SERMON ~ 12/25/2022 ~ “The Word”

READINGS:12/24/2022 ~ 12/25/2022 ~ Nativity of the Christ – Proper I ~ Isaiah 9:2-7; Psalm 96; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-14, (15-20) ~ Proper II ~ Isaiah 62:6-12; Psalm 97; Titus 3:4-7; Luke 2:(1-7), 8-20 ~ Proper III ~ Isaiah 52:7-10; Psalm 98; Hebrews 1:1-4, (5-12); John 1:1-14 ~ VIDEO OF FULL SERVICE:

The Word

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” — John 1:1.

Both historically and in our current time three sets of readings are assigned in the lectionary for Christmas. That’s because there are three appropriate, separate and related but in some ways different services on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

In ancient times— ancient meaning as recently as 50 years ago— in ancient times at many churches the first of those services would have been on Christmas Eve at midnight. That tradition has largely ended.

The second service with a similar but different set of readings would have been offered at a dawn service on Christmas day. Then there would be a high service, filled with pomp— in high church traditions that meant things like incense— a high service, filled with pomp which would usually held sometime around mid-day on Christmas day. (This is the high service in case you’re interested.)

The services at midnight and dawn would have both had different portions of the Nativity reading from Luke. At the mid-day service we get the Gospel we heard today, the reading from John.

Just this last week the New York Times ran a long article about how in many churches all this is changing, from having the Christmas Eve services earlier to there being no service on Christmas Day even if it’s a Sunday. As has often been true in church things change in response to cultural change and this change is an American cultural trend.

In terms of the readings for Christmas Eve and dawn, the nativity story as Luke has it— the decree from Caesar, the inn, the stable, etc., etc., etc.— these depictions are meant, to a certain extent, to be realistic. But are they realistic or do they just feel that way?

After all, you have angels, shepherds, an unwed mother along with what appears to be an amazingly compliant father who has not yet actually wed the virgin. Further, the birth of the Messiah is announced to the poor and the outcast. Again, is that realistic?

In fact, that the poor and the outcast are favored by God is a major theme of Luke which continues throughout the entire work. And in the New Testament world, a world with so much poverty and so many outcasts, a world in which privilege begets privilege, how realistic is it that the poor and the outcast would really be favored? So, once you look at the Luke version carefully, you realize it contains some serious theological ideas within what is only the trappings of realism.

John on the other hand does not offer or even bother with the trappings of realism. The first section of John, often called “The Prologue,” consists of four parts. And if you followed the reading in the bulletin you could see that much of this reading is poetry. [1]

The first part this passage says the eternal Word is the Light, clearly a section meant to be mystical. Next, John the Baptizer is introduced as a witnesses to this Word, this Light— that’s the only place this narrative comes even close to conveying realism.

In the third part we hear the proclamation that “The Light,” that is “The Word” has come into the world. Then the section ends with the concept that this (quote) “Word” became flesh and dwells among us.

And yes, the writer or writers— scholars think there may have been multiple writersof John — stresses the eternal existence of the Word with God, an existence outside the bounds of time, the bounds of space, the bounds of history. Further, the clearly mystical opening words of the Gospel (quote:) “At the beginning…,” are meant to recall Genesis 1:1.

I need to note in a good translation of the opening words of Genesis passage says: “At the beginning of God’s creating of the heavens and the earth….” This effectively states what John is stating, that God lives outside the boundaries of the creation, both before and beyond our understanding of all time and space.

Hence, what is often not understood by many is that Genesis and therefore John never points to the time of the creation but to a time before the creation of the world. Hence, these words point to a time and a place totally beyond our comprehension.

However, John goes one step further and insists that this eternal Word does not stay outside of time and history but enters into our time-bound world. And even though the Word enters into our time bound world, this Word continues to live beyond the time of life on earth of any individual. Therefore, the Word lives before, though and beyond all existence and lives in our lives now.

