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Be Ye Doers of the Word and Not Hearers Only

Christmas 1 – Year A

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. (John 1:3)

John is talking here about Christ. He wants his readers to see the big picture and to realize that Christ has always been. There never was a time when Christ was not. Furthermore, Christ has been intimately involved from the outset in the very act of creation. Many Bible scholars think that’s why John uses the word Word here to mean Christ. He’s probably thinking back to the creation story in the Book of Genesis where everything comes into being by the word of God. Do you remember it? “God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light.” “God said, ‘Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind….’ And it was so.” (Genesis 1:3,2-4) And so forth. It is as though the word of God itself is alive and has creative power. And John wants his readers to realize that it is the eternal Christ—the One whom we know as the Son of God, the One who eventually would be born into the world as Jesus of Nazareth—this Christ is the One through whom all things have come into being. So when you read or hear this passage, when you come to the word Word, think Christ—because that’s who John is talking about.

And it’s not just St. John who sees Christ in this cosmic, eternal, creative sense. Listen to Paul in his Letter to the Colossians: “(Christ) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created…–all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:15-17) Or, take the first chapter of the Letter to the Hebrews. (We don’t know who wrote Hebrews, but scholars agree that it was not Paul but another of the early Christians.) The author begins this way: “Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word.” (Hebrews 1:1-3)

Now, I don’t know about you, but I find this understanding of Christ to be incredibly beautiful and meaningful. The New Testament writers want us to see the whole of creation as shot through-and-through with all the qualities we know in Jesus: the love of Jesus, the caring of Jesus, his wisdom, his understanding, his depth, his compassion, his instinct always to heal, to reconcile, to bring together—all the qualities we experience in Jesus. We are to see Christ in the whole of creation: the stars, the galaxies, the mountains, the seas, the forests, the air we breathe, the lands we till, the natural resources which sustain our life—and, above all, to see Christ in God’s supreme creation—the human personality.

Furthermore, we are to see the loving Christ at work in all the interactions of the universe: the movements and relationships of our solar system; the forces of nature at work in our world; our dealings with one another as individuals, as families as cultures, as nations. Not that things always go as God wants them to go—they don’t: Earthquakes and storms snuff out people’s lives; wars and terrorism exact their terrible toll; fraud and corruption deprive innocent humans of their wellbeing; poverty and injustice dehumanize whole segments of society. We know full well that there is genuine evil in the world, both human and natural. It’s all part of our “fallenness.” Some of it we can explain as sin; some of it is just plain mysterious. BUT—and this is terribly important—the God we know in Jesus Christ is constantly, ceaselessly at work to bring healing and wholeness to the whole created order. Everywhere you look, Christ is there.

We see it in all sorts of ways: acts of heroism and sacrifice in the midst of tragedies such as 9/11 or the war in Iraq; the reversal of a court decision which sets free an innocent person from jail; an apology made and forgiveness given after a long estrangement between two family members; a professor in Ashland who gave one of his kidneys to save the life of a faculty colleague; the rallying of a whole community to help a Petersburg family whose house and possessions were destroyed in a fire. Some of you will remember a courageous Dutch woman named Corrie ten Boom who hid Jews in her home during the Nazi holocaust; or an Evangelical pastor named Deitrich Bonhoeffer who was martyred in a Nazi concentration camp and whose book The Cost of Discipleship galvanized the Christian world. Everywhere you look, if you look carefully, Christ is there.

Now, if you are with me so far, and with the clear message of the New Testament, which sees Christ not only as the child born in Bethlehem, and the Jesus who lived and loved and died and was resurrected in first-century Palestine, but as the eternal Son of God through whom all things have come to be—if you can wrap your mind around that, then there are, I believe, two inescapable conclusions: First, everything is connected, and second, we are never, ever, without hope.

I believe without any doubt that everything is connected: all things, people, events, circumstances—everything! One of my favorite authors, Barbara Brown Taylor, Episcopal priest, college professor and nationally acclaimed preacher and speaker, puts it this way in her little book The Luminous Web—Essays on Science and Religion: “There is another way to conceive of our life in God…but it requires a different world-view—not a clockwork universe in which individuals function as discrete springs and gears, but one that looks more like a luminous web, in which the whole is far more than the parts. In this universe there is no such thing as an individual apart from his or her relationships. Every interaction—between people and people, between people and things, between things and things—changes the face of history….If this sounds like religious language, it is not. It is language inspired by quantum physics, which has caused a revolution in the way we see our world.” (Page 60) This is just a tiny taste of her book, but it has gotten me thinking about prayer, and intuition, and hunches, and coincidences that may not be coincidences—and all the often surprising ways we’re connected to each other.

Talking about connectedness, a few years ago I received out of the blue a Christmas card from a clergy friend named Max Corbett, in Sydney, Australia, whom I hadn’t heard from in years. It came about because one Sunday another clergy friend named John Paul Jones (Yes, that’s his name) from Sewanee, Tennessee, was visiting Sydney and attended Max’s church. After the service John Paul identified himself as coming from the United States, and Max responded that the only person he knew in the U.S. was a clergyman named Doug Burgoyne. Max and I had met in Tanzania, East Africa, in 1969 when I was there with a mission team from my parish in Massachusetts and he was on the local bishop’s staff!

Finally, because the Jesus we know and love, the Jesus whose Spirit dwells in us, is none other than the eternal Christ at the very heart of the universe, through whom the whole creation has come into being—because this is the Christ whom we meet at every turn, everywhere we look—therefore we are never, ever, without hope. Nothing—not war in the Middle East, not the heartache of personal tragedy, not the ugliness of a political campaign—nothing can disconnect us from Christ and from Christ’s world but our own willfulness. As the popular folk song says, “He’s got the whole world in his hands!” Thank God! Amen.

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