Summary: This Christmas Eve sermon is a celebration God's greatest self-revelation, the "Word made flesh;" a celebration of the story of God in the world, and a celebration of our opportunity for new life because of the birth of the Christ-child.
Words. They seem such a small thing. But a word is far more than a mere sound. Great turning points in history have been marked by the use of words: the first spoken language, the first written language, the invention of the printing press and the rise of widely published newspapers and books. Words not only record those moments of great significance, they also carry great significance themselves. Words can actually do things.
New Testament scholar N.T. Wright says this about words: "When I speak a word, it is, in a sense, part of me. It's a breath that comes from inside me, making the noise that I give it with my throat, my mouth, and my tongue. When people hear it, they assume I intended it. 'But you said...', people comment, if our deeds don't match up to our words. We remain responsible for the words we say.
"And yet our words have a life which seems independent of us. When people hear them, words can change the way they think and live. Think of 'I love you'; or 'It's time to go'; or 'You're fired'. These words create new situations. People respond or act accordingly. The words remain in their memory and go on affecting them."
Words do things to people. And just as words can carry great significance for us today, they were an important part of Israel's history. Throughout the Old Testament, God regularly acts by means of God's 'word.' What God says happens; this was first true in creation, and many times following. The prophet Isaiah tells us that God's word is the one thing that will last even though people and plants will wither and die. Isaiah also says that God's word will go out of his mouth and bring life, healing, and hope to Israel and the whole creation.
So when John was writing his Gospel about Jesus Christ, he found in his own faith and in his own experience of his people the ordinary word, which is in itself not just a mere sound, but a dynamic thing. The word of God by which God created the world, the word which expresses the very idea of the action of God. This word is the wisdom of God which was the eternal creative and illuminating power of God.
So, John tells us, "In the beginning was the Word...." It seems simple enough, but as you read a bit further, it becomes increasingly clear that this opening to John's gospel is awfully complicated, especially when you think of the stories of Jesus' birth in the other Gospels. Indeed, there is something beautiful about the simplicity of Luke's story that we heard earlier in the service. Mary and Joseph, angels, shepherds, and then a baby, wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger. As we hear Luke's tale, we are reminded of God's tremendous sacrifice, stepping down from his heavenly throne, and being humbly born into the earthly realm; that he might grow, and walk, and live among us.
John skips this story of the moment of Jesus' birth, but the complexity of his opening passage brings us a message equally powerful; if not moreso. For John, God's incarnation, his coming to earth, isn't just about the birth of Jesus, but about the full meaning of everything he was, and is, and did. Whatever else John is going to tell us, he wants us to see his book as the story of God and the world, not just the story of one character in one place and time.
John's gospel is about the creator God acting in a new way within God's much-loved creation. It is about the way in which the long story which began in Genesis reached the climax the Creator had always intended. And in John's opening words, the climax is the arrival of a human being, the Word become "flesh."
But what is the significance of this "Word" of which John speaks?
If you are familiar with Microsoft Office Word word processing software, you have seen something called "Document 1" before. Within the Microsoft Works program, the equivalent name is "Word 1." You see, when you open up Works, your document is given a default name: "Word 1." Eventually, you will need to give it your own name, but "Word 1" will get you going. John is introducing us to a similar idea here in the opening words of his gospel. John is telling us a story. Before any of us were a thought in our parents' head, before humanity even wrote on the slate of existence, even before there were heavens or an earth, there was a preexisting word with God called the logos. In our computer literate age, we might think of it as "Word 1." The main difference, though, is that the divine logos, the divine word, is not blank like the opening word processing screen. Before we were born, the divine word was written large, underlined with the blood of Christ. God created you and me and all the world; in God is life and light. And here's what John is saying to his readers, to us: "If you wish to see that word of God, if you wish to see the creative power of God, if you wish to see the word which brought the world into existence and which gives light and life to every human, [then] look at Jesus Christ. In him the word of God came among you." So tonight we look at Jesus Christ. Tonight we celebrate Emmanuel, God with us, the Savior of all times, the "life that was the light of all mankind."