimed Duke as God’s very own. That God will never leave Duke alone, but that God will illuminate his life and be with him always. Regardless of whether Duke knows God or not. That’s the promise.
And now, like a loving parent, Jesus, according to John, has come to be with us on our birthday.
The Word became flesh and lived among us.
The Word became flesh. Flesh that bleeds and blesses. Flesh that touches and tears. Flesh that thickens through hard work and flesh that grows paper thin when the work of life is done.
The Word became flesh.
Such a fragile thing, this incarnation. Such a risky thing, this love of God for God’s people.
That God would put God’s own life and flesh on the line just to be with us. By actually becoming part of us. In the fleshy-ness of life. Into this everyday stuff.
So what does this mean? As preacher Tom Long 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 just perfect and wonderful. “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 (perfect). (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 presence) cannot find it…There is no moment so dark that it can extinguish the light of God which even now shines in it.”
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.
Friends, you are the offspring of God. Each and every one of you. You came into being through Jesus – born out of God. And God is with you. In our Hebrews reading, it says that the Son of God is anointed with oil of joy. As sons and daughters of God, you too will have a chance to be anointed with the oil of joy this morning during communion. As we place oil onto your fragile flesh, know that it is there to soften your skin and your heart, so that there will be no doubt in your mind who you are – you are the children of God.
And as children of God, we are called to share in the risk of incarnation. In the midst of heartache and fear that life can bring, we too are asked to embody the Word and words of God – to allow words like love, mercy, forgiveness, grace to be enfleshed in our bodies.
Now, I’m not one for giving homework during my sermons– especially over the holiday. But today, I will. I don’t know where you go from here. Maybe you go back to a quiet home. Or maybe you jump in the car and hit the road. Or maybe you simply walk across the commons and join us for a meal. Either way, your homework – your spiritual practice – is to see everyone you encounter today and this weekend as beloved children, born of God. Meaning worthy of love, forgiveness, and grace. That includes siblings, parents, in-laws, strangers. And yourself.
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.
With that, happy birthday. And merry Christmas.
 I am indebted to Alan Storey for this insight.
 Tom Long, Shepherds and Bathrobes, pg. 56.