Richard Maxwell

1 Christmas A
29 December 2013
Grace Episcopal Church

In the Name of God:  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

ďIn the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.Ē  Such familiar, beautiful words . . . the opening of the Gospel according to John.  These first 18 verses of the Gospel are actually a hymn . . . interrupted a couple of times with some words about John the Baptist . . . but these verses are nevertheless a song of praise dating from the very earliest days of the church.

ďIn the beginning was the Word.Ē . . .  The opening of this poem . . . this love song . . . is so well known to us.  We understand it Ė as we should Ė to be talking about God and Christ.  But if you read the whole poem (leaving out the bits about John) youíll see that the point of this hymn is NOT to describe God, or Jesus . . . rather, the point of this poem is to describe the relationship between God and humanity.

In the beginning was the Word.  And what happened?  Creation!  All things came into being.  All that is created is intimately related to the Word, for it was created through the Word.  God gave of Godís self and the world appeared.  Creation, then, is an act of revelation.  The Word reveals the truth of God through creation.  And thereís more . . . all of creation was created not only through the Word, but IN the Word . . . IN God . . . and so creation IS revelation.  All creation bears the stamp of Godís Word.  In other words, we can say that God is recognizable to us Ė that God can be found Ė in all of Godís creatures.

Through the Word, God has given us life . . . the life that is the light of all people.  The beginning of this hymn that opens the Gospel of John parallels the beginning of the Book of Genesis.  They each are telling different aspects of the same story.  The theme of this story is the gift of life . . . but Genesis is talking about natural life, while this hymn in the Gospel of John is talking about eternal life.  In Johnís Gospel, the claim is being made that the ESPECIAL gift of the Word to humanity is the gift of eternal life.

We all know the story of the fall of Adam and Eve.  The story of the serpent trying to overthrow Godís creation . . . the story of the attempt of darkness to overcome the light.  This hymn reminds us that the light shines on Ė the possibility for eternal life remains Ė even though we sin.  Hope is given to us.  For God continues to give Godís self to us:  Jesus Ė the Word Ė came into the world finally to defeat the darkness.

He was in the world,

and the world was made by him;

yet the world did not recognize him.

To his own he came;

yet his own people did not accept him.

But all those who did accept him

he empowered to become Godís children.

Here we have a summary of the ministry of Jesus . . . a summary of the Gospel story.  By God giving Godís self to us Ė through the Word made flesh Ė we are empowered to become Godís children.  The Word, Jesus Christ, defeats the darkness.

Remember I said that the point of this hymn is to describe the relationship of God and humanity?  According to this poem, the story of the world is the story of Godís continual self-giving . . . first came creation . . . through and in God.  Then when we humans strayed . . . we turned our backs on the evidence of Godís love which surrounds us . . . there was no other option left to save us . . . God gave Godís very self to us in human form:  Jesus.  And even then the world did not fully accept Godís gift.  Godís relationship with humanity is, on the one hand, the story of God continually Ė constantly Ė giving Godís self to us, of Godís steadfast love for us . . . and, on the other hand, the story of our meager response, of our inability to accept Godís love and give ourselves to God.

Several years ago one of my Christmas presents was tickets to see the Broadway revival of the play Frankie and Johnny in the Claire de Lune.  Some of you may know of the play . . . itís a favorite of mine.  For those of you who donít know it, itís a seemingly simple story.  Two lonely, middle-aged people Ė a short order cook and a waitress Ė spend the night together.  They work together and theyíve been checking each other out for a while . . . this, their first date, has ended with them going to bed together.  And this is where the play begins.  Now, the waitress Frankie would like the cook to leave her apartment, but the cook is determined to stay.

You see, heís decided that sheís the one . . . the one heís going to marry . . . the one heís going to have children with . . . the one heíll stay with forever.  Heís relentless:  sometimes comic in his effort to convince her that theyíre perfect for each other, sometimes frightening in his single-minded determination.  She fears thatís heís a real nut.  And so the play goes.

I saw the original production of this play many years ago, and both times Iíve seen it, Iíve been moved to tears.  You see, the waitress has trouble believing that sheís lovable . . . she has trouble accepting the cookís love.  And that strikes a chord with me.  Havenít we all had moments when weíve doubted that weíre lovable?  Havenít we all had times when weíve doubted that someone could really love us?  Maybe especially God?

The cook, Johnny, does everything he can think of to break through the waitressí armor, but she resists.  Finally, almost desperate in her effort to get rid of him, Frankie shows Johnny her scars . . . both physical and emotional.  Finally she shows him what she thinks is the ugliest, most unlovable part of herself . . . she lets him see her shame.  Only then, when she is at her most vulnerable, and he does not turn away, does she begin to believe that perhaps he does love her . . . that perhaps she is lovable.

Not everyone will agree with my interpretation of this play . . . what Iíve just described may or may not have been the playwrightís intention . . . but thatís the way I see it.  And it tells us a lot about our relationships . . . not just with each other . . . but with God.

Like I said . . . we all have times when we doubt that God could really love us.  Itís almost funny . . . God is all around us . . . constantly bombarding us with love . . . and we usually deny the truth of this.  Like the waitress to the cook, we say to God:  ďWhatís wrong with you?  Are you some kind of nut?  You donít KNOW me!  If you knew me . . . well, you wouldnít act like such a love crazed jerk!Ē

Thatís God . . . a determined, relentless, love crazed nut.  Sometimes comic, sometimes terrifying . . . bombarding us with love.  And itís not until we show God our scars . . . our hurts AND our ugliest qualities . . . itís not until we lay it all out before God, throwing a spotlight onto our darkest, dirtiest corners . . . not until then, not until we show God our shame, will we truly know Godís love for us.  For as we stand before God, naked and oh so vulnerable, we will be embraced by an unimaginable love that brings with it forgiveness and acceptance.

And the Word became flesh

and made his dwelling among us. . . .

And of his fullness

we have all had a share Ė

love in place of love.

Grace upon grace.

God dwells among us . . . loving us . . . yearning for us to accept the gift of love . . . eager for us to enter his embrace.

Amen.

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