Saturday, December 26, 2009

In The Beginning

Christmas 1            John 1:1-14            December 27, 2009            The Rev. Benton Quest

“In the beginning was the Word.”
In the beginning was Jesus.  Before anything was, Jesus was with the Father.
When I think about these words in John, I am always bowled over by their magnitude.  “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 come into being.”  The reading starts with this image of Jesus as the creator of the universe.  We start with Jesus as beyond comprehension.
But then we shift our focus from the universal to a little tiny baby.  This baby, this little tiny baby that we find in the manger is the Word John was speaking about.  This vulnerable little person is the one who was with God in the beginning and through whom all things came into being.  A vulnerable baby, weak and newborn.  A vulnerable baby, susceptible to the damp and chill.  A vulnerable baby; but also the creator of the universe.
I find it telling that Jesus came to us in the form of a baby.  We would have expected Jesus to come to us in a form that displays his power and might.  We would have expected Jesus to come to us in a form that would put fear into our hearts and cause us to run in fear.  We would expect Jesus to come in a way that would let us know, once and for all, who was God around here.  But that is not how he arrived in the world.  When Jesus came into the world, he came as a small, vulnerable, baby.
But why come as a baby?  Why not come as a great warrior?  Isn’t that what we would like?  We want our messiah to be one who is strong and mighty, don’t we?  This is also what the Jewish people of Biblical times were looking for.  They were expecting a strong warrior to come and take over.  They were expecting a warrior to crush their foe.  But Jesus didn’t come as a strong warrior; Jesus came as a small, vulnerable baby.
If Jesus had come as a strong warrior, it would have said the wrong thing to the world.  The strong warrior would have told the world that they had better believe – or else.  If the people didn’t believe, they would be crushed by this great warrior.  If they didn’t believe, then they would be forced to at least act like they believed.
But let’s think about it: Is faith by force really faith at all?  If we profess something because we are afraid not to profess it, are we really invested in the profession?  For example, if we tell the school-yard bully that he is the greatest to avoid getting punched in the mouth, do we really believe the bully is the greatest?  Obviously not.  Well, in a similar vein, if we only come to belief to avoid getting attacked by the strong warrior, then that would be a rather shallow belief, indeed.
We see this interplay between the strong warrior and the vulnerable warrior all throughout history.  Throughout history, the dictators and czars would rule by fear and intimidation.  Those who follow these rulers do not do it because they care about them and love them.  No, people who follow dictators and czars do so because they are afraid of being killed or tortured.  Now the followers of kind and gentile rulers are loyal because they love, care and respect the ruler.  The followers remain true to these rulers because these rulers instill love over fear.
Now we should not think of this vulnerable warrior as weak.  Actually, quite the opposite is true.  This warrior can appear vulnerable because this warrior does not doubt his strength.  He does not need to make a show of force to get others to believe.  The vulnerable warrior can be humble because he knows the battle has already been won.
Jesus could give his life in our place because he had a deeper understand than that found in the world.  As Jesus was with God when all that is was created, he knew the deeper truth that was not apparent to the world.   Jesus, as the second person of the trinity, knew that death could not overcome him.  The son knew that although he may appear defeated, that he would in fact emerge victorious.
In coming to us as a vulnerable child, Jesus is in effect telling us to relax.  We can relax because the end is already assured.  We can relax because our warrior, our savior, knows he will succeed.  We can relax because even though it may look like they have destroyed our savior, there is a deeper understanding at work.
It may seem odd to talk about Jesus dying here on Christmas.  We are supposed to be talking about the wonder of the babe in Bethlehem.  But Jesus’ birth at Christmas points us to Easter.  If Jesus did not die for our sins, then why should he come?  We have plenty of teachers who could teach us how to be “good people.”  We have leaders of faith traditions that could teach us how to be moral.  People have created gods that could scare us into submission.  Even Santa is used to scare children into submission.  But it is through Jesus’ death and resurrection that we find our life.  It is through Jesus submitting to the ultimate humiliation that we see and reap the benefits of his ultimate strength.  It is because Jesus came to live among us, or as another translation of the Greek would put it, pitched his tent among us, that we can reap the benefit of his strength.
Jesus came to be among us.  Jesus was born into our world.  Jesus came as a vulnerable baby to help us to realize the ultimate power he has.  Jesus submitted to the ultimate humiliation to bring us to the fullness of life.
This is the life we celebrate as Christians.  This is the life that we honor.  This is the life we look to as our loving protector and friend.  This is the life we lift up, not because we are afraid, but lift up because we are loved. 
In the beginning was the Word.
In the beginning was Jesus.  Before anything was, Jesus was with the Father.  Before anything was, our redemption was secure.  This is what we celebrate during Christmas and what we celebrate everyday!

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