Sermon Given at the Sung Eucharist on the Second Sunday of Christmas 2015
The Reverend Tony Kyriakides Chaplain
Sunday, 4th January 2015 at 11.15 AM
The Reverend Tony Kyriakides, Chaplain
One day in the Garden of Eden, Eve called out to God, 'God, I have a problem! I know you created me and provided this beautiful garden but I'm just not happy.' 'Why is that, Eve?' came the reply.
'God, I am lonely.'
'Well, Eve, in that case, I have the perfect answer. I shall create a man for you.'
'What's a man?'
God replied: 'Man will be a flawed creature. Although I'll create him in such a way that he will satisfy your physical needs, he will be witless and will do childish things like fighting and kicking a ball. He will give you a hard time and won't be that smart, so he'll need you to do the thinking for him. But I'll do this only on one condition: because he'll be proud, arrogant, and self-admiring, you'll have to let him believe that I made him first.
And then God added, 'just remember, it's got to be our secret: you know, woman to woman.'
In the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible, there are several different accounts of creation and they don't all agree. There are two in Genesis, as well as further creation narratives in Job (chapter 38), in the Psalms (74 and 104), and in Proverbs (chapter 8). That last one, in the book of Proverbs, has particular relevance to our understanding of this morning's gospel reading, for there we find reference to Lady Wisdom, an enigmatic and ambivalent figure: Enigmatic and ambivalent because it much depends on the translation given to one Hebrew word. Evidence from elsewhere in the Hebrew bible would suggest that Lady Wisdom actively participates in the design and construction of the world as the 'fashioner of all things' (Wisdom of Solomon 7:1). Alternatively, what some scholars translate as the 'master worker' (Proverbs 8:30) may mean little child, giving us the image of Lady Wisdom playing at her father's feet, bringing him pleasure and then making the world her playground. Whatever, one thing does seem certain: Lady Wisdom is the link between heaven and earth.
Perhaps it is not surprising, then, that the author of John's gospel associates Jesus with Lady Wisdom. Just as Lady Wisdom is often rejected because fools hate knowledge and humans, for the most part, would rather flounder in ignorance, in John's gospel there is heavy irony about who 'knows' what and what really counts as saving knowledge. Typical is the episode where Jesus addresses the scepticism of the Jewish crowd and says: Anyone who resolves to do the will of God will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own (John 7:17). In the Prologue, the first fourteen verses of John's opening chapter, we should not be surprised to learn that 'the Word', which could read 'Lady Wisdom' and most definitely does 'read' Jesus, came to his own and his own did not receive him. And how did he come?
'The Word became flesh'. With these words we are presented with the second Christmas story: no mention of Zechariah and Elizabeth, Mary and Joseph, the babe in the manger, the shepherds, the angels, the three wise men but a second Christmas account nonetheless. John's Christmas story may not be easy to grasp because it is couched in abstract, philosophical language but what John does clearly argue is this: that in the birth of Jesus, God became flesh and in shining his light in darkness mirrors the creation of the heavens and the earth. Do you remember those first words from the book of Genesis? 'In the beginning': words which John repeats in the introduction to his gospel. In Genesis we have God creating the heavens and the earth which John paraphrases as 'the Word was with God and the Word was God... all things came into being through him'. In Genesis, God perceives the earth as a formless void and darkness covering the face of the deep, and decides that there will be light'. For John, it is the Word which is light and now shines in the darkness, a light no darkness can overwhelm.
This Word, having become flesh, now (according to John) lives among us. There are many Greek words which John could have used to describe the Word as 'living' among us, but he chooses a word which has resonance: 'living' in the sense of spreading a tent. The Word dwelt as a tent just like that tabernacle where God was present during the desert-wandering of the Exodus people. Later, prophets would envisage God once again pitching his tent among his people (Ezekiel 37:27; Joel 3:17; Zech. 2:10), a prophecy which is realised in Jesus, for it is in Jesus that God pitches his tent among his people. In the mind, body and spirit of Jesus Christ, God has pitched his tent. If you want to find God that is where God lives.
Genesis and the creation account is ever-present in John's gospel not just in the prologue. In healing the blind man (chapter 9), Jesus takes dirt and adds to it his own saliva before using it to anoint the man's eyes: which calls to mind God creating the first person using earth. Again, think of that scene, after the resurrection, when in the Garden, Mary Magdalene encounters Jesus. She mistakes him for the Gardener, not a gardener but the Gardener. It is an encounter which recalls and reframes events which took place in that original garden. What John does is litter his gospel with signposts (much like the star was a signpost for the shepherds and the wise men), signposting the way of the new creation, the way back to what God originally intended: people who know and live in the truth and who protest at anything which disfigures God's creation.
John's prologue cuts to the quick giving us the essence of the Christmas story.
Unfortunately, it does not have the seductive appeal of those Christmas accounts we find in Matthew and Luke's gospel. Seductive because, in our day and age, many have colluded in anaesthetising the radical truth of the incarnation which has far-reaching implications for the decisions and choices we make in our lives for:
When the song of the angel is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings have returned home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among sisters and brothers
And to discover music in the heart. (Howard Thurman)
This Christmas the question, for you and I, is simply this: are we going to be signposted or seduced?