(Adapted from a sermon preached in 2011.)
Today’s scripture reading, John 1:1-14, is a beautiful poetic theological depiction of the Christmas stories found in Luke and Matthew. It is about the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us. It is about God speaking a Word of love and harkens back to Genesis and creation when God said, “Let there be light.” It reminds us that words are important and convey something important about ourselves and the essence of who we are.
As I was reading the CBC news online December 23rd, I came across an article by Bal Brach, a CBC journalist, who wrote an article called “Canada limits the number of privately sponsored Syrian refugee applicants in 2017.” A spokesperson for the Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Canada ministry—Sonia Lesage—was quoted as saying, when addressing the backlog of cases in the refugee system, “Annual caps help reduce processing times and prevent an inventory backlog to build up.” I was appalled that this Canadian official would refer to human beings as “inventory.” Words matter. How we use words matter. We are all human beings; we are not objectified individuals!
I regularly read Suzanne Guthrie’s website, Edge of Enclosure. Suzanne chooses her words carefully and I always find them quite powerful. She’s an Anglican priest who has a passion for the mystical. “She seeks to discern layers of consciousness of the Holy.” Suzanne wrote a poem for this day based on John’s theology of the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us:
In the beginning a silent soundscape,
a procession of absolute stillness,
unfolding spheres of mystery
from veiled unknowable
to startling specific,
the Word descends
grace upon grace,
deep rooted love within love.
And so, heaven and earth unite
in the Word made flesh dwelling
among us. Not then, not now,
not once. But evermore.
The beauty of John’s poetic telling of Christmas without angels, shepherds, Magi, or even Mary and Joseph is that it is cosmic in scope and traces back to the beginning when there was only God. This passage is one of my favourites; it speaks to my mystically oriented heart. John affirms that God’s creative and loving impetus is impelled into time and space. God, unknowable and beyond mystery yet experienced in each person, each atom and knowable in the expressions of love that we exchange, shares in the humility of our flesh, thus enabling us to share in the mystery of God’s being. In other words, God is enfleshed in bodily form in life and the created form is imbued with God’s being; this is a very Eastern Orthodox understanding of the incarnation. We are at once divine and fleshy creatures. The divine spark of life is in each of us and we live with all that it means to live, knowing joy and sorrow, knowing peace and fear, knowing hope and despair.
As Suzanne Guthrie said on her website, “The heartrending exquisiteness of the prologue (to John’s Gospel) breaks Christmas open in beauteous, heavenly light.” The power of Christmas for me has always been the mystical sense of God’s presence in life that we positively affirm in all of creation. Jesus came to dwell among us as a bodily expression of God’s love for all and as an invitation to live lives more fully, more lovingly, more sustainably, and more from a sense of justice and hope.
Part of my own experience is my appreciation of God’s presence in nature. But more so lately, as I grow older, I see God’s presence in all people. Our challenge is to live this presence more fully and intentionally in community with others, here in the city where there is fear and disharmony, where there are different perspectives and understandings of politics and life. The challenge we all face, which Christmas asks of us each year, is how will we live the enfleshed spark of God; how will we, as our Purpose Statement says, embody the Love of God? Jesus became flesh and dwelt among us—and dwells still—and goes where we go, even into dark valleys and difficult situations. The Word invites us to choose words carefully and declare our common humanity and quest for justice in the Word that resides in us and the words that we use. We live our lives as Christmas invites us to live, with the fullness of God’s love and being in our lives.
To put it poetically in the words of Gerard Manly Hopkins,
In a flash, at a trump
I am all at once what Christ is,
Since he was what I am.
Christmas blessings to you all!