I know many priests who love to read John’s prologue at Christmas. They get excited just reading the text and they cannot wait to preach on the text. I am not one of those priests. The text is so dramatic and circuitous. “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.” I know lots of people who love the poetic sound of these words, but to me, they just sound like gibberish. I always have to read them three of four times to figure out what John is saying. I struggle in hearing them to know whether John is being repetitive or if he is trying to lead me through some complex logic. By the time I get to the fourth verse, I tend to mentally check out. Besides, this is Christmas – can’t we talk about cute babies, loud animals, and singing angels??
Truthfully, John is not to blame for my apathy. John’s prologue is true to the entire tenor of John’s gospel.[i] John is not a gospel writer who is interested in telling an enthralling story of intrigue and delight. John is much more interested in interpreting the story of Jesus. He does not just want to report the what – he wants to report the why. The other gospel writers are like that grandpa who always tells great bedtime stories. John is more like the cryptic college professor who seems to speaking English, but nothing he says makes sense.
I sense my distaste for John says more about me as a consumer than about John as a writer. As a lover of movies and books, I like to be entertained and drawn in by a story.[ii] But the truth is, I know that the cryptic college professors have something very important to teach us too. Today, what that professor has to teach us is to define what has happened in the Christmas event – not just the who, what, when, where stuff of a news feed. John wants us to know what the who, what, when, where stuff means. Actually, I think John wants us to know that the who, what, when, where stuff is only scratching the surface of the enormity of the Christmas event. John wants us to know that although Jesus is born in a particular time and place, Jesus always was, is, and will be. All that gibberish about the beginning and the Word and the Word being with God and being God is important. What John does is set the stage for our entire theological understanding of who Jesus is.[iii] Jesus is not just a special child. Jesus is not simply a person. Jesus is both human and divine. John is outlining the crux of our entire faith in this prologue.
Though I do not suspect that John’s words today would be the best words to use when explaining to a child or a new convert to the faith who Jesus was and what he means to us, John’s words are at the heart of not only the Christmas story, but of our entire faith as Christian people. When I served at an Anglo-Catholic parish, we did a lot of bowing, genuflecting, and prostrating. One of the things that took some getting used to for me what genuflecting during the part of the creed that says, “by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate form the Virgin Mary, and was made man.”[iv] At first I wondered why we genuflected there, but I followed along so as not to stand out. After two years of that practice though, I came to see the strength in the gesture. God does something powerful by taking on human flesh. The incarnation is a game changer. All that happened before the Christmas moment was transformed when God took on human form. That is why, despite how wordy or convoluted the words may sound, we read them at Christmas because they help us understand the enormity of this event. In the end, that realization is much more powerful than the who, what, when, where information. The why is a much more powerful story today. The why tells us of the astounding way that God loves us – so much so that God will go to unheard of lengths to be among us, to give us a glimpse of how to live in the way of God, and to redeem us for all time. The why of this story may not be an engaging bedtime story. But the why of this story blows our minds when we begin to grasp how insanely the Lord our God loves us. We could all stand to do a little more genuflecting – either with our bodies or in our hearts – recognizing the tremendous significance of what God has done in the person of Jesus. Our invitation today is to thank and praise our God, and then to discern how that all-powerful love for us will change us to be agents of love and light as well. Amen.
[i] Robert Redman, “Theological Perspective,” Feasting on the Word, Yr. C, vol. 1 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 140.
[ii] Michael S. Bennett, “Pastoral Perspective,” Feasting on the Word, Yr. C, vol. 1 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 142.
[iii] Redman, 142.
[iv] BCP, 358.