Sunday, December 22, 2013

Speaking Love--a sermon for 22 December (NL4-16)

Rev. Teri Peterson
Speaking Love
John 1.1-18
22 December 2013, Advent 4, NL 4-16

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. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
 And 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. (John testified to him and cried out, ‘This was he of whom I said, “He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.” ’) From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.

I think my favorite part of the Live Nativity on Friday night was watching children as they realized that Kelijah the Camel was real and alive, not just a prop. It’s not every day that we get to be up close and personal with such a large exotic animal, and Kelijah played his part very well. He was gorgeous and friendly, posed for pictures and endured our squeals, whispers, giggles, and awe. And most of all, he was real.

There’s lots in our world that isn’t real. We’re used to photoshopped people and food grown in a lab. We’re used to being marketed to and we’ve learned to see through many of the messages and images that bombard us every day. Even reality TV isn’t real, and we know it. So to see something so amazing as a real live camel, in the flesh, and not just behind a fence at the zoo, is an incredible opportunity. It’s a reminder to us all that there’s something about in-the-flesh reality that still matters, even in our technological age.

And the word became flesh and lived among us.

Not just a god far away, pulling strings and pushing buttons, sending hardship to some while smoothing the path for others, this god is the real deal. God is not content to stay in heaven, looking down and laughing or crying at the things we do. God does not want to be just another photoshopped advertisement or domesticated idea—God comes to earth, in the flesh, and is real. Walking, talking, moving, eating, drinking, laughing, crying, real.

John says “and we have seen his glory”—which I interpret as oohing and aahing, squealing and gasping like children seeing just how big a camel really is, up close and personal. No one has ever seen God…except that we have, because the Word made flesh is God, visible and available and living right here, on earth, with us. Living a human life, struggling human struggles, walking the same ground and breathing the same air and drinking the same water.

Imagine how much God must care for the earth and all its people, to take up residence right here, in a frail human body in the midst of a fragile ecosystem. I mean, God could always just make a new planet and call a new people. God has the creative power to start over. God has the destructive power to start over, too. Yet God has promised not to destroy again, but rather to make a new heaven and a new earth in the most incredible way: by walking around on the old one and teaching and healing and reconciling until it’s like new. That’s an incredible commitment to physicality, there—a commitment to the human body as a temple of the Holy Spirit, a commitment to life, a commitment to the creation in all its glory and messiness and confusion and wonder. God is invested in the world—for God so loved the world that he came to walk on it and live in it and save it—the whole shebang.

These verses at the beginning of the gospel according to John are often called The Prologue—they are like an overture in a musical. Actually all the Christmas stories are like this— just as we hear all the major tunes in the overture, the prologue and the birth stories give us the themes, in little snippets and hints, of what the rest of the show will be like. While John doesn’t give us shepherds or wise men, he does give us a hint of what’s to come, and it’s perfect as we think about how God is preparing us, and preparing the world, for the coming of Christ:

In the beginning was the Word, and all things came into being through him, and the Word was life and light of all people.

Last week at the potluck I asked what that word might have been, and the first answer was Love. By speaking Love, God brought the world into being, and Love was the life and light of all people.

Since we know from elsewhere in scripture that God Is Love, this seems like a good word to be the root of all things.

How might we be changed if the word at the center of this busy season was Love?

How might the world be different if the word behind everything we said was Love?

What would our lives look like if the root of every action, at the mall, at work, at home, at school, at church, and everywhere in between, was Love?

This is the part where normally I’d offer some suggestions. But I think one of the things that would be different is that Love would speak in each of our own heart languages, our own life choices, and outside all our different sized comfort zones. So today I invite you to think outside the box about how God’s word of Love is preparing you for the next step on the journey—because I can’t think it for you, or pray it for you, or be open to it for you, or follow the call for you. I can only ask the question:

What if God is preparing the world by insisting on love, by speaking love—even to us, and even to them? What if God is preparing us by shining the kind of light that only love can bring? Last night was the longest night of the year—are we willing to step into the light? Or will we continue to believe that love is just a nice feeling and some things and some people aren’t worthy of it?

Because here’s the thing: this Word become flesh, this Love made visible and tangible, is not about a feeling. It’s not all warm-fuzzies-baby-in-a-manger. That baby grows up and will say things we don’t really want to hear. The Christ child grows up to turn everything upside down, and that turning is what will reveal God right here in our midst. This overture gives us a hint, but when we dig into John’s gospel in the coming months we will find that God-with-us will shine light in places we’d rather keep dark, and will speak truth we find uncomfortable, and will behave in ways that are contrary to everything we thought we knew. The Word won’t stay in the manger. The Word became a human being, and will refuse to be a prop in our play—this is God the real thing. This love will demand things of us, because God refuses to be just words on a page, just ideas in a sermon, just in our heads. Word made flesh means that the Word also takes up residence in our flesh—no more can we simply believe things about God, because will not be trapped in thoughts. God is in a body, and in our bodies, and this fleshy word changes everything.

And let’s not forget that we are created in the image of God, so we also have the power to speak and create. Our words can bring light and life, or they can bring darkness and pain. We can testify to Love, or we can remain silent and complicit in a world of dark indifference. The Spirit can speak through our voices, or we can insist on sticking to our own script. We have the power to become children of God—to use our words to shine God’s light, to allow the fullness of grace to overflow through us.

With that power of speech comes great responsibility—to use that power for good, to ensure that every word and every action is Love. Not everyone will choose that way, for some prefer the darkness, but this is how we know a disciple of Jesus: Love. This is how God is made known—through the Word, speaking all things into being, making God visible, Love taking on flesh and living with us. And we are the body of Christ.

May it be so.


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