Sermon – December 31, 2017

Rev. John M. Hayes

The distinctive mark of Christianity is its vocation to authentic personhood. The spiritual path is not to become someone else, but rather to come to true personhood, to become one’s self, the true self that God intended and that sin has distorted and obscured. The Holy One who is the Source of all deigned to become embodied in the person of Jesus. He is the embodiment of God, the compassionate human face of God who sees and knows us from all eternity. Only persons are known as persons to persons. Only God can call us to personhood as one who is fully and truly embodied as person. Only God can show us what it means to be human. The truth is that humans can come to personhood only in relationship to others and to God.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him and without him no one thing came into being.” John 1:1-3[1]

Ev Arche An Ho Logos: The English does not convey the poetry, the dense multivalent resonances of meaning John’s hearers would have heard. Arche- beginning is not just some logicaly necessary point in time – but it is the dynamic source and ground that all is in. Logos is not just ‘word’ as we use ‘word’ to name nouns, verbs, and a computer program– but the that which gives form to the inchoate, chthonic depths of God’s very Being longing for expression and form, longing from all eternity to be known and loved by humankind.

Word/Logos is the bearer of the person. Word carries the meaning and feeling of one person into the mind and heart of the other. These opening lines meant to resonate with the opening lines of Genesis, express the profound reality that creation is intimately relational. These words adumbrate the doctrine of the Trinity three centuries later, formulating the distinctively Christian conviction that ultimate reality is profoundly personal. The Christian God is not the “Absolute” or the “One” of other faiths, nor the “unmoved prime mover” of the philosophers, but a community of self-emptying love.

The Word is intimate with God, bears God’s very person, identified with and yet distinguishable from God. The word is creative for it is only in intimate relationship that we become real. It is only in God’s expression of Godself in Word that creation comes to be. There is no secular realm outside of God’s relational reality, no space to be carved out that escapes God’s loving gaze and presence. All real being is in God’s relational orbit. Our opening to God is always in and through our created 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. “ John 1: 4-5

God’s creation through the Word is the creation of life. Creation is not a once-off distant event, nearly forgotten by a watchmaker Deist God. It is a continuing process unfolding in all of creation, but most especially in the depths of the human psyche especially created in God’s image. Life has come into being in the Word, in the Christ. Life has its origin in the Word, in Christ, not only at the beginning of creation but now and always. The essence of life is the intricate and utter independence of all that lives. There is no reality outside the great chain of being that is life. This truth gives lie to the world’s story that real maturity is autonomy and self-sufficiency, taking one’s life in one’s own hands and shaping one’s own destiny. And there is for the Christian no life divorced from the nexus of relationship of the beloved community, and to seek life outside of Christ is futile. To seek life outside of Christ is essentially idolatry and the path to sin and spiritual death.

To have life in the Word, in Christ, is to have light. To have life is to thrive within relationship with and in Christ and all his creation, and with this life comes the means of sight and understanding of what can be seen and known.

In our spiritual lives, the light of Christ is the Holy Spirit illuminating the realities of our life so that we see them clearly in the light of God’s day. The “light that shines in the darkness” also shines in the darkness of the human heart to bring to awareness all the vestiges of darkness that lurk therein and obscure the light: the petty vanities, jealousies, the subtle inclinations to violence, the idolatries that still have not given way to the light of conversion.

Darkness can only ultimately yield to light. By the Holy Spirit we know in our hearts that only in light is there life. Darkness is merely the privation of light and has of itself no real existence. Only with light is there life. Light makes life possible and sustains it; without light all vegetation would die and the whole chain of life would collapse and perish. Christian spirituality acknowledges as first principle the utter contingency of our personal being, our utter ontological non-necessity and absolute dependence on God. It also acknowledges that the world is ultimately comprehendible, that even when it seems absurd, it is ultimately revealed to be in some way rational. All that is created has reason at its heart even when that is entirely concealed. The seemingly tragic “throwness” of every concrete human life has within it the seeds of transfiguration by the Holy Spirit. At bottom all things are ultimately purposeful. This ontological trust extends especially to the opaque mystery that we are to ourselves that we are to others, and others to us.

12, Jesus heals the man born blind whose fate was assumed to be punishment for his sin or the sin of his parents. Jesus said then “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” When Jesus heals him, light comes into the man’s eyes and the realities that always lay before him concealed are now seen clearly and he will have to address them.

“He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own and his own people did not accept him.” John 1:10-11.

The world cannot come to recognize and know Christ on its own resources. That recognition can only come by the light given by the Holy Spirit. John’s gospel fills out this role of the Holy Spirit later in the narrative. Even those whom one would most expect to have the ability to recognize fail to recognize, see and know Christ. This was true in Jesus’ time; very few Jews realized the fulfillment of God’s promise in Jesus, because Jesus did not fulfill their all-too-human expectations of a Messiah. It is not less true that “his own people” today fail to recognize Christ in the world in the myriad ways that Christ is abundantly present to those who are willing to see and know him, and who are not blinded by their own willful and wishful rigidity. We, as the Jews of old, prefer a Christ who reinforces our sense of being in control and being “right”, who does not demand the vulnerability of costly obedience and self-emptying love of others. We prefer not to see the suffering Christ in the abundant suffering of God’s poor and afflicted, because that demands a response that is costly and painful. Many who claim to be “his own” look away from the obscenities of structural injustice, pre-emptive war, and destructive, exploitive economics, and prefer the private religion of comfort and nostalgia.

“But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave the power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.” John 1: 12-13

To those who willingly suffer the death of their egoic selves, surrendering themselves to the reality of Christ within and without, paradoxically are reborn in a new identity as children of God. This transfiguration of those who receive Christ and believe in his name live in a new relational reality. Bound not to limiting tribal ties of blood and unbound from the urgent demands of the willful egoic self, they live their true and more real identity in Christ. This transcendence of ordinary self reveals the true humanity of the Christian.

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.” John 1:14.

These may be the most impossibly astounding words in all of Scriptures, filling the Christian’s heart with joy even as it implodes all our fixed categories of who God is and what humanity can expect of God. That God in Jesus Christ, the very real, en-fleshed embodiment of God’s Word, should come to share our nature and live as a human being in space and time, as a particular and specific person in human history, changes everything. Jesus now becomes the new temple that place on earth where God dwells with God’s people, where the Holy touches our reality. The new temple is not a place, but a person, the incarnation of the Son of God, beloved of the Father from before all ages. This is the great mystery, the scandal of the incarnation: that God comes to us as the most vulnerable of all, a baby born to poor wandering parents in a cave on a cold night, that the Holy One comes to us in space and time as person, come to bring us to our right minds and hearts, come to bring us home.