Hymn to Jesus

A sermon for the second Sunday of Christmas | John 1:1-18

O

ne commentator on this John text said, “God bless the preacher who tries to say something sensible about this text in 20 minutes or less.  Perhaps the best approach is to read it; then prop the Bible open in a visible place; then lie face down in silent, abject humility before the text; then, after 20 minutes – or twenty years – stand up and say, “Amen.””  I agree, John’s hymn to Jesus is a big one to grasp but I think there are things that can be said about it.

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In his painting The Holy Family Rembrandt portrays the Nativity as if it had taken place in a Dutch home.  Mary is dressed in a fitted dress complete with lacy shawl and a little bonnet.  Joseph is like a ghostly figure doing some kind of wood working in the background, as Jamie spoke about a couple of week ago, Joseph is certainly a secondary figure he looks kind of watermarked out.  Mary has in her hand an open book that she seems to have taken a pause from reading to have a look at the child sleeping in the cradle.  Above their heads are four little cherubim who are floating in through the roof to coo over the rocking cradle.  The child is serenely sleeping with pillow sheets and blankets in a wicker rocking cradle.  It is a very beautiful scene, not intended to be historically accurate but is iconic of today’s reading.  The book that Mary has in her hand appears to be well worn, a well thumbed book, presumably the scriptures.

The word of God is to be found in the scriptures, for centuries this has been known.  The image depicts Mary as pondering the scriptures in her heart, we hear that in the telling of the story.  She is listening to the word of God in the writing on the page.  Then she looks again at the baby in the cradle and ponders the Word made flesh beside her.  Back and forth between the written and flesh is God’s word.

Unlike the Luke and Matthew birth narratives that we have which describe the story of shepherds and angels, a couple with a newborn, exotic visitors from far off places, all of which inspires our imagination and capacity for wonder and delight.  John takes us in a very different direction, he takes us back to creation the place where it all began.  “All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing come into being…and the word became flesh and lived among us.”

Creation is not just a matter of form, but is filled with the animation of life.  God’s life.  God comes intimately into creation from beyond time to join us in our bodies to bring life itself.  God thought so much about human bodies, about human beings that God chose to share the experience of being in a body.  This whole season is the celebration of God having a body and being one of us.  Having a body gives us the gift of having all sorts of sensory experiences, smell, see, taste, touch, hear.  God joined us in a body to be amongst our bodies, to experience the joy we feel, the love we feel, the hope, the pain, the sorrow and disappointment.  God came in the form of Jesus to experience everything that makes us who and what we are.

Paul in his letter to the Ephesians reminds us that although we have our bodies, although we are in the time of celebration, nothing packs up and leaves town faster that Christmas Spirit, and it is easy to slip into the ‘post Christmas blues’ pretty fast.  It is not too often that we get to celebrate the second Sunday of Christmas, we get to be intentional about the season, and not cut it off too fast.  Paul leads us into a huge praise and celebration piece, where the praise of God’s glory is the most appropriate response, when we are unsure of what we are supposed to do with what the season brings.  There is more, the ‘so what’ question posed!  Paul is telling us that we are here for a greater purpose than our own comfort and pleasure.

As we hear and believe, we are marked with the seal of the Holy Spirit; we become an integral part of God’s bigger plan of reconciliation, redemption and healing of a broken world.  The gifts we are given, the life we experience, the senses we enjoy are not just for our own benefit, we are part of a collective, a community that needs some serious work to bring things back into right relationship.  The Incarnation is only the beginning, we have to get involved in the rest of the plan.  The plan that is laid out for us in the rest of the scriptures.

So like Mary we move between pondering the written word and incarnating, or en-fleshing its meaning.  However we don’t or cannot do it alone according to Paul.  We need to be in community, in the church, a solo faith is not really faith, its narcissism, self serving.  Our lives only make sense if we live them in community, we have to confront the notion that we are independent, autonomous persons able to live successfully independent of others.  God demonstrated community through the trinity, Three in one, a community of mutuality, of equals.  This epistle maintains that it is through the church and community that we recognise what it means to live as a Christian and what the meaning of Christmas is all about.  The church is Christ’s body, it is the place where God’s presence is the most visible.

So it’s up to us now.  God revealed God’s self, through the embodied baby Jesus, to be the living agent of love, grace, forgiveness, redemption, healing and justice; and through Jesus, extended the invitation for us to participate in life, and affirm the ways in which human life is interconnected and interwoven.  Paying attention to the scriptures, which is a physical reminder, hearing the words of scripture, teaches us and shows us the body of Christ without the physicality of his person. The words were made flesh, a body was given for us to enjoy, and the love of Emmanuel, God-with-us, was made tangible for God’s people day after day, we try to be God’s loving presence for all people in God’s world.

A prayer attributed to St. Theresa of Avila says it well:  “Christ has no body now but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours.  Yours are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion must look out on the world.  Yours are the feet with which He is to go about doing good.  Yours are the hands with which He is to bless us now.

It really is up to us.

Amen.

4 Responses to Hymn to Jesus

  1. Byron says:

    I do not see where a response to the world is dictated by communal faith.I do not understand how someone can have a relationship with God and not see it as being personal. I am wary of condemnation and my experiences with many church communities has taught me that they are flush with that very trait…to the point of being exclusionary.
    I would hasten to mention that my association with St. Bens has never mde me feel wary in the slightest.

  2. Helen Manfield says:

    This thought comes from the notion of some who think that “God and I are buddies;” that we have our own personal Jesus. To think that I can have a private faith exclusive of others is self serving. Our lives do not make sense unless they are lived in community, even hermits, and the desert fathers and mothers recognised that they live in community of a form. Faith by it’s very nature, demands a response in the world, faith is not there to make my life more comfortable. I think it has more to do with attitude rather than inclination or circumstances, selfless rather than selfish!

  3. Bram says:

    Byron,

    I tend to agree with you that it’s easy to harshly condemn solo Christians. Beyond the obvious candidates for a life of solitary belief (prisoners, mystics/hermits, those who live in remote areas and travelers) I think a bit of grace should go toward those who are loners, by inclination or circumstance.

  4. Byron says:

    A solo faith is not really faith, but narcissism? A harsh accusation, I would submit.

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