Welcome to worship this morning. I knew that I could count on you all to show up this morning. We usually have between 18 and 25 people at this service. You are a faithful group. There is something about this service that is unique. Before I took on this role as a staff person I often joined you here. There is something essential here without music. For the most part without children. There is something basic here. Word spoken, confession given, forgiveness received. The table blessed, Body and Blood received, Blessing given.
I might have said in the past that I came because I had other things to do. This was a quick way to get in and out. To make the most of the day. That would only be half true. I came because I needed to start my week in worship. There is something about the centering nature of worship that sets the tone for the week.
We have learned a lot in the last few years through scientific study of the brain. About the beneficial effects of meditation. It’s the latest rage. There are at least three recent books that talk about the benefits of taking time to breathe to engage in yoga or some form of sitting through magnetic resonance imaging. Scientists have been able to document physical changes in the brain.
I have read all the books. I taught three Wednesday classes on those new books. In the fall of this year I’ll be teaching four weeks of Mind, Body, Stress Reduction Classes. In January and February of the new year I teach a weekly class of yoga at the Down Town Y. I’m a convert. But, the fact is this is not some new phenomenon. Yoga and meditation are ancient practices. So is the liturgy of the Eucharist. The practice of starting your week on your knees. It is likely that our brains have been changed by what happens here week after week. Perhaps you have heard here words that were transforming familiar words and actions that suddenly took on new meaning, opened your heart and spirit to a new way of seeing your world and the people in it.
Today’s Gospel tells us about that experience 2,000 years ago. The Gospel of John thought to have been written 50 or more years after Jesus’s life. Written to a people who were in danger. Those who had known Jesus had been there as he walked in their midst expected Jesus to return. They had looked for a Messiah, a political power, a prophet like those of ancient time who promised new life and power for the people of God.
Those original followers were falling by the way. It was increasingly clear that the end times were not coming. At least not soon. John writes to a dispirited group. He reframes their hopes.
The writer of John is not trying to write a history like Mark. Not trying to reconcile the Jewish tradition with the new way of seeing God like Matthew. Not appealing to a new group of prospects like Luke.
John is writing to give us the benefit of reflection. The wisdom of the passage of time; reflection on the life and work of Jesus.
So on this first Sunday in the Christmas season we get the first 18 verses of the Gospel of John “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God; in him was life and life was the light of all people; light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it….”
The people who first heard John were desperate people in need of a word of hope. The people of their community, their families, those connected to them by blood had rejected them. The synagogue had forced them out. Those connected with Jesus were no longer welcome. The power structure of their community had rejected them. The temple was being destroyed. Jerusalem was in shambles. Their leader, those close to that leader were no longer available. They were alone in their memories – their hopes dashed – into that darkness comes John. He speaks of life and light, of hope and of future. He reminds us that the word had become flesh, had lived in our midst. The law came from Moses. Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
2,000 years later we are a long way from the time of John, yet we are not that far from the people to whom he wrote.
Jesus had looked over those people who followed him. We are told that he had compassion on them. John writes to people in desperate straits. He speaks of hope and life and light.
Sometime over the holidays I was sitting with my oldest Granddaughter, Claire. Nothing was going on around us. In the quietness of that moment she reached up and touched my face. She asked, “what was that?” I realized that she was asking about the wrinkles on my face. I said those are wrinkles. And in the way of a curious three year old she asked, “why PaPa, why do you have wrinkles?”
Good question, not one easy to answer. I simply said that wrinkles come with age. She can be so disarmingly honest with her questions of Why. She sees the world from the eyes of her innocence. Her curiosity, the energy for learning.
Life goes on. At each age we have our questions. What is life about? What is my purpose in midst of this world?
From the beginning of time people have sought to determine the meaning of life. They have faced struggles, feelings of desperation. They have looked around for answers, asked the ‘why’s’ of a life time.
As the excitement of Christmas fades for another year we prepare to enter another year in our lives. Here we are gathered in the glow of the candles. Hearing the words of John. Speaking the words of an ancient liturgy. In the beginning was the Word. The Word was with God. The Word was God. It was a word of life and light, grace and truth. It spoke to those 2,000 years ago. It speaks to us now.