The Grammar of Good News
The Rev. Jennifer L. Adams- December 27, 2015
Christmas 1, Year C: John 1: 1-18
Well the gospel we just heard is almost completely different than what we’ve been hearing over the past few weeks, at least in terms of style. Through Advent we heard from the gospel of Luke about John the Baptist out there in the wilderness preparing the way; we heard about Elizabeth and Zechariah and Mary’s visit to their home. We heard Mary sing the Magnificat and on Christmas Eve we heard of shepherds and sheep and angels hovering around as Christ was born in Bethlehem. Until now we’ve been hearing the gospel as a story about people and towns, prophets and places, travels and actual, historical times, rulers and a very human, holy birth.
But today the language changes pretty dramatically as we hear from the gospel of John. Instead of a narrative, we get what begins as beautiful, holy poetry: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. What came into being through 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.” No shepherds. No Mary and Joseph. No angels or census or inns. Just a beautiful song about Jesus and God. A poetic telling of who Christ was and why he was sent into the world.
And as we hear the proclamation this way, it gives us a different sort of opportunity to embrace the good news of Christmas. This time it’s not a story to remember or enter into; we’re simply invited to be present to the wonder of it all, the light of it all, to be present to the holy mystery that is incarnation in a way that poetry can pull off in incredibly beautiful ways. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us full of Grace and truth,” John says. And the reason for all of it is there too – “Because God so loved the world,” John tells us a few verses later.
Now what I love about this telling is that the enormity of what happened on Christmas is obvious. John, while poetically beautiful is also theologically blatant. In the narrative we heard Christmas Eve we can tell that this whole thing is big because there were angels, and the shepherds dropped everything to go to Bethlehem, and the wise men came from afar. But in John, the actual theology of it all is spelled out pretty clearly: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” In other words, the very essence of God came here into this world. . .as God and as one of us. If you missed that on Christmas Eve, no excuses today.
Which all means that among other things, in Christ, God expanded the language that would be used to proclaim holiness. God expanded God’s very self from being “above” and “beyond” to being “with” and “among.”
Which at first can sound like a minor expansion of prepositions. Something that only preachers and academic theologians might care about. But think about what that shift meant, what that shift means. Up to the point of Christ’s birth, God was above and beyond and still is. God was and is transcendent we’ll say, bigger than all of this, able to hold all of this and provide something more than all of this in an eternal and “beyond” sort of way.
But then God added “with”, “as” and “among” to the divine repertoire, choosing to be present to all of this, all of us, all of them whoever them happens to be. God chose to be vulnerable, in skin, offering life, risking death, actually here “among” to show us a way, a way that speaks of mercy, forgiveness and love.
On Christmas, God decided to expand God’s very self, remaining transcendent, becoming incarnate. And sometimes we hear that in story, and sometimes we hear that as a poem. Sometimes we know that in prayer. Sometimes we experience that in touch. Sometimes we celebrate that in song. Sometimes we receive that in bread. We receive that in life. We receive that in death.
And so no matter how we experience the gospel the reason for God’s proclamation is always the same. “God so loved this world.” God so loved the world that he made it. God so loved this world that he was born into it. God so loved this world that she will redeem it and bring us all into something new.
And so what we can do this First Sunday of Christmas is make sure that our language matches God’s this season. We can integrate some more “among” and “with” into our language of faith, our language of life. We can be among and with the least and the lost, the broken, the outcasts, those who have yet to experience the good news in ways that are good news – mercy, forgiveness, love.
May the stories and poetry of our lives speak something of this Word to the world.