First Sunday after Christmas
Isaiah 61:10-62:3; Psalm 147
Galatians 3:23-25; 4:4-7; John 1:1-18
Journey into the Heart of God
In today’s Gospel we are presented with a very different Nativity story than we had last Tuesday and Wednesday. Gone are the shepherds and angels, manger and faithful animals, and the star shining in the night. Those familiar stories told by the other Gospels and retold in today’s hymns; those images that awaken our imagination and tell of the birth of the savior of the world in language that is simple and clear. Wonderful stories that are completely true even if things may not have happened quite that way.
No, today we are presented with the lyrical but stark poetry of the prologue to the Gospel of John which harkens back into Genesis to issue an invitation into the heart of God. “In the beginning was the word”. The Greek word used here is Logos, usually translated as Word, but that translation is so inadequate that some authors recommend not translating it at all.
John Sanford defines Logos as “that expression of God’s inmost nature which poured forth to create and be immanent in the world, giving the world order and expression, and which was most closely to be experienced within the human soul.”
J.B. Phillips simply puts it this way—“In the beginning God expressed himself”.
The Message Bible renders the first verses in this way:
Before time itself was measured, the Voice was speaking.
The Voice was and is God.
This celestial word remained ever present with the Creator;
His speech shaped the entire Cosmos.
Immersed in the practice of creating, all things that exist were birthed in Him.
His breath filled all things
with a living, breathing light—
A light that thrives in the depths of darkness,
blazes through murky bottoms.
It cannot and will not be quenched.
Madeleine L’Engle puts it this way: “Was there a moment, known only to God, when all the stars held their breath, when the galaxies paused in their dance for a fraction of a second, and the Word, who had called it all into being, went with all his love into the womb of a young girl, and the universe started to breathe again and the ancient harmonies resumed their song and the angels clapped their hands for joy?”
The Word, the Voice, the expression of God, became flesh. Ultimate Mystery born with a skull you could crush with one hand.
It is not tame. It is not touching and sentimental. It is unthinkable darkness riven with unbearable light.
The infinite meeting and filling the finite, shattering all being with love and light unimaginable.
We yearn for this light and love. We have had glimpses of it in the past, or we wouldn’t be here now, on a foggy and cold Oregon morning. At some level inside of ourselves, we search for the inner love and light promised by this prologue. And if we read it right, the Gospel of John can tell us how to reach it.
Several recent scholarly books have convinced me that the Gospel of John was never meant to be a telling of the life and sayings of Jesus, but instead is a road map into the experience of God based on Jewish mysticism. Read any other way, the gospel is just plain weird, but read this way it all makes sense. From the prologue, to the mysterious and symbolic characters like Nichodemus and the woman at the well, to the I am sayings to the farewell discourses, the language of John changes from an emphasis on believing to an emphasis on knowing—the realm of the mystic. John is not calling us to orthodox belief, but to a new consciousness.
But the road from believing to knowing from our own internal experience can be harrowing. We must give up everything to find it, not only our outer possession, but our inner ones as well—our thoughts, attitudes, our wanting to be right, and even our beliefs. It can be disorienting and we can feel very lost and alone, but it is what it means to die to self.
So mostly we try to tame it. Like the Texas legislator who objected to making schools bilingual by asserting that if English was good enough for Jesus, it was good enough for him, we make the unfathomable mystery into creeds, beliefs, and sentimental stories. We create walls of words, logic and reason to protect ourselves from that wonder and love even as we search for it. We wander in the darkness, wishing for the light that fills our being and which is closer to us that we are to ourselves.
I have found that words will not lead us to the divine light, but the Word, the Voice, will if we can learn to listen. But we must forsake reason, logic, and even thought. When we travel in the space outside of us, we use our GPS; we look at maps, follow street directions, and generally use our thinking mind. Our inner GPS—what Cynthia Bourgeault calls our God Positioning System—is very different. In this system, the thinking mind actually gets in the way. This is not to demean our thinking mind. It’s only to say that, unless trained like a bird dog to heel in the presence of love and mystery, it lunges forth barking and snuffling, scaring off those very real and out of the ordinary experiences that only the heart could have hoped to embrace.
No, this inner GPS requires, not thinking or reliance on outer authority like maps, directions, and authority, but instead a state of being very present and still within. This inner GPS is located in our hearts and responds only to the scent of connection and wholeness that is love. I know if I am quiet enough and still enough and open enough, I can begin to feel the energy of the divine presence in myself. I can feel a connection with something vast, immeasurable and sacred that can’t be conceived of or spoken about, but can only be experienced.
I can begin to understand the words of the mystics like Thomas Traherne who said:
“You never enjoy the world aright, till the Sea itself flows in your veins,
till you are clothed with the heavens, and crowned with the stars:
till you love all others so as to desire their happiness, with a thirst equal to the zeal of your own: till you delight in God for being good to all: you never enjoy the world.
Till your spirit fills the whole world, and the stars are your jewels;
you never enjoy the world.”
The sea does flow in our veins, and we are crowned with stars. The word, the enlivening presence of God has become flesh and it dwells in you and in me, as it did in Jesus who showed us the way.
In the beginning was the Word, the Voice, the Creative Expression of God. It spoke then and still speaks today.
The word that makes the stars shine was also said to me and to you.
The word told to the pine tree to make it grow strong and straight,
The instructions whispered to the sea to make it strong,
And whatever was said to the peach to make it sweet,
And to the roses to make them blush,
The same thing is being said to me and to you.