December 30, 2007
The Rev. Robert C. Granfeldt
|667 Mount Road, Aston, PA 19014 610-459-2013
|Small Parish - Big Heart - Inclusive
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There are a few of our members who are hearing the first 14 verses of this morning’s 18
three services on Christmas, and with two services on Christmas Eve, here at Calvary, we
read the third set on Christmas morning, every year: verses 1-14 of the First Chapter of the
Gospel according to St. John!
And every year, as I begin to read, the thought comes to me, once more, that one of the
great privileges of being an ordained person is that of reading this great Gospel to you at
Christmas – and I’m humbled by the privilege! It is, I believe, one of the most beautiful,
powerful documents in all the world’s literature!
As you are aware, there is a three year cycle to our lectionary, and in each of those three
years the bulk of our Gospel readings concentrate on one of the first three Gospels – those
that are called the “Synoptics” – rotating from year to year: Year A (just beginning): Matthew;
Year B: Mark; and Year C (just concluded): Luke.
That’s so we can develop some feel for each of the three by hearing them in their near
totality, and – especially during the “ordinary” or “green” seasons following the Epiphany
and Pentecost – fairly consecutively in their given year. It’s a good practice and a worthy
Unfortunately, we don’t do the same with the Fourth Gospel – the Gospel according to St.
John. His Gospel, rather, is heard piecemeal, spread here and there throughout the various
seasons of the whole three years. Why this is so, I have no clear idea, but it does seem to
me a shame. Differing greatly from the others, it includes much of interest that isn’t found in
them, and it presents all of what it contains from a point of view that’s very different from
the others. In fact it is difficult to speak much about the Gospels without recognizing that
John’s approach is much more theological in its intent and in its development than the
others. And the difference begins right here!
On Christmas Eve, I said that what we were celebrating that night was “a cosmic event!” So
it was. And so says John.
St Mark opens his Gospel with the mission of John the Baptist and the Baptism of Jesus.
Luke opens his story with the twin annunciations of the births of the Baptist and of Jesus to
Zechariah and Joseph, respectively. Matthew begins his with the angelic visit to Mary,
having first stepped back in time to establish Jesus’ place in Jewish history by citing his
lineage from Abraham through David to Joseph.
But John begins his tale even further back.
His tale begins just as the Scriptures, themselves begin, in the opening of the Book of
Genesis, with the same words: “In the beginning…”!
But he outdoes even Genesis. Because where “the beginning” of Genesis is the formless
void, John goes back even before that! Instead of, “In the beginning, when God began to
create the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the
face of the deep,” John tells us, simply: “In the beginning was the word!”
“In the beginning was the Word!”
Before the first act of creation, as the breath of God swept over the face of the deep; before
the darkness covered its face; before the formless void – in a cosmic timelessness outside
the realm of existence, itself: in the beginning was the word!
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God!”
John begins not in history, begins not even with the moment of creation, but in the eternity
of God’s “is-ness,” and in the eternal relationship of God with the Word – with that Word
who is, himself, the agent of creation, the means by which the Creator speaks all things into
being! In that speaking of God, in that Word, all that is – all that ever has been and all that
ever will be – comes into being; and in that Word is life, itself; life inherent in the very act of
creation – life shining as the very light of creation, itself, even as God spoke and said, “let
there be light!”
“And the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness
did not overcome it!”
Thus John introduces, at the very moment of creation, the eternal struggle: the struggle
that goes on, always, between being and nothingness – the nothingness of the primordial
chaos and the being that comes as the light of life in God’s creation. The darkness can
never overcome the Word – which is the Light of the world.
John opens his story – his announcement of the Gospel, the Good News – by setting before
us, here, the whole story of the Word in the world – the struggle of the world to resist the
Word; the struggle of the Light to overcome the darkness that threatens constantly to
overwhelm the world!
And, having set before us the cosmic scene and the eternal struggle, John makes the great
announcement that, to me, in the spare simplicity of his words, makes pale by comparison
any tale of angels in the sky: “And the word became flesh and lived among us.”
So John sets before us, at the outset, the whole story that he’s about to detail for us in the
written Gospel he presents: The word has come into the world – the world that he had
brought into being – yet the world did not recognize him. He came to his own people, but
even they didn’t know him, and didn’t accept him. But some did; some did accept him, and to
those who did accept him he gave the gift of new life: the power to be born, again, of God –
to be born again of the light of God!
No one, John reminds us, has ever seen God. But God has sent to us his only Son, to put on
our flesh and become one of us: and HE has made God known to us!
What beautiful words are these; how simple, yet how glorious! John outlines for us, in
beauty, the story he’s about to tell us – and then he tells us his story with that same beauty
and with great power in the Gospel story he wrote for us.
And what a shame we never do get to hear, in the context of our worship, this marvelous
So what I want to do this morning is make a suggestion for this quiet time that’s
approaching, as we move through the remainder of Christmas, into Epiphany – and, of
course, into January.
Set a project for yourself to read the Gospel according to John as the prelude to this year
that’s just beginning. Read it slowly, without rushing. Read it carefully and prayerfully. Listen
to John’s voice filling out the story he’s outlined in these first, few, glorious verses. Look at
John’s tale of the ministry, death and resurrection of the Christ – the Living Word Incarnate
– in the context of the cosmic setting John sets for us.
If you do that, I promise you, the story of the Good News of God in Christ – the story that you’
ve heard so many times, before – will never sound the same again.
In the Name of the One who came into the world for us, Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.