PROPERS: CHRISTMAS 1, YEAR C
TEXT: JOHN 1:1-18
PREACHED AT HOLY TRINITY, PENSACOLA, ON SUNDAY, DECEMBER 30, 2018.
ONE SENTENCE: The Gospel of John more fully provides the “why” of Jesus, as opposed to the “what” of other gospels.
What is your story?
That may seem like a simple question, but it really isn’t.
As I was moving through the ordination process – including a theological reflection practicum group at seminary – there was a recurring need to “tell my story.” You have experienced that exercise, too, if you have ever participated in EFM, Education for Ministry.
Some elements of my story never changed. I was born in Columbia, Mississippi, on January 23, 1952. I have an older brother and a younger sister. We moved to Greenwood, Mississippi when I was seven.
I began the first grade in Columbia and continued it when we got to Greenwood, attending the famous Little Red Schoolhouse. I loved the Mississippi Delta and exploring the banks of the Yazoo River.
When I was nine, we moved to Meridian, Mississippi. I began the fourth grade there. I loved wandering through the dense woods around our house. I graduated from Meridian High School in 1970.
I had grown up in the Methodist Church but was confirmed into the Episcopal Church after I turned 18. The liturgy attracted me.
As I described it, I served a one-year sentence at Meridian Junior College, and then transferred to the school of my dreams and family loyalty, Ole Miss.
I was a mediocre student until I met a certain strawberry blonde on July 28, 1972. After Nora and I married two-years later, my grade point went through the ceiling – from a 2.3 to a 4.0.
We moved to Jackson after my graduation from Ole Miss. We became the parents of a daughter in 1980 and a son in 1981. In 1984, I left my position with the American Petroleum Institute and we left Jackson to enter Episcopal seminary at Sewanee.
I was ordained in 1987 and served congregations on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, Nashville, Tennessee, and Starkville, Mississippi. In 2001, the Bishop of Mississippi called me as his Canon to the Ordinary. I retired from that position in 2017.
We now live in Fairhope, Alabama – just across Mobile Bay from our daughter and two grandsons.
As Sgt. Joe Friday said on Dragnet, “Just the facts, Ma’am.”That is the skeletal framework of my story.
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Your story is probably similar – though the facts will vary. The outline would likely be the same: Birth, growing up, education, vocation, and family.
But we all know the devil is in the details. Maybe we could say God is in the details.
We can look back at our lives. We see rises and falls. Undulations. High and lows. The periodic movement of pure chance and mystical forces.
How do you interpret your story? What is the texture to your life? What is the meaning?
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Over the past year, we have mostly heard gospel passages from Mark – the most bare-boned of all the accounts of Jesus’ life. In the coming year, we will hear mostly from Luke, the companion to the Book of Acts.
Each of the so-called synoptic gospels – Matthew, Mark and Luke – provide the basics of Jesus’ life and ministry. They provide the facts, the stories, that tell the essentials of savior’s worldly life.
But, today we have the opening 18 verses of John’s gospel. It is remarkably different from the other three gospels. John fills-in-the-blanks and provides the whyto Jesus’ life and not just the what.
In John’s gospel, we have lengthy statements from Jesus providing the meaning of his words and deeds. Indeed, the meaning.
This is what as known as the prologueto John. Hear it again:
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.
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth. (John testified to him and cried out, "This was he of whom I said, 'He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.'") From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father's heart, who has made him known.
It is clear to the reader – whether it was 100 years after Jesus or today – that the author of John’s gospel viewed Jesus as not just another man or a special man on a special mission. The author believed that Jesus was, and is, the source of all things, the creative force in the universe, and the ultimate revelation of God’s being – the giver of life; the bestower of grace.
In other words, in encountering Jesus we are encountering God. In seeing Jesus, we are seeing God. In knowing Jesus, we are knowing God. According to John’s telling of the story, they are one and the same.
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As I contemplated all this, something occurred to me: If the author of the gospel, in reflecting on Jesus’ life, was able to see the presence of God in Jesus’ life, what is the message for us?
I thought of the many times I had told my story, and how I was able to progressively more clearly see God’s movement in my life. The facts of my journey took on depth, height, and meaning. The holiness of simple moments became apparent. The blessings of the journey arose. The molding through fiery trials was seen. The hand of the almighty was revealed. No moment in my life have I been alone or without purpose.
What about you? Are you able to look back on your life’s minor details and see them anew? Do you see the hand of God in those deep, dark valleys, on those spectacular mountain peaks, and on all the terrain in between?
Our lives are sacred stories. In seeing our past, and in the telling of our stories, we find meaning to our journeys – and the presence of God.