Today’s Gospel is the phenomenal, breath-taking, theologically explosive reading of John 1:1-14. Oh sermons could be preached on this Gospel without end (of number, or of time). I preached on what I thought was prominent for the time though, in the preparation, I mused a lot on the absence/discouragement of poignancy in our lives… perhaps because it makes us all a little more sensitive and fragile (oh dear, God forbid!). After such a long gap, it was a blessing to preach again.
The text is below the sermon audio.
Sermon preached at Trinity Church, Newport, RI
Sunday December 29 2019
The Reverend Alan Neale
I think with our familiarity with today’s Gospel, we easily forget the jolt it brought to its first readers. “In the beginning” was a phrase that had resonated throughout centuries and hundreds of scrolls but it was known to read as such “In the beginning God created…”. Now there is a new beginning, well what seems a new beginning, as the Gospel thunders with these opening words, “In the beginning was the Word… and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”.
Here is the most simple of commixing Hebrew and Greek thought… the former with the emphasis on person, the latter with emphasis on reason.
Although in a sense it is all so artificial we all face a new beginning as New Year’s Eve clocks strike twelve and 2020 begins. This time last year Wendy and I were anticipating 2019 with great joy and excitement especially as we planned a visit to UK, Vietnam and Cambodia… we knew not what the rest of 2019 would bring. This year, looking to a new beginning, Wendy and I are a little anxious (mindful of recent events) but John 1:1 is an encouragement… In the beginning, in every beginning, there is the person and purpose of God…
In fact I believe the whole of today’s Gospel brings to each of us a reasonable and sure hope for the year to come as we reflect on the poignancy, the proximity and the power of God.
Poignancy. Listen to these verses from the Gospel: “He was in the world, the world came into being through him, yet he was unknown by the world. He came to what was his own and his own people did not receive him.” Here surely is one of the most poignant stories… of a son rejected by his father, of a community no longer able to survive economically, of excess wealth displayed in television advertising as children sit at home with barely enough to eat and surely little expectation of bright new toys. I think the Gospel should move us to experience this strange sensation of poignancy more often… of course we battle it as we ignore, or deflect or muffle it but maybe our experience of poignancy makes us malleable to love and to serve the Lord. And when we are most overcome ourselves by a weighty sense of poignancy, we can take heart… God knows!
Proximity. Listen to what I can only describe as a bombshell in religious literature… John 1:14 “And the Word became flesh… and lived among us.” Bishop Temple described Christianity as “the most materialistic of all religions”’ and Lord George McLeod once commented on this verse “Matter matters”. The world is alive, vibrant with this truth… and as this finds a home deep in our being so we cannot look on others, on ourselves, on any situation as godless, hopeless, beyond redemption, beyond the pale. This time of the year is often a time for reflection, for the inward journey and in that journey we will discover hopes and fears, secrets and skeletons – friends, nothing we discover, nothing that we have tried to hide is beyond the touch of God… The Word became flesh… everything, even that which draws us from the love and service of the Lord.
Power. “To all who received him, who believed on his name… he gave power to become children of God.” The Greek word for received suggests a warm and thorough welcome of the heart, the Greek word for belief suggests a determined commitment of the mind. And the promise of all this… that we become children of God… born of God. It is surely the birthright of each person in this church that she, he should know this special relationship with God; a relationship that moves far beyond an acknowledgement of God as Creator, that moves each of us to be able to cry (in the words of St. Paul), “Abba, Father…”. In this relationship there is no room for the lurking murmur of blame, nor the overbearing sense of shame.
I’m not sure it’s appropriate to share New Year Resolutions, oh for a variety of reasons, but this I will share with you all… this coming year I hope for a heart more ready to be touched and moved by poignancy, I want to have eyes to see and ears to hear God in all things and all people and all challenges and I want to cherish and nurture my status (given by God) as a child of God so that my spirit may not be too readily daunted.
Maybe you will share this with me this coming year?