THE INVASION OF THE WORD
Sermon delivered on S. John’s Day, Christmas Sunday the 27th December 2015 by Bishop Nicholas JG Sykes at St. Alban's Church of England, 461 Shedden Road, George Town, Cayman Islands.
Scriptures: Exodus 33:7-11a 1 John 1 S. John 21:19b-end
1 John 1: 2f: We proclaim to you the eternal life which was with the Father and was made manifest to us - that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you may have fellowship with us.
The Son of God came into a world that partly resisted and yet in some measure accommodated itself to His presence. It was then and still is now, a world of setbacks and disappointments, possessing what one might call a deficit of relationships. You may remember a piece of writing called the “Desiderata” that was made into quite a popular song. Its theme was that the individual was “the child of the universe”, and as such had a firm place in the totality of things; and a number of well-meaning pieces of advice and exhortation flowed from this doctrine of being a child of the universe. At first sight, this approach to the mystery of our humanity appears to contain an approximation to Christian thought; actually, however, the Christian doctrine, and in particular the message of Christmas offers a radically different view. For the force of Christian teaching about our relationships with God, one another and the universe entirely rests upon being able to affirm that the Christmas story is about an invasion from outside our universe, and not just about a development in the realm of human affairs. The incarnation of the Son of God incorporates the essential idea of a wonderful invasion - an incursion by the heavenly hosts into the affairs of our messed-up age. The Christ-Child is God’s sign to the universe of men and women that there is a Father upon whom we can rely, and that we are not to rely on powers that derive from within our time for such a relationship. Now the divine invasion into our universe employs the strategy of beginning with a demonstration of what a true father-son relationship is all about. In the Gospels we catch revealing glimpses of the relationship of the Son of God with His heavenly Father. That is the relationship which is offered to us to be adopted into as a consequence of the divine invasion into the affairs of mankind.
Many will agree, I think, that the biblical writer who expresses this theme with the greatest force is St. John, the Apostle and Evangelist, who is always especially recalled on the third day of Christmas, the 27th December. Jesus described John and his brother James as “sons of thunder” because of certain aspects of their character that stand out particularly in the first three Gospels. It seems from John’s own writings, the Gospel of John and the Epistles or letters of John, that his thunderous character became modified rather than eliminated by his discipleship and his fellowship with and in the Lord. His writings depict powerful contrasts such as light and darkness, life and death, sight and blindness, and perhaps above all, the contrast of being in fellowship with God and what he calls walking in darkness.
The great Prologues to the Gospel of S. John and the 1st Epistle of S. John can usefully be read one after the other. They can be taken to describe the divine invasion into our time and the outline of what that invasion does for humanity. S. John speaks of the Word that was from the beginning with God, and that was God from the beginning. This Word was the formative influence of the universe from the beginning, and inherent in the Word was life itself. Moreover, this life was the light of humanity. Nevertheless this Word that was from the beginning with God, was not from the beginning in the world, even though the light of the Word had already reached out to the world. It was in the coming of Jesus Christ that the Word became flesh and the true Light was coming into the world, and that Light came embodied in human flesh.
S. John emphasises in his 1st Epistle that this manifestation of the word of life was the bringing into our time of what he calls “that which was from the beginning”, and that this manifestation was heard, seen and touched by a particular chosen few of the human race, of which he himself was one. Consequently S. John and the others testify to the manifestation of that word of life, and indeed the very proclamation of the life that was made manifest was inherently an offer of fellowship. John specifically says “We proclaim to you the eternal life which was with the Father and was made manifest to us - that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you may have fellowship with us.” Then he goes on to say that this fellowship being offered was no less than fellowship with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. There is an undeniable logic in the statement. The divine invasion caused a small group, including S. John the Apostle, to be brought into fellowship with the invading army, and now if the message of the invasion is believed by those who hear about it from him, these hearers will not only be in fellowship with him and the others that were directly affected, but they will be in fellowship with the very invading army itself, namely “that which was from the beginning”, the Word of Life, the true Light that had now come into the world.
And so it is that if we in St. Alban’s on the 27th December 2015 hear and believe the message of S. John about the divine incursion into our world, we are offered a true sonship: not at all to be a “child of the universe”, but to be, with others that have heard, a “member of Christ, the child of God and an inheritor of the kingdom of Heaven, as our Baptism declares.
S. John goes on to say that this fellowship with God has a great effect upon us. First, this fellowship will act positively against any walking in the darkness with which we became accustomed: secondly, this fellowship with God will engender fellowship with one another, and thirdly, the blood of Jesus the Son of God cleanses us from sin. The remainder of his letter is about how all this comes about. It would be a very good practice if during the remainder of the real 12 days of Christmas that began on Christmas Day, we read and thought long and hard on the 1st Epistle of S. John. The Season of Christmas is indeed a merry time, though we should remember and try to alleviate those who perhaps are specially unhappy. But it may and ought also be a time of a truer understanding and appreciation of the Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, all of which in his own way S. John so well depicts.