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Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Sing Along

The Triune God’s song has been playing since the beginning of time. John tells us that Jesus has always been a part of that song, and through this child who came to came to us in a manger, we learn to sing along.

Vicar Neal Cannon, The Nativity of Our Lord (Day); texts: John 1:1-14

Sisters and Brothers in Christ, grace and peace to you in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

“In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.”

The phrase, “In the beginning” is all over the Bible, but only two books in the Bible begin with this phrase. They are Genesis one, which I have just read to you, and the Gospel of John. Genesis tells us that God created the heavens and the earth with God’s Word. I like to imagine God’s word being a song. And that Song creates light, and life. And I quote this because this is the image that John wants us to have for Jesus when we read our gospel lesson.

John wants us to know who this Jesus person is. He wants us to know his song.

In the Jewish tradition, the infinite Word of God is contained in the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, and the Torah is the centerpiece of the Jewish faith. Now, the Torah contains 613 laws and rules for living interwoven with the stories of faith and history of the Jewish people.

So for the Jewish people, the Torah is the centerpiece of faith, it’s the tune that they sing to. It’s the song that they sing. The Torah is the Word of God, and the Word of God brings light and life into the world as in the Genesis story.

And now John comes along, and he makes a new claim, or rather, a very old claim. He writes, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” John’s claim, the Christian claim, is that Jesus is the Word of God, and the Word of God brings light and life into the world.

So according to John, in Jesus all the law, the prophets, and the history of Jewish people are contained within Jesus. Jesus becomes the centerpiece of faith, the tune to which we sing and orient our lives.

Jesus is the Word of God made flesh. This claim is incredibly important because it tells us who Jesus is and that helps us perceive God in a new way.

The traditional way we perceive God is through Scripture. When I was researching for this sermon I came across an article from a Jewish scholar on the incarnation of God. Now, incarnation comes from the Latin word, incarnatus, which essentially means in the flesh, in caro (flesh).

The scholar who wrote the article was making the case that for the Jewish people, God becomes incarnate when we study and learn Torah. The more we learn, the more knowledge we have, the more God’s Word becomes incarnate in our life. It helps us to see things in a new way that we haven’t necessarily seen before. As Christians, we make the same claim about Jesus in scripture. Jesus is the Word of God incarnate from the beginning.

But how can this be?  How could Jesus have been there all along?

Think about it this way, is there a song you’ve heard a hundred times and then all of a sudden you notice something new about that song you’ve never noticed before?  When I was a kid, I used to swear that the song had changed in some way. But over time, I realized that I was hearing it in a new way. Before it was background music, but now new part of the song emerged and it changed the way I heard the music.

I think John is saying that Jesus is like this. He says that Jesus is like the part of the song that nobody noticed before, and when Jesus comes into the world, at first it seems like a new thing. But what John is saying is that Jesus has always been there, and has always been a part of God’s song.

John goes on to tell us that this song takes on flesh.

Jesus is the Word of God incarnate, literally in the flesh. He writes, “And the Word became flesh and lived among us.” If the Word lives among us, then the Word of God is not just something we study or hear. The Word of God is a child that came to us in a manger that lives and acts in this world, a person that creates light and life. In other words, the Song is life.

Jesus is life.

You wouldn’t know it by looking at me now, but as a kid, I didn’t particularly like going to church. It was a chore to get me out the door. I whined, I pouted, I kicked at things, and generally I tested my parent’s patience at every turn.

To me church was a lot of words that blended together. We read the Word of God, we sang the Word of God, and every Sunday, we listened to the Word of God in one really long boooring sermon. Some days it was all I could do to keep my adolescent brain from exploding and running out the back doors to play basketball, go skiing, or sometimes just sleep in the car.

But there was one part about church that I used to always love and still do to this day. That part of church was communion, the Eucharist. It was always odd to me because almost without fail, after taking communion, I felt alive, I felt new.

So I’d get in line, and here the words, “body of Christ, given for you, blood of Christ, shed for you.” And after receiving the Eucharist, I’d feel, new, better, lighter than before.

Then I’d sit down and I’d tap my little sister on the shoulder and look away, she’d laugh. My brother would step on my foot, and we’d smile, and laugh together. All the while my parents did what they could to hush us up, but even they couldn’t help joining in. Our whole family seemed lighter afterwards as the worries of the morning washed away. And for whatever reason, I’d leave church as if I’d loved the whole experience all along.

It’s like I was hearing a totally new song.

Now, I have a lot of theories on why this is. The first theory that I adopted was because the Eucharist, is at the end of the service. And I knew that we were almost done. So close to freedom!

While there might be an element of truth to that the more I thought of it, the more I realized there were other reasons why I loved communion. I found, and still find, that the Eucharist is the tangible part of the service. It’s the part of the service that you could touch, and taste, and hold in your hand. It requires nothing of you but to receive.

Later, my theological training in seminary would teach me that this experience was the Word of God coming to me, and giving me life. But growing up, I just knew it as that feeling of being made new. Or as John would say, being born-again.

Throughout the Gospel of John, the idea that Jesus is the Word of God is weaved through the narrative. Later in John Jesus says, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live for ever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

I think what I encountered in the Eucharist growing up is this very principle that the Word of God gives us life. I was hearing the song through the bread and wine. As I grew older I learned to appreciate how the sermon, and music, and liturgy dwell in us and give us life in the same way that I received it in the Eucharist. But at the time, the Eucharist was the way that God came to me and made me new.

“Body of Christ, given for you. Blood of Christ, shed for you.”

I love this idea because that means that the Word of God is not just about words. Like we experience in the Eucharist, the Word of God is something tangible that we can hold on to. It’s a tune that’s carried in our arms as well as our hearts and minds.

On Christmas Eve, we are especially reminded of this, as Mary carries this Song of God, not only in the Magnificat, but also in her arms as she holds Jesus.

I like to imagine Mary holding the Song of God in her arms, caring for him, feeding him, and singing him a lullaby as he cries. I like to imagine Mary being in awe of her son’s song as he sang it with his life. I also imagine that Mary sang a song of lament as Jesus hung on the cross.

In the Eucharist, we participate in this song. We hold the body of Christ in our hands. We remember his life, death, and resurrection and in that we are connected to Word of God that gives us life, the beginning of all things. And we like Mary, become, intimately connected to the Song as we learn to sing along. As John says, we become God’s children. We are connected to the Song that was in the beginning all things.

And as we learn to sing God’s song, the Song becomes incarnate in us.

Have you ever been in a situation where a friend or family member is sharing a deep and personal truth? Maybe they’ve just revealed to you that they are dying or admitting they have an addiction. When we are able to sit there, and comfort them, and support them, we’re singing God’s song.

Sometimes we don’t have to say a thing. Sometimes a hug, or tear, or just your presence is enough to assure someone that God’s song is playing in the background.

It also doesn’t have to be a sad situation. Maybe someone is telling you for the first
time that they are getting married or they just got an A on their test or they just got a big
promotion. Sharing joy together is an experience of incarnation as well. It’s another way to sing.

That’s what Jesus is for us in the incarnation. He’s a song that comes to us as a child in a manger, as bread and wine, and gives us the Word of God without saying anything. Jesus gives us his presence. And through this experience of the bread and wine we are given a new light and life to see and experience the world.

So who is Jesus? He is the fulfillment of the law and the prophets. Jesus is the Word of God incarnate. Jesus is light and life. Jesus is the bread and wine. But most of all, Jesus is the song that that has been playing since the beginning of time. Let us sing along.

Thanks be to God.

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