John 1:1-18 Homily delivered First Sunday of Christmas (Year B RCL TEC) 27 December 2020: 10:00am Live-Streamed Ante-Communion Parish Church of Trinity Ashland (Oregon)
The Rev. Dr. Anthony Hutchinson, SCP Readings: Isa 61:10-62:3; Ps 147, Gal 3:23-25; 4:4-7; John 1:1-18
God, give us hearts to feel and love.
Take away our hearts of stone and give us hearts of flesh. Amen.
Today’s Gospel takes a very different approach than Luke or Matthew. Rather than tell a story of Jesus’ earthly origins, John tells us of something quite a bit deeper and much, much more hidden.
The hymn to Jesus Christ as the Logos, the eternal word of God, in John chapter 1 begins: “In the beginning was the word.” This translation misses the richness of the Greek en arche en ho logos. Another way of translating might be, “At the start, at the root of all, the logos existed.”
The Greek word logos is where we get out word logo, our word logic, and our words analogue and dialogue. It means much more than just “word.” Its basic meaning is whatever it is that makes or conveys meaning or sense, whether in our minds or on our lips Something is logical, or has logos, because it coheres and is patterned. Geo-logy is the patterns we see in the physical world, Gaia. Theology is a patterned and coherent way of talking about God, Theos. Logos is a deep pattern, a coherence, that lies behind and beneath disparate and apparently random facts.
Thus, a good way to translate the first verse is, “At the root of all things, there existed Meaning.” The Chinese Bible translates it as the equivalent of “At the Universe’s Origin, was the Tao.”
Episcopal priest Jim Stamper gives us the following paraphrase:
Initially there was a pattern for everything. The pattern was God’s; God was the pattern. The pattern was always God. Everything came from that pattern. There isn't anything else. The pattern is both the source of life and the meaning of life. … The initial pattern for everything that is, became a human being and lived among us. We experienced how awesome [he] is: as awesome as a newborn baby is to [a parent], the gift of life and all its possibilities.
The hymn says that the Word/Meaning/Pattern of God took on flesh. The choice of the word “flesh” is deliberate. In Semitic culture, basar “flesh” was the physical, earthy part of a person that you could see, touch, and smell. It was a key part of you, and not wholly separable from your mind or spirit. The symbol for a man to be part of God’s covenant with Abraham was that he be circumcised in his flesh. For Greeks, sarx “flesh” was the changeable, impermanent part of a human being. For some Greek philosophers, it was the part that resisted reason and had a mind of its own, the part that I think we would identify by talking about addictive, obsessive, or compulsive behaviors. It was in this sense that Saint Paul had occasionally used the word—sarx for him sometimes is shorthand for that part of a human being that resists God’s intentions for us. When the prologue of John says the logos became sarx, it means that Reason, Pattern, Meaning itself, took on all it means to be a human being: all the limitations, all the doubts and fears, and the ignorances, all the handicaps.
The hymn adds “he dwelt among us.” The word used for “dwelt” is eskenasen: he “set up his tent” among us. The image is of a temporary habitation, like the Tent of the Meeting or the Tabernacle of the ancient Israelites, where God Himself was made manifest to Moses.
The hymn adds, “and we saw his glory, as of a father’s only Son, full of Grace and Truth.”
Grace—one directional love, without condition, of its nature giving. Truth—genuineness, authenticity, transparency. It is here that the conflict between divine and human, the perfect and imperfect, the boundless and the bounded is resolved: Grace and Truth. For despite all our limitations, we human beings can on occasion transcend ourselves and open ourselves to Grace and Truth. On even fewer occasions, we can even become the channels or instruments by which Grace and Truth can be given to others. “We saw the glory of God made flesh, we saw the beauty of the pattern behind the worlds placed within this apparently meaningless world—and we recognized that glory as Grace and Truth.”
It is in Jesus’ gracious love and authenticity that the Gospel of John says we can recognize the pattern of the universe, see Jesus is the Logos from all eternity. But he adds-- Jesus is monogenes—one-of-a-kind. We on occasion can transcend ourselves. Despite all the limitations his humanity imposed, Jesus was always Transcendence Itself.
The hymn to the Logos ends by saying, “The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 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.”
The Ultimate Meaning of the universe found a place in human flesh, in the person of this helpless baby. This only Son of God offers us Grace and Truth. He gives us the chance to be adopted as Children of God. Joy, joy, and thankfulness on our part.
In the name of God, Amen.