Could have been easy: December 25, 2016

December 25, 2016

Christmas Day                                                                                   
John 1:1-14                                                                            

            “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” These words are familiar to us, painfully familiar to those of us who preach on it every year.  As Christians we hear it quoted often enough. We hear it on Christmas Day (for those loyal souls who attend) and then again on the Sunday after Christmas. But the Jews who were hearing John’s words for the first time would have also found it somewhat familiar. 

The very beginning of the Hebrew Bible (The Torah) starts with, “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth…”  Genesis goes on to describe how God created the world with words.  It would appear that the author of John knew what he was doing when he wrote the introduction to his Gospel. He was making a connection for those people who knew the story of the creation of heaven and earth from the Hebrew Bible.  John was trying to fit Jesus into that story.  Jesus was not just some creation of God who came on the scene a couple thousand years into the story.   He was the Word, the Word that created the heavens and the earth. 

            Julian of Vezalay, a Benedictian monk, once said, “At his command, (God said) ‘Let there be a world,’ the world came into being, and when he decreed, ‘Let there be human beings,’ human beings were created.  But the Word of God did not remake his creatures as easily as he made them. He made them by simply giving a command; he remade them by dying. He made them by commanding; he remade them by suffering.” [1]

The story of the creation of the world is dramatic, dramatic in its simplicity.  God created the whole universe in 7 days. God did not have to break a sweat.  Yet something went wrong along the way, humanity turned away from God. Early on, God created a flood to wash the world clean, to start afresh.  Yet being a merciful God, he provided an ark for a couple humans, and of course, the animals. And maybe that was where he went wrong, because the humans he spared managed to sin as soon as they got off the ark.  So God sent prophets, prophets to bring the people back to God, to show them the light.  That didn’t work either.

            Then God tried something crazy, so crazy it just had to work. He came down himself, in the form of the most vulnerable human of all, an infant. Imagine being in paradise, sitting on a mighty throne, then coming down to spend 9 months in a womb, and then 33 years in a world that struggled to accept him.  Jesus lived as a poor man amongst suffering people.   He lived with the knowledge that he would have to be crucified.  Then he died in the most agonizing way possible. 

Sometimes you have to wonder why God did not just start over again—wipe the slate clean and start a whole new world.  All he had to do was say the word.  You might think, well God already tried that with the flood. And then God promised not to do it again.  So that option is out. But let’s be real here. This is God we are talking about. God can do whatever he wants.  In fact, this time God could do it right, destroy the whole thing and start over again, just like in Genesis 1.  It only took him 7 days the first time, wouldn’t that be easier than 33 years? That is what I cannot wrap my head around.  Why take something that could have been so easy and make it long and painful?  “He made (us) by simply giving a command; he remade (us) by dying.  He made (us) by commanding; he remade (us) by suffering.”

Sometimes I’ll start a sermon and write almost the whole thing and then realize that I hate it.  Then I have 2 choices.  I can scrap it completely, or I can work with what I have and fix it.  There are a couple of times when I have taken that first option. Then I have started over and the next one turned out better.  However, most of the time I try to work with what I have. Part of it might be because I really hate the idea of starting over when I have already put in a good deal of time.  But the main reason is that I think what I have is redeemable. What I have written is worth saving.  I think that is what happens when you have something you have created.  You can always find some good in it.  Humanity is God’s creation, and no matter how far we wander, we are God’s.  Because of that, I believe that God always wants to find a way to redeem us, no matter how hard that is for him, no matter what kind of sacrifice he has to make.  God could have started all over again and done it all with a couple of words.  Instead, he took the one word that was hardest to lose, his very own son, God incarnate.  He took that all powerful word and gave It up to redeem his creation. 

[1] Sermon 1 on Christmas by Julian Vezalay: SC 192, 45.52.60