In short, this way of looking at the Nativity is blatantly mythical, philosophical, mystical and other-worldly. Nearly all trappings of realism are forgotten. (Slight pause.)

It is also clear the term “Word” is used to mean Jesus, Jesus Who is the Christ, the Messiah. But by insisting on the pre-existence of the Christ, John now offers a new perspective about God which might have shocked those who first heard or read this Gospel.

John’s vision suggests that God, through Jesus, reveals aspects of God’s own self which have never before been revealed. This gospel claims that God and the Spirit of God dwells with us, walks with us.

John thus says the signs of the presence of God Luke so gracefully and gently weaves into the nativity story are blatantly and boldly present in the person of Jesus. Indeed, all the “I am” statements of Jesus are found only in the Gospel of John.

The important parts of the “I am” statements are not the objects of the statements such as the way, the truth, the life. The important part of the “I am” statements are the words “I am.” In Hebrew the name of God is Yahweh which is a form of the verb “to be”— I am.

So yes, this language is mystical and despite the mystical language employed throughout the work, John is, at the same time, the one evangelist who is blunt. The effect of what John says is this: God is One and God is Trinity; take it or leave it.

And can Trinity be explained? No. Not really. Trinity is not just mystical. Trinity is a mystery.

Therefore, John is also saying, “skip the birth; the story of the birth is only a metaphor.” Indeed, with this Gospel John invites us to concentrate on what is beyond our comprehension— the fact that God so loves the world and is present beyond eternity, has been present beyond eternity forever and is, amazingly, is present to us right here, right now.

And God is present to do what? To love us. Can the love of God be readily explained? The love of God can no more readily be explained than Trinity can be explained. The love of God is a mystery.

Hence and in short, here’s the blunt two part message the Gospel of John offers: God loves us. And God does not demand anything in response to that love. God simply loves. Amen.

12/25/2022 — Christmas Day
Elijah Kellogg Church, Harpswell, Maine

ENDPIECE: It is the practice of the Pastor to speak after the Closing Hymn, but before the Choral Response and Benediction. This is an précis of what was said: “We live in a very secular world. Hence, when possible I try to avoid wishing people a ‘Merry Christmas.’ You see, that is a secular term. You see, at Eastertide when possible I try to avoid wishing people ‘Happy Easter’ and instead I say ‘Christ is Risen.’ And so, at Christmastide, if somebody says ‘Merry Christmas,’ I say ‘Christ is with us.’ Of course, is the real Christian sentiment expressed in and by the Feast of the Incarnation— indeed, Christ is with us.”

BENEDICTION: The sun shall no longer be / your light by day, / nor for brightness shall the moon / give you light by night; / for Yahweh, God, / will be your everlasting light, / and your glory. — Isaiah 60:19-20a.

. This is the reading from the Gospel of John as it appeared in the bulletin.


[1] In the beginning
was the Word;
the Word was with God,
in the presence of God
and the Word was God.
[2] Indeed, the Word
was present to God.
[3] All things came into being
through the Word,
and apart from the Word
not one thing came into being.
The Word was life and
[4] and that life was the light
of all humanity.
[5] The light shines
in the deepest night,
and the night has never been able
to overtake it, to conquer it.
[6] Then came one named John [7] sent as an envoy, a witness to testify about the Light, so that through this testimony all might believe. [8] Indeed, John was not the Light, but did come only to testify about the light.
[9] For the true light,
the Word, which enlightens everyone,
was coming into the world.
[10] The Word was in the world,
and the world came into being
through the Word;
yet the world did not know,
did not recognize this one.
[11] Though the Word
came into its own realm,
the Word’s own people did not recognize
or accept the Word.
[12] Yet anyone who accepted the Word,
who believed in that name,
were empowered to become children of God,
[13] children not born, of natural descent
or urge of the flesh or of human will,
but born of God.
[14] And the Word became flesh
and stayed a little while among us;
we have seen the Word’s glory,
the glory as of a parent’s only child,
full of grace and truth.

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