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They call this the prologue to John’s Gospel. Before the story begins. It’s poetic. You may have heard me talk about the throw pillow I have in my office that says, “When words fail, music speaks.” We might well say here, “When stories fail, poetry speaks.” The Word speaks. The Word speaks truths too marvellous for our minds to contain, too marvellous for our hearts to contain. We speak about the mystery of God’s love, of God’s grace, and the wonder of “God with us.”
I read an article this past week entitled “I Asked A. I To Write My Christmas Sermon: No Really, I Did.” It was inevitable, I suppose, but I don’t see it as cause for concern, professionally speaking. Using ChatGPT, the author asked the chatbot to write a sermon based on Luke 2 with quotes from Martin Luther, Karl Barth and Barack Obama. The result was a surprisingly accurate and orthodox message of why Jesus’ birth is indeed good news, better than many messages the author had heard about “following the star in our hearts” or “a diatribe about the historicity of the incarnation.” The thing that was lacking was human warmth. This may seem too obvious to state, but it says something about the good news which we celebrate today. The good news needs a person to tell it, as the author states: “the gospel needs a preacher in the same way that salvation is predicated upon the scandal of the incarnation. The vulnerable and defenceless baby in the manger, the human preacher, fumbling over his or her words in the pulpit. The preaching of Artificial Intelligence can’t convincingly sympathize with the human plight. Nor can it replicate the audacious foolishness of one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.” Neither can people sharing the wonder of “God with us” be replicated artificially. So let us wonder together, dear family, with John as he begins his Gospel, his Good News.
A story is told of William Willimon when he was Dean of the Chapel at Duke University in North Carolina. A couple came to talk about getting married. They were in love and felt that differences could be overcome, despite their parents’ misgivings. He was a devout, observant Jew. She was a Christian. At one point, she said to Willimon, “But surely there isn’t any real difference in what we believe, is there? Except for that Jesus thing.”
“That Jesus Thing” is what we are here to celebrate today. Someone has said that to read the prologue to John’s gospel feels like standing on holy ground. Jesus. We hold these two truths together as we stand together. Jesus is wholly holy, wholly other beyond our imagining. At the same time, he is as close as our breath. Words ultimately fail in the face of the one called The Word. We have tried to define him. The Jesus Project. The Jesus Myth. The Pagan Christ. Words, words and more words. John himself will end his Good News with this – “But there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.”
The early church used the most words in its early creeds to speak of Jesus. The Apostles’ Creed says: And (we believe) in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord: who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; the third day he rose from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from where he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
The Nicene Creed has this: We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father. Through him, all things were made. For us and for our salvation, he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit, he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary and was made man. For our sake, he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried. On the third day, he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.
To which all God’s people say, “Amen!”
In his Gospel, faith for John is about more than belief, though it is about belief. Faith is not as much something one has as something one does. – believing things about Jesus; acknowledging the truth of Jesus’ words, living in a disposition of trust in Jesus; action based on that trust; personal commitment to him in adoration, love, obedience and service
And so we come this morning to adore him. In the beginning, was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God. Here is the good news. Before humanity, before creation, before everything, there is God. Here is the good news, humanity is neither first nor is it alone. God has come to us.
He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him, not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
God has come to us. What we thought was a prologue about Jesus becomes about ourselves. The 500 million-mile view zooms into one man named John. His role is to recognize the light when it appears, to call attention to it so that others may recognize and believe - trust in and commit to the light and worship and praise and adore (and you can see how we are now involved in the prologue). A struggle is laid out between acceptance and non-acceptance of the light. We recognize this struggle in the world, and we recognize this struggle in ourselves. News that is too good to be true and at the same time too good not to be true. We walk/run/stumble on together, remembering the words “Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord; remembering words about a peaceable kingdom where the wolf lies down with the lamb; remembering words about strengthening weak hands and feeble knees with the message “Be strong, do not fear, here is your God…’; remembering words about the promise of a sign and the sign would mean “God is with us.” Let us remember, and let us gaze in wonder.
Someone has said that getting to know Jesus is like seeing a dawn break over all of creation. It’s like being invaded by grace and truth and life. Let us put ourselves into the prologue and consider how we have known grace and truth, and life in Christ. “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.” The Jesus thing. We have seen his glory. We have tasted and seen that the Lord is good, and this is often enough. At other times we may struggle, and we may doubt. “Is it worth it?” we may ask. “Is the Jesus thing really that big a deal?” In the middle of all of this, John reminds us that in Jesus, we know life in its fullest sense; in Jesus, we know a depth of meaning in each and every part of our being; in Jesus, our deepest longings are met – all that we long to be, all we hope and all we fear – are met. May we be a people who continue to wonder and adore. Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift. Merry Christmas, dear family.