Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Message of John 1


About this time, a little more than 36 hours before preaching a Christmas Eve sermon, I remember that I also have a sermon to preach on December 27, the First Sunday after Christmas Day. In the Episcopal Church, those lessons include John 1:1-18, which, after writing a sermon on Luke 2:1-20, I find hard to dig into. That spirit of reticence is not helped by the fact that the usual website that I use to view the lessons, lectionarypage.net, is currently down. Of course, there are other media through which I can find the NRSV text of John's prologue, but, looking for something a little different and seizing upon the opportunity that the broken website has provided, I went to biblegateway.com, where I can read the text according to The Message.

Let's be clear: I don't like The Message--at least not as a biblical text for proclamation during public worship. It's not a translation but a very rough paraphrase, which means that it doesn't attempt to convey what the ancient manuscripts of the biblical text actually say but what a committee thinks they are trying to convey at a more general level. As an exegetical tool, though, it can be useful since it has the potential to give the preacher a different way of hearing the familiar text, and that is certainly the case with John 1. The opening lines are wooden and difficult to read: "The Word was first, the Word present to God, God present to the Word. The Word was God, in readiness for God from day one." Sure, that's no substitute for a more traditional translation, which you can find in almost any modern version of the New Testament, but, later in the passage (vv. 9-14), things open up in a helpful way:
The Life-Light was the real thing:
    Every person entering Life
    he brings into Light.
He was in the world,
    the world was there through him,
    and yet the world didn’t even notice.
He came to his own people,
    but they didn’t want him.
But whoever did want him,
    who believed he was who he claimed
    and would do what he said,
He made to be their true selves,
    their child-of-God selves.
These are the God-begotten,
    not blood-begotten,
    not flesh-begotten,
    not sex-begotten.
 
The Word became flesh and blood,
    and moved into the neighborhood.
We saw the glory with our own eyes,
    the one-of-a-kind glory,
    like Father, like Son,
Generous inside and out,
    true from start to finish.
I love those words, "But whoever did want him, who believed he was who he claimed and would do what he said, He made to be their true selves, their child-of-God selves." I like how The Message makes it plain. It's a simple as that: those who believed that Jesus was who he said he was and would do what he said he would do have been given by him the power to become fully the children God made them to be. That strips away some of the familiar, distracting theological language and replaces it with good, straight-forward explanation and exhortation. This is what it means to be a Christian--to believe that Jesus is who Jesus said he was and did and will do what he promised to do.

It's easy during the Christmas season to get lost in the holiday and forget the simplicity of the Christmas message, which is, after all, the Christian message. Christmas is about Jesus--not about church. It's about the inauguration of something still to be completed--not a moment wrapped up in itself. I've found a new angle for John 1, and I'm grateful for it.
 

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