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Responding in Words to the Word of God: The Second Sunday after Christmas

Sunday, January 2, 2022:
Sirach 24:1-12; John 1:1-18

With the world’s growing emphasis on Advent calendars (because it’s something that’s easy to produce and market), it can be easy to forget that the counting continues for the twelve days of Christmas (or arguably until Candlemas on Groundhog Day), in which we find ourselves. This gives us some time sit with and process this strange and amazing proclamation we’ve inherited, about God taking on our human nature.

The scholars will tell us that the oldest memories preserved in the gospels are in the Passion stories; they say that God was present and doing something revolutionary in the death of Jesus.

And then further Christian reflection on this leads our community to see God at work in the life of Jesus (his teachings and healings).

And then lastly, logic would tell us that God was there, not just in the life of Jesus, but in his birth, or as we heard today, before his birth.

Sometimes when talking and thinking about Jesus’s death, we’ll talk about “theories of atonement.” We try to work out how exactly Jesus’s death and resurrection save us. Some will tell us that maybe “theory” is a bit too scientific a word, so we’re better off using words like “motif” or “idea.” One person has said that it’s like catching parts of a song. It floats in and out of our head, or in and out of earshot, and we get part of the melody here and there. We can say that about the different ideas and images scripture presents about Jesus’s death, but also about Jesus’s birth. Matthew and Luke have the motif of the miraculous conception of Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit working with Mary. Paul, writing earlier than the gospel-writers, never mentions this, though he does talk about Jesus as “born of a woman.” Though the Pauline writings will speak of how “in [Christ] all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him.” This comes close to what we heard from that beautiful prologue to St. John’s Gospel: “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.” And Mark’s gospel, seen by most as the earliest and least refined, doesn’t seem to have developed its tradition about the origins of Jesus, though in its own way, with the Holy Spirit hovering over the waters of baptism, it echoes the Genesis creation story similarly to what John has done in our reading today. More than theories or abstract doctrines, these are stories and poems about how God has come to us in a special way. And we play with them, think about them, weigh them, and open ourselves up to be changed by them these twelve days of Christmas.

Our Christmas stories and Christmas carols do the same thing: they play with this amazing story about this God who came close to us. We heard it in our hymn today: “God of God, Light of Light… very God, begotten, not created.” It’s borrowing from our Nicene Creed, because the creeds are attempts at making succinct statements out of the rather more fulsome and undomesticated stories of scripture. Even when our carols seemingly get the Biblical stories wrong, these are attempts at exploring and getting at the meaning of this amazing thing. We know that the magi (the wise men) weren’t kings, but there is a certain truth to that later interpretation: not only is it taking imagery from Psalm 72, but it’s making a powerful statement about the kings of this world bowing down to the Prince of Peace and King of Kings.

One of the great figures of English Christianity was Anselm of Canterbury, known for the motto “faith seeking understanding.” That should describe all of us; not just saints, not just bishops, not just philosophers. Whether we admit it or not, we all do theology, and we’re all called to do theology. I don’t mean we all get degrees in it, or read boring books. But when we wonder how different parts of scripture fit together, we’re doing theology. When we ask how God is revealed in scripture, or how the Bible is inspired (more than just ordinary words), we’re doing theology. When we try to bring our faith off the page and into our homes or onto the street, we’re doing theology. We interpret, we think, we try to make sense, we question, and we summarize and articulate in our own day. We do this because God’s Word has been spoken to us. The Church has had, preserved, and passed on an experience of God as Logos — a loaded term translated as Word, Wisdom, Reason, Logic… the thing that holds all things together. It’s nothing less than a reason to have hope that there is meaning and order underneath what often seems like chaos and disorder. And it gives us meaning and re-orders our lives. We dwell with this, especially these twelve days of Christmas. And this month of Christmas, ending with Candlemas. And really, we dwell with this and work out its implications all our days. The Word of God has come to us. And following a pregnant silence, we’re all called to speak to God in our words, in our language. There is, of course, an intimate, one-on-one aspect to this. But we can also give thanks for the grace of common prayer, and of an historic liturgy that, with an economical and yet often beautiful language, gives us words to speak, together, to God.

© 2021 The Rev’d Matthew Kieswetter