Midnight Mass 2014 Sermon
by Rev Charmaine Braatvedt
John 1: 1 – 14
We have gathered here tonight to celebrate the birth of a baby; and clearly, not just any baby, but the birth of Jesus Christ.
So what does the birth of Jesus really signify?
St John in his prologue which I have just read, says that
Jesus is the word of God made flesh.
When I was a child we had a little ditty which we would chant when someone at school was being mean to us. It went like this:
“Sticks and stones might break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”
I’m not sure if children still sing that on the playground these days, however, while it seemed to me to be a clever thing to say at the time, I always knew in my heart of hearts that nothing could be further from the truth.
Words have enormous power. There is tremendous energy and power in words,
They have the power to to hurt or heal,
to motivate or crush, to initiate action or to arrest action.
Let’s turn to the prologue of John’s Gospel where we read:
“In the beginning was the Word
and the Word was with God and the Word was God…
and the word became flesh and dwelt amongst us…
John is talking about Jesus here and I would like to briefly explore what John meant when he described Jesus as
the Word made flesh and dwelling amongst us.
A bit of background might be helpful.
In the Jewish culture of the time, the spoken word was regarded as much more than a sound that communicated a meaning. It was regarded as a unit of energy. They believed that words were a bit like a modern day battery, charged with power.
Furthermore people took seriously the idea that once the power that is vested in a word is unleashed,
it cannot be brought back again.
I think there is a truth in this, with which we can all identify.
The author Jodi Picoult likens the spoken word to eggs.
“Words are like eggs dropped from great heights; you can no more call them back than ignore the mess they leave when they fall.”
The power of words and more especially the word of God is brought into focus in the first chapter of Genesis where we read
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters. How did God create the world? We are told that God said
let there be light
Let there be a firmament
Let the earth bring forth living creatures
Let us make humans in our own image.
So God spoke the world into being.
There is creative power in the word of God!
See Psalm 33:6
By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth.
Now it’s important for us to remember that John the evangelist was writing his Gospel in the town of Ephesus where there were not only Jews but also Greeks. The New Testament was in fact written in Greek so Greek thinking had a great influence on John’s writing.
The Greek term for word is logos.
Its meaning includes the notion of reason and wisdom.
In Greek thinking, the word of God is also the reasoning or logic of God as well as the wisdom of God.
“In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God…and the word became flesh and dwelt amongst us …
When John says that Jesus is the word of God made flesh, he therefore has 3 understandings of the nature and purpose of the birth of the Christ Child, his significance for us.
When Jesus came to earth he embodied
- the creative word of God.
- the logic of God and
- the wisdom of God
Let’s look at what each of these means to us in turn:
- Jesus is the creative word of God.
John’s Prologue confirms that God’s Word was already there at the very beginning and even before creation. His word is eternal. Jesus Christ the Word pre-existed Creation and was present during creation as part of the Trinity.
What this means for us is that we can be sure that Jesus, God’s spoken word made flesh embodies God’s nature and power. Since Jesus was there from the beginning we can be sure that God was and is and continues to be like Jesus.
So what did Jesus create when he came to earth? Simply put he created a new understanding of who God is.
Sometimes in reading the Old Testament we can be forgiven for thinking of God as just and holy but also stern and avenging. We may be led to the conclusion that it was something Jesus did that changed God’s anger into love and altered God’s attitude to humanity.
Not so much. The New Testament tells us that God has always been like Jesus. The truth of the matter is that God has always been the same. What has changed is our knowledge of God. This came through the coming of Jesus. He gifted us with a new understanding of the compassionate and loving nature of God through his teaching, his life, death on the cross and his resurrection.
What the theologian William Barclay says is true, “what we learn through Jesus is that God has always been Christ- like”.
- Jesus is the logic of God
Why did God create the world?
The Scriptures teach us that God is love and love needs an object to love. God created the world to love it and because we are created in God’s image, we have the capacity to love, and so God intends that we too should not only love each other but return God’s love also. This is God’s logical and rational goal and purpose for creation, that love would permeate the whole of creation.
However, the world is a fallen place and we are all held captive by our fallibility. So it is that God reaches out in love to free, bring salvation, restore right relationship and reconcile all living creatures to himself by sending his son into the world as the embodiment of God’s loving logic.
John 3: 16 says:
For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that all who believe in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.
Jesus is God’s en-fleshed plan to free the world.
He came and to all who received him, who believed his name he gave power to become children of God.
- Jesus is the Wisdom of God
In the book of Proverbs we see a 3rd meaning of the term word of God. Logos also means wisdom. In Proverbs 8 wisdom is personified as God’s agent, enlightening creation. God’s Wisdom is embodied in Jesus Christ.
John is saying that Jesus is the logos come down to earth the wisdom of God made flesh. The mind of God became a human person in Jesus.
So what does that mean for us today?
John teaches us that all we have to do in order to know the mind of God, is look to Jesus.
Jesus is the reason for the season and his gift to us lies in the fact that his birth as a child means that through him
The word of God which created the world,
the reason of God which redeems it and
the wisdom of God which sustains it is knowable to you and me and countless others who seek to know who God is and the meaning and purpose of life.
All the words we say and sing this Christmas are impregnated with his power and love. All we celebrate is an affirmation that God who we struggle to know is knowable through Jesus. All we take from the simple story of a child being born in a stable is that the only truly grand thing in life rests in the power of loving words that translate into loving actions.
I would like to conclude with this this posting which I found on Facebook:
Action is always superior to speech in the Gospels which is why the Word became flesh and not newsprint!
May Jesus the word made flesh inspire you with his power, love and wisdom this Christmas and spur you to actions which fill the world you inhabit with the love of Christ.