Calvary Episcopal Church Photo of Bill Kolb
Memphis, Tennessee
December 25, 1999

Christmas Day

Hay and Stars, Part 1
The Rev. William A. Kolb

Gospel: John 1: 1-5

The other day I received a Christmas gift. It was wrapped with strands of hay, and interwoven throughout the hay were golden paper stars. I thought that was marvelous and so right for Christmas. The olden star of the universe, Jesus the babe, born in the humble setting of a manger. The glory of the Lord shining forth not in a palace but in a stable. We can never be too poor or too humble to receive God--God comes to us all and has a bias, in fact, towards the widow, the orphan and the oppressed.

The Gospel reading we just heard says it all, all of it. But John's Gospel tends to be rather mysterious and ephemeral. For us with western-type cerebral ways of hearing and understanding, this Gospel has for some not been very clear over the years. Pretty poetry for sure, but is it telling
and teaching and inspiring of solid realities that can empower us for living.

I want to speak to you in non-metaphoric language, of Truth, first given in the language of metaphor. I want us to try to step back and try to let lyrical, mysterious Truth flow through us. For the reality of God, the real existence of an unimaginably alive God is so far beyond our mental apprehension that we must speak of it in words that go beyond fact, phrases that summon up in us spiritual depths that already know God. Just as the writer of John's Gospel was faced with the challenge of putting into words a wondrous miracle that is beyond words, so we must this morning strive to put into the words of our own time the wonder of his writing.

This Gospel reading is presented both on Christmas Day and the First Sunday after Christmas Day, so this is one sermon, part A on Christmas Day and Part B on the first Sunday after Christmas. Copies of the part you are not hearing this morning are available on our Web site or by requesting a copy from the Calvary office.

In the beginning...since the beginning of time...before time began, so far back in the recesses of God's mind that we cannot and should not be able to, imagine it...which brings to mind the subject of how long the earth has been here, or how long there has been life on the earth....the theory of evolution suggests that the earth and life have been here for millions of years...those who want to believe that the Creation story, the story of Adam and Eve, is the Truth about how everything got started, these folks believe that in the beginning would refer to a time about ten thousand years ago...without going into lots of data that suggest evolution as the truth, I think we cannot say too often that both positions can be valid: the story of Adam and Eve contains the deepest of truths about God's creation, about what it is to be human, about humanity's relationship to the Creator...and this almighty and sovereign Creator could just as easily have created his beloved human race through evolution as through any other means.

In the beginning was the Word. The word Word is the key to understanding this great, beautiful and profoundly powerful passage that opens the Gospel of St. John. Word is from the Greek, Logos, and it means the mind and will of God, the divine wisdom manifest in the creation, government, and redemption of the world and often identified with the second person of the

In the beginning was the Word-- the Word is Christ, who has existed from the beginning, from millions of years or thousands of years, but only now at Christmastime, only now in the manger at Bethlehem, was/is the second person of the Trinity, the Son of God, incarnated, manifested, enfleshed as a baby human child. And that child was/is the Word of God. That does not mean some thoughts of God put into audible sounds. It means the all-ness of God, the whole mind and will of the One who created all that there is, has come to be present with us here in this life, in this world, in this flesh. Jesus, the Word, the Logos, made flesh. What you see in Jesus is what God is.

...and the Word was with God...from the beginning that part of God which came to earth in the person of Jesus, from the beginning that 2nd person or persona of the Trinity which is God was with God, from the beginning.

...and the Word was God: the Father and the Son are One. If you have seen Jesus you have seen God. If you want to know what God is like find out what Jesus is like. Jesus is nothing less than the exact imprint of God's very being.

All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. In this statement, John is stating the belief of the Church through the ages: that the Christ, the Second person of the Trinity, was with God in bringing about Creation. That when all things first came into being, it was the fullness of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, that did the creating.

There are implications that flow from this. For one, there is nothing in this life, neither life nor death, nor guilt nor broken-ness, nor yearning nor failing, unknown to Jesus the Christ. We can turn to Him about anything and he has been there. Been there, knows that. Another implication is that all things have potential for good. Even suffering, even grieving, even broken-ness. If God in God's fullness created all things, they must have been good when created. If we have distorted or perverted them or their purpose (e.g., the fruit of the vine), their original goodness can be restored.

...What has come into being in him was life.. Christ, coming into the world in human form, has brought life. That is, hope in this life and the promise of life after death, or, as a book title once put it, life after life. Hope has come into this existence, partly because we have the hope of life in our next existence. Hope also comes into this life through Christ because in Him we know that God sees what we do for others as eternally and cosmically important. Helping to make this world a better place, in small personal ways and in big ways, can give meaning and purpose to life. Absorbing and being transformed by scripture can turn us from being self-absorbed to being servants, serving God by helping others. Losing some of our self-centeredness and truly caring about what happens to others can give us freedom to fly in this life.

There is another way of understanding why and how Christ brings hope to this life. There is a Pulitzer-prize-winning book called Denial of Death. From it I have learned that we all tend to deny the reality of our own death. It has been said, in fact, that we cannot imagine this world without us in it. The book contends that we spend a great deal of energy holding back the
conscious knowledge that we are going to die. There is good reason for this: If we were fully aware every moment of our own death, life might be discouraging. Young people, especially, who need to make innovations and need to summon up the energy to forge new paths in life, need to believe in life. It has been said that young folks live and act as if they are gong to live forever, and that's what I mean. It takes that kind of confidence and energy to have the courage to marry, raise a family, and look to the future.

But as we get older it takes more and more psychic and spiritual energy to avoid the fact that we are going to die. The author of the book, Ernest Becker, suggests that if we could find a way to accept the reality of our own death and be at peace with the idea, then all that energy could be
directed to living, in this life. And that is where we recall the line from this Gospel reading that says, What has come into being in Jesus Christ was life...because we will truly have more life in this life if we are able to entrust our death and life eternal to Him, if we are able to lean with trust upon His promise of resurrection, of us and of our loved ones.

....and the life was the light of all people...the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it...There is much darkness in this life. There is death itself, the sure and certain end to this earthly life, for each of us and for those we is only human that we experience this,
often, as darkness...there is also evil in the world, brutality, poverty, and all this is darkness. It is all too easy for us to see this evil, this darkness as being "out there," that evil and brutality are committed by "them," "others." What St. John calls us to recognize is that the darkness that spawns evil in some resides in all. Darkness is part of being human. Depression is a normal part of living a while and paying attention. If we go through five or six decades of life and do not experience some times of depression, we are not in touch with reality! The darkness of insecurity, of anger, of fear are all real possibilities for each of us. Thus we are each capable of the evil thoughts, words and deeds that can be manifested by these inner demons.

But into this inevitable human darkness, says St. John, the light shines. Picture a deserted warehouse at midnight, darkness, nothing but darkness. Suddenly a bright spotlight is directed at a corner, then a wall, another corner; and in each instance, darkness is relieved, light and
lightness triumph. In each instance the light erases the darkness. The darkness is not stronger than the light. St. John says the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not does not overcome it. Here we are with untold thousands of years of human history filled with wars and ceaseless suffering in some quarters, murder, rape, pillage, jealousy, assassinations, you name it. But that darkness has not overcome the light. This day the world rejoices in the light of Christ. Day by day throughout the world billions of people take comfort and joy at the knowledge that good is more powerful and more lasting than evil, that God overcomes through light what the devil fails with darkness.


Copyright 1999 Calvary Episcopal Church.

Gospel: John 1:1-5
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. NRSV

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