Words are not Weapons: Dec. 31, 20023

December 31, 2023

 Year B, Christmas 1                                 John 1:1-18 

the first church I served, Christmas Eve featured the traditional gospel
reading from Luke 2 which includes the story of Jesus’ birth with Mary, Joseph,
the shepherds and the angels.
  You all
know that one, right?
 On Christmas Day,
we would have this reading we heard today from the Gospel of John.
  We had about 12 people who attended that
worship and that is when the assistant (me) would preach.
   Eventually I grew to love the Christmas Day
service and preaching John 1.
my first year I made the rookie mistake of trying to really understand this
text from John 1 and make sure all 12 people in attendance also understood John
  I never tried to do that again.

reading from John seems a peculiar text for Christmas day because not only does
it not mention the birth of Jesus, it doesn’t mention the name of Jesus.  But it is indeed talking about Jesus. The
Greek word that is translated as word is Logos. 
The understanding of Logos predates the birth of Jesus by about 500
years. Greeks came to understand Logos as the reason, the mind of God.  Logos created the order of things.  

John’s Gospel was
directed to the Gentiles, the Greeks.  He
was trying to describe Jesus using language that they knew.  They had little understanding of the
Messiah.  Most of them were not familiar
with the Hebrew Scriptures.  But they did
believe in reason, the mind of God. John was saying that Jesus brought us the
mind of God on earth.  Other Gospels use
the birth of Jesus to make God tangible and comprehensible.  John uses reason and logic.

maybe instead of focusing on logos (as I did in that very first Christmas
sermon many  years ago) we should just
stick with the English word for a few minutes. 
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word
was God.” From the very beginning of time, God’s most ardent desire has been to
communicate with humanity.  Obviously
there are a lot of ways to communicate, but the heart of communication is
words.  So the author of John wanted us
all to know that bringing Jesus down to earth was another way for God to
communicate with God’s people. 

And what was God trying
to communicate?  The most obvious answer
is love, but it was more than that.   God
also communicated laws and rules—things we don’t like to talk much about in
the Episcopal Church.  But these laws and
teachings were meant to help humans live together in peace.  And I think we can all agree we could use
more of that.

the Hebrew Scriptures, God communicated through the prophets.  In the Gospel of John we are reminded of
Moses passing on the law of God—the 10 Commandments.  Communicating through the prophets was
effective at times, but also frustrating. God knew that this method of
communicating through the prophets was missing something.  God was always willing to try new things, new
ways of communicating with his people.  God is relentless in his desire to communicate
with us.

            There is 500 years between the last
book of the Hebrew scriptures and the beginning of the New Testament.  And while every pastor will remind you that
God’s time is not like our time, I like to imagine God up there (wherever there
is) ruminating and wondering…how to connect with God’s people.  If not through prophets or floods, then what?
So he came up with the wild idea of sending God in the form of a baby.

the word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory
as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” Now back to the Greek for
a moment—if you were to look at the original Greek, a better translation for
that phrase “and God became flesh and lived among us” might be: “God pitched
his tent among us.”

a week ago we heard the story of King David wanting to build a great temple for
the ark of God, because the ark was just set up in a tent.  God said, “No thank you, I am good with my
tent.”  You see, God didn’t like to be
confined.  He wanted to be on the move.   Eventually they did build God a great temple,
but it seems that God was just desperate to be with the people….because that
was the best way to know them and be known by them.  Thus God was born as a vulnerable baby, to a
girl, so that he could not merely be among the people, he would be a
person.  There would be no intermediary
between God and God’s people.  There
would be God in the flesh, living with and among the people of God. That was
God’s crazy, brilliant and divinely human plan.

the cynical part of me wonders sometimes what that accomplished. Christianity
spread across the globe and God’s word was shared in almost every place we can
imagine.  But sometimes I wonder if God
is up there scratching his head thinking, I might just need to try something

hard to talk about the birth of Christ—the miraculous and wondrous birth of
Christ— without looking at what is happening in the Holy Land right now.  A land that Christians deem holy because of
Jesus’ birth, death and resurrection. 
That Holy Land, that land touched by God in the flesh— has never known
peace.  And right now, the devastation is

One of the terrifying
things is that people who are removed from the situation can’t even find ways
to talk about it without getting angry or hopeless.  Jesus was and is the “word” made flesh and yet
we Christians are so often incapable of using our own words to bridge
divides.  We hurl words across our fields
of battle and just wait for them to explode on the other side.   Words
are not weapons.  John described Jesus as
the word for a reason….because words used well, used wisely, can bridge
divides.  Communication that is well
intentioned, humble and honest can transform a situation.  Yet we have come to a place in the culture of
our nation and world when we fear words almost as much as we fear violence.   

As a preacher, I am
obviously biased because I have been taught that when we are open to God’s
wisdom—that words spoken from a place of humility and some degree of
knowledge can make a difference.  Yet
what I have to be reminded as a preacher is that it’s not just saying the
words, it’s also listening to the words and voices of others. 

I can’t be sure, but I
wonder if the reason that there is 500 years between the end of the Old
Testament and the beginning of the New Testament, is because God was busy
listening and what God heard was the need for the word transformed into
something that could be felt and touched. 
God in the flesh who could listen as well as he could speak… and learn
even as he taught. 

Let us never cease to
be moved by the images of Jesus being born in a manger surrounded by farm
animals.  May those images warm our
hearts and charge our imaginations.  But
may we also be transformed by John’s reminder that God came in the form of a
human to communicate and relate—to provide us with an example that could be
emulated so that instead of hurling words at one another like grenades in a
battle, we learn to listen, even as we disagree.  It’s been 2000 years and I wish that God
would come down and straighten us out. I also know that Jesus gave us a voices
to use, ears to listen and minds to discern. 
It is up to us to use our voices, ears and minds to embody the
words—the word that has been given to us—Jesus the Christ.