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Christmas 1, Year C, 2000

Christ Church, Somers Point, NJ

Reading: John 1:1-18

It's New Year's Eve (in case you hadn't noticed),
and time to get ready for yet another year. There's not quite the fuss
there was last year,
the dawn of the new millennium,
or so they said,
and even if you believe it truly begins this year,
the popular vote has come in, and the millennium has well and truly begun.
After all, even the City of London in England
has decided to cancel
their New Years Eve celebrations,
and if the home of Greenwich mean time
has declared that the millennium began in 2000,
who are we to doubt it?

The millennium has begun, with all its fanfare and fireworks, and tomorrow
ushers in another beginning, somewhat smaller, but a beginning all the same,
the beginning of 2001.

I remember being told as a kid,
though I can't quite remember who said it to me - maybe it was at
school, or maybe it was some great aunt -
but I remember being told
that beginnings
are what matters. If you get the beginning right, everything else will just
follow along.

Now you and I both know
that its not quite as simple as all that.
We can all think of times
when we have begun with the best intentions
but then suddenly, somehow,
things have all fallen in a heap
around us.
Even the best of beginnings
can fail.
But on the other hand, there is a grain of truth in the saying.
Because if you don't begin well, its difficult
if not impossible
to ever catch up.
It's true for athletes, who if they miss the start of a race
even by a tenth of a second
have almost no hope
of ever catching up.
It's true of our days - that feeling of having got out of
the wrong side of bed
so that whatever we do all day
is somehow tainted with disaster.
And it's true with stories
whether they are on TV or in books or the real life ones
told round a fire on Christmas afternoon,
if you miss the first bit, the beginning,
then there's every chance
you'll never catch up again.
We need the beginnings
to make sense of the rest.

Beginnings
are important things.
They matter.

Which is why
the gospel for today,
those first few paragraphs
of the gospel of John
are important for us.
Because they
are the beginning
of the story
of Jesus.

Just last week we read
what most of us think of
as the beginning of the story of Jesus, in Luke chapter 2.
'While they" (that is Mary and Joseph)
"were there," (in the town of Bethlehem)
"the time came for her to deliver her child.
And she gave birth to her firstborn son
and wrapped him in bands of cloth,
and laid him in a manger,
because there was no place for them in the inn."
The beginning of the story of Jesus.

But the way John tells it in his gospel
the story of Jesus
doesn't begin
with his birth,
or even with the angel Gabriel, appearing to Mary.
It begins way back
at the beginning of time.
"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 that life
was the light of all people..."
"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...
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."

This
is the beginning
of the story of Jesus,
as John tells it,
and without it the rest
does not, can not,
make sense.

Because without this,
Jesus is just another baby,
a baby, granted,
who grows up to do amazing things,
but a baby,
nevertheless.

But with it, with this beginning,
we come to understand Jesus differently.
With this beginning,
Jesus is presented as the vital link
between God
and us, the way
we can come to know who God is,
and what this God
is like.

If you were to go to the boardwalk
at Atlantic City,
and ask a few random passers by
what God is like,
I'll bet
that you would get
a whole pile of different answers -

some would say, like a parent, others, like a judge,
still others, a somewhat nebulous but powerful being.

And if you asked them why they thought of God that way, you'd probably
get just as many answers -
the prayers they were taught by their parents as little children,
the things they heard from the pulpit,
the images they see on TV,
the experiences they have had.

Most of us
probably begin with what we are taught,
and then we kind of infuse it
with our own experience.
So we might begin with God as Father, a title we hear Jesus use in the
gospels. And over time, not surprisingly,
we add to it from our own experience of our fathers, and we load it up with
extra meaning. If our fathers were stern disciplinarians,
we think of God
as a disciplinarian;
if our fathers were gentle, we think of God as gentle.
Of course, that means that when I speak of God as Father,
and you speak of God as Father,
we may not be meaning
exactly
the same thing.

Of course, that's not the only way we come to think of God.
Some of us think of God
as being like someone who is important to us, or who has influenced us. If
you've been around small children, you might have heard them
get confused
between God and the priest.

And of course, most, if not all, of us
tend to make God
in our own image.
God as a North American, God as a capitalist, God as a Protestant. God
likes
the people we like
and judges the people we don't like.
This may all sound kind of ridiculous to you,
but I know that when I was in eighth grade, and we were doing a play in
school about Noah, I got to be God, because I was the religious one, and I
dressed up as an old white man
in a toga.
I'd kind of muddled together the stories I'd heard, the art I'd seen, the
person I was, and my own experiences,
and come up with this
kind of peculiar
picture of God.
We all form our own images of God, like it or not.

The problem is,
sometimes those images
which we've formed
get in the way of us knowing
who God really is,
they get in the way
of us meeting
with the real
God.

And it is here
that the beginning
of the gospel of John
is so important.
Because what it says
is that in Jesus
we can see
what God is really like, in Jesus
we can look to see
if the God in our head
really is
the God of our faith.

Remember those words?

"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."

The Jesus
we see in the gospels
is Jesus, God's beloved Son,
who make God known to us.

So we're not limited
to the unsubstantiated tales of our childhoods,
we're not imprisoned
within the walls of our own
experiences,
we're not stuck
with our home made
pictures
of God.
To know God
all we have to do
is look
at Christ.

"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..."

All we have to do
is look
at Christ.
And the God we will find there,
if the gospel of John
is anything to go by
is a God full of, even overflowing
with grace and truth.
Grace
and truth interwoven,
a God
who can be trusted,
a God who never stops giving,
a God who never stops loving.

And in case you are wondering
what all this talk about God
has to do with anything
once you step outside these doors,
what it has to do
with the beginning
of a new year,
think about this.

As Christians
we are called
to follow Christ,
we are called
to live lives
which ourselves act out
who this God
really is.

A God overflowing
with grace and truth,
grace and truth
woven together
into the fabric of our lives.

Tonight
many of us
will be making New Year's
resolutions,
tomorrow is
in a sense
a new beginning.

What would your resolutions look like
if instead of losing weight, and writing more letters, and not wasting as
much money - all of them good things to resolve -
what would it look like
if we were to take seriously
God's promise of the Holy Spirit
living in us,
transforming us?
What would it look like
with grace and truth
overflowing
from God into us?
It would be a whole lot easier, I know, if I were to give you
a list of ten things to do
after which
you could get on with your life.
But I don't think it works quite like that.

Because following Christ
is about every thing we say
and every thing we do,
grace and truth
woven together
into the fabric of our lives.

In the image of the one who came
to live among us, overflowing
with grace and truth,
to show us the God
who can be trusted,
the God who never stops giving,
the God who never stops loving.

Raewynne J. Whiteley
31 December 2000

Last Revised: 01/01/01
Copyright © 2001 Raewynne J. Whiteley. All rights reserved.
Send comments to: rjwhiteley@verizon.net