“When is the time for love to be born?”
“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 not one thing came into 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… The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.” John 1
The presents are all open, the wrapping paper bagged up and put in the trash. The pageants have come and gone, the crowds on Christmas Eve are come and gone. The days of gift returns and post-holiday bargains underway.
Now we get John’s version of what we nostalgically refer to as “The Christmas Story.” John’s take is very different from Luke and Matthew. No angels, no shepherds, no star, no manger, no Bethlehem, no Joseph, not even a mention of Mary!
With three words John links Christmas with the time before time itself, the time before creation begins: In the beginning… The very first words of Holy Scripture. The foundation of the world, of the universe itself. Words about a Word. The Word. This Word we are told “was God.” Christmas for John is the birth of the universe!
Which is fitting since it is this Word who spoke the word, “Light!” And things came to be. All things. As John tells us, not one thing came into being that did not come through the Word.
All speculation about big-bangs and the like aside, John’s Christmas Story is a much quieter affair. No crowds of people flooding the streets of Bethlehem for the census. No Choirs of Angels, crowds of shepherds, animals in the manger and so on. All we have is this poetry of John’s, God and God’s Word. But of course, that is all we really need.
Like the First Sunday after Christmas itself, things are quieter. As it should be it seems. To contemplate the Word through which all things came to be and continue to come to be ought to leave us breathless. Awe struck. Like that old priest Zechariah, father of John who was not the light; Zechariah who could not speak until John who would be Baptist was born.
Let all the earth keep silence before him. Before the Word which is also the true light which enlightens all people. This Word who is coming into the world enlightens not some people, not a lot of people, but all people. Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Jew, Daoist, Agnostic, Atheist. All people.
This is why we seek and serve Christ in all persons as we promise in our baptism. Because the Word who enlightens us enlightens everyone, everywhere, for all time and forever. Ever since the beginning. Christ the Word is in all things. All things. This is big news, even if it is less adorable than children running up and down the aisles in their parent’s old bathrobes!
The even bigger news, of course, is that the Word becomes flesh and dwells among us. The word “dwell” in the Greek means something like to pitch one’s tent. Like the tent in which the Ark of God’s Covenant travelled with Israel from Egypt to the land of Promise. The Word prefers a tent to live among us, rather than a house or temple. Tents are rather portable and temporary structures. I have always imagined that this means whenever we pick up and move, the Word picks up his tent stakes and moves with us. Our God is a nimble and mobile God. He promises to be with us always. This means he is always nearby in his tent.
In many respects we are still a nomadic people, transient, racing from pillar to post in fossil-fueled vehicles. Fossils that go almost back to the time of “in the beginning” keep us on the move. Fascinating this stuff that God speaks into being by saying, “Let there be…”
As John seeks to tell this tale of Love come down to dwell amongst us all he can do is write poetry. A Hymn to the Word. The Word which is life, light and love. It is John’s attempt to get it just right. John’s attempt to give us a glimpse of the Word’s very essence.
A poet of our own time also struggled to get it just right. Madeliene L’Engle in her book Winter Song offers another vision of Christmas. She wonders just how this Word would choose to pitch his tent among us in a world in which words like evil, hate, enmity, fear, aggression, war, nuclear weapons, cloning, murder, and darkness seem to be the daily coin of the realm.
This is no time for a child to be born
With the earth betrayed by war and hate
And nova lighting the sky to warn
That time runs out and sun burns late.
That was no time for a child to be born,
In a land in the crushing grip of Rome;
Honor and truth were trampled by scorn –
Yet here did the Saviour make his home.
When is the time for love to be born?
The inn is full on the planet earth,
And by greed and pride the sky is torn –
Yet, love still takes the risk at birth.
If we close our eyes and listen to the poets, John and L’Engle, we can catch a glimpse of the light that shines in the darkness and which the darkness has not overcome. We can catch a glimpse of the Word pitching his tent to dwell among us as risky and unlikely as that seems.
Just a glimpse is all that we need. That is all that we are given. Glimpses. No one has ever seen God. Only the Word, God’s only Son. Like Father, like Son – the Son who is close to the Father’s heart. The Son who we pray will shine in our hearts and in our lives, in all we do and say. Just a glimpse is all we get. But it is enough. More than enough to dispel a little of our present darkness and draw us ever closer to the light, the true light, which even now is coming into the world.
It is the light of all people. Everyone, everywhere. And for this may we sit quietly in the stillness of John’s cosmic nativity and give thanks. Amen.