“In the beginning,” John starts out, calling us back to creation and the vision of a new creation here. In this new creation, the Word of God is alongside God, a partner is creation, until it takes on flesh. Like the first creation story in Genesis 1, this creation has the feeling of praise-filled poetry. At least, until John the Baptist shows up. His presence interrupts the lyrical flow of the story, as the author casts him as a witness.
You can read the Working Preacher commentary here.
You can read the scripture here.
For all its beauty, this is a difficult text for preaching, especially if people are expecting the familiar story of the angels and shepherds, with the swaddling cloths and the manger. It is at the same time familiar and mysterious. It’s an odd combination of poetry, story and history. One minute it’s about the Word of God, and the next we’re on to John the Baptist. Then back to the poetry.
Jesus, who is close to God’s heart, illuminates God for us by his presence. If Jesus is the Word, that Word points back to someone as its author. Jesus points us back to God, the source of the Word. Unlike human words, this Word is eternal, present from the beginning. It carries the divine spark, and that divinity now lives in our world. Jesus reveals God to a waiting world.
John’s gospel also says that those who receive Jesus, no matter who they are, enter into a new closeness with God. “But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God.” When we receive Jesus, we become part of the family of God, as John sees it. He calls us to spiritual hospitality – the work of welcoming God in an indifferent world.
With all preaching about images of light and dark, we are called to be mindful of how these words to sound to people of color, who have long heard darkness associated with themselves, along with evil, sin, backwardness and childishness. If we limit ourselves to saying that light is good and dark is bad, we’re doing harm and losing the multi-faceted nature of God in the process. Light and dark exist together, and darkness is the place where the light is revealed.
The sermon might talk about where we find light in our world. Who are the people whose actions reveal God to us? Who embodies God’s light in our world?
Or the sermon might look at the idea of receiving God. How do we make God welcome? We’re used to God showing hospitality to us, so how do we do our part in the process? Our world is just as indifferent as the world Jesus was born into, with all of us rushing around, with scant time to receive God. How do we deliberately welcome God in the world?
As Christians, we have earned a reputation for using demeaning, dismissive words with people, and for using words to defend the wrong people. How do we redeem our words, and make the Word behind them plain to people who could use a word of good news?
Or the sermon might talk about the power of words, and the words we want to have in our lives. God is known by the Word – that Word shows us what God is like. What words show what we are like, as individuals, or as a community of faith? Barbara Brown Taylor writes in Feasting on the Word, “Almost everyone has a word that he or she has a gift for bringing to life…Until someone acts on these words, they remain abstract concepts – very good ideas that few people have ever seen. The moment someone acts on them, they become flesh. They live among us so we can see their glory…Congregations embody words as well. Plenty of congregations think they have to embody all the words in the gospel, but they do not. They have to put flesh on only one or two of them.” Some congregations, she adds, are good at making “hospitality” come to life, while for others it’s “creativity” or “prayer” or “education” or any number of gifts that may become incarnate among a group of people. What words are we bringing to life, that point back to God?
Where are you headed this week? We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.
Mary Austin is the pastor of Westminster Church of Detroit, a diverse Presbyterian church. She keeps praying to only say wise and kind words. She blogs from time to time at Stained Glass in the City. The image above is the dome of the Los Angeles Public Library, via the Vanderbilt Library of Art in the Christian Tradition.
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