December 24, 2020 – Christmas Eve – Sermon by The Rt. Rev. Donald Phillips

   by Yanna Courtney

Let us bow our heads in prayer.  Gracious God, especially on this night, we give you thanks for your presence in this place and within each one of us.  Help us now to open our minds, our heats, our whole lives, to receive the gift of your living word for us this day, and may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen.

The Gospel you that you have just heard read is the first 14 verses of the Prologue of John’s Gospel, and it is one that many of us have heard many times on Christmas Eve or in the Lessons and Carols service.  When I thought back to all of my early recollections of hearing this Gospel, it always seemed to be the final reading of the Christmas service, and it always seemed to be read by the senior ordained ministry and in a deep, solemn, authoritative voice: [read in deep voice] “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  There was no sense of the lovely warmth or glow of the stable and manger scene from Luke’s Gospel.  But just by the way it was presented, even as a child, I knew that it must be a very important piece and very special.  Well, this night I am going to assume that we all know the story from Luke’s Gospel – shepherds, angels, manger – and we’ll rehearse that story well in the carols that we’ll sing to night.

But we need to immerse ourselves in John’s explanation of the coming of Jesus Christ, and especially its universal significance for all humankind.  The opening words are,“In the beginning was the Word”, in Greek the “word” is “Logos”, and when we hear those four words it immediately calls to mind, at least for many of us, the first verse of the first book of the Bible – Genesis – where we read also “In the beginning”, and then, “when God created.”  This event that we celebrate here tonight goes right back to the very beginning of the created order.  And besides, God speaks creation into being in Genesis Chapter 1.  God said, “Let there be light.”, and there was light!  God’s Word, God’s “Logos”, brings about the creation.

But what is this understanding of Logos, or this divine Word?  It’s really foreign to most of our modern ears.  It comes from ancient Greek philosophy, where Logos was portrayed as the universal reason – governing and permeating the world.  Now that definition is not so strange to 21st century ears.  In my experience many, if not most, people believe in some kind of underlying power or force in the universe – a ‘higher power’ of some sort – a guiding principle, even if they don’t really equate it with a personal God.  So this notion of the ‘Logos’ is universal for the whole world and for all humanity, and John teaches that in him the Logos, was life and that light was the light of all people.  John’s not referring merely to physical life, but rather to ‘illumination’ – the possibility of seeing and understanding ourselves, others, and the world, and our place in it – all from God’s perspective – all from this Word or Logos.  And even though this world is no longer as God intended it – John’s Gospel refers to that as ‘darkness’ – this Logos, this Light, still shined and could not be overcome by the darkness.

The Gospel writer then briefly describes John the Baptist, whose role was to point toward the one who was coming.  But then he continues, “the Logos comes into the world that he, the Logos, actually created, but the world did not know him.  It had become separated from its Creator.  The Logos comes to the humanity that he had formed, but the humanity – us – by and large did not accept or receive him.  We, too, have become separated from our Creator.  But now, the Good News John writes, “But to all who received him, (the Logos) who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God.”  To ‘receive’ someone is to give them ‘place’ – to incorporate them into our life and into our being.  And the primary way in which they received this Word of God was to believe in his name – that he really is Son of God, Messiah, Saviour.  And as a result they receive power to become children of God, to become who they were created to be, to receive this illumination – the ability to see and understand God’s reality – to see everything and everyone in creation as God intends it to be.  John’s Gospel is emphatic on this point.  He refers to those who were “born not of blood, or of the will of the flesh, or of the will of man, but of God!  This is something that God does with us, and it doesn’t take away our true nature.  Rather, it gives our true nature to us.

So how does this ‘illumination’ happen?  How has the universal principle of creation, this Logos, come to be with us, to be received by us, and to empower us to become God’s children?  John explains, “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory – the glory of a father’s only son full of grace and truth.”  This statement about the Word becoming flesh would have ‘slain’ the logos philosophers of the ancient times.  It would have left them speechless!  The Logos was almost the antithesis of the material world.  The idea of the Logos, Word, becoming a human being would have been unthinkable.  But yes – because God, the Logos, created us and has never stopped caring for us, and yearns to restore in us the light of life.  So John confidently writes, “And we have seen his glory.”  Even that statement is unbelievable.  According to the Old Testament, no one can see God’s glory and live.  Even Elijah could not.

This is the Gospel.  This is the Good News for today’s secular world, because this understanding, this invitation, comes from beyond the frame of our human reason.  Why can we not just ‘think’ our way, or ‘reason’ our way into living as we are intended to – free of wars, free of poverty, free of injustice?  Because we are not illuminated by the Light of life.  What do we need to be doing?  We need to receive the Word made flesh, and believe in his name – believe that Word reveals the living God to you, and reveals who you are to God, and to the rest of God’s creation. 

Can we completely, rationally, understand this?  No! Because we are not God!  But the purpose of the risen Christ is to lead us into living our lives and caring for God’s creation as we are created to do.  This needs to be taught to us, just as we need to teach our earthly children.  They don’t suddenly become mature, loving adults.  They learn and grow into this identity by following examples of good role models, and by experiencing and learning from life.

Tonight we celebrate the coming of the Logos – the Word made flesh – in the birth of Jesus Christ.  We tell the story in prayer and praise.  We recall stables, mangers, shepherds, angels, Mary and Joseph, and a newborn baby.  And we rejoice because we know that we have been given the power to become children of God – forever!