Epiphany 1C, 2010
John 1:1, 8-14
A Liturgy is also available
AS WE LIVE IN GOD AND GOD LIVES AND COMES TO WONDERFUL EXPRESSION IN US.
Shepherds, angels, wise men, virgins giving birth to
sons of god...
How do we hear these stories?
Stories from a different world to the one we live in.
We don’t often run into shepherds, angels, kings (or many wise men!) in our daily lives.
I don’t think I have ever met a shepherd. Not one still at the trade.
(Stories within my own family say my father, on his arrival in Australia,
was a shepherd on the Geelong Commons for a while.)
A drover, yes. But an active shepherd, no.
I certainly knew people who farmed sheep – indeed, my mother’s family were all sheep farmers in western Victoria.
But I don’t know shepherds who actually live in their paddocks with the flock.
Doesn’t mean there weren’t or aren’t any, I just don’t run into them
in my daily rounds to the supermarket or the local league’s club.
I know I haven’t met any angels, except in the
But angels bounding about to and fro, in and out of heaven,
proclaiming things in lights, is and has not been
part of my experience.
I haven’t met any kings either.
I once was up-close-and-personal with Prince Charles, in 1982,
but many reckon he is only a king-in-waiting, so
perhaps that doesn’t count!
Shepherds, angels, wise men, virgins giving birth to
sons of god…
These are characters from an age long past.
We haven’t lived in their world for a long time. If ever.
Yet we repeat these stories year after year.
What does it mean, if anything, today?
How do we hear these stories? (Thanks to John Shuck for the inspiration)
In contrast to Matthew and Luke, who are the storytellers
charming us at Christmas with Lectionary stories about
angels and shepherds and wise men and virgin births,
John plays the theologian.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God... The Word was made flesh and lived among us...”
Well, theologian John certainly is as he seeks to articulate his God-expressions.
But, I for one, am still in holiday mood.
The sand and sea water of the Central Coast are still between my toes!
And I’m not sure I am ready
to be confronted with this heavy theological treatise!
Yet neither do I want to just piously nod a slumbering holiday approval,
for John’s words bristle with possibilities
that need to be appreciated.
So let me offer a fragment or two.
• In the God of John the theologian
we repeatedly encounter a multi-moving, acting God.
A ‘verb’ rather than a ‘noun’ is the way it is often described.
Which has encouraged Catholic feminist theologian Mary Daly to ask:
“Why indeed must ‘God’ be a noun? Why not a verb - the most active and dynamic of all? ...The anthropomorphic symbols for God may be intended to convey personality, but they fail to convey that God is Be-ing.”
Indeed, the new church season we are about to move into, called Epiphany,
unveils and celebrates the presentness of this lively,
innovative God, in everyday life.
• Theologian John uses dynamic and relational words and images.
And in general terms so too does the whole of the biblical tradition:
In these multiple actions, God is always ‘acting’, and in all these many ways,
creation is always the subject of God’s great demonstrations of affection.
But I think we get a bit stuck when we hear the English translation, ‘word’.
In English, ‘word’ is usually given the meaning of
sounds or its representation in letters
put together for oral or written communication.
But the Hebrew for ‘word’ is ‘dabhar’ which means divine creative energy.
The word that gave birth.
Those of you who are right-brain thinkers will probably have already resonated
with this and made a connection.
For the Hebrew ‘dabhar’ is about
• And this divine creative energy is more than just a concept.
The Season of Epiphany also reminds us that the ‘word’ is made flesh.
It lives among us.
Moves within and among all things.
Inspiring us to think and sing and dance
with integrity and historical and intellectual honesty.
As Lily Tomlin reminds us in her play Search for intelligent life in the universe…
We need to be aware of the goose-bump experiences of life.
We need to practice ‘awe-robics’.
Christmas is the season when we celebrate God-with-us.
Traditionally this is called ‘incarnation’.
But ‘incarnation’ is more than just ‘Christmas’.
We sense this Creative God-with-us Presentness
in the immensity of our evolving universe,
in the incredible display of evolving life-forms on this planet,
and in the evolving society and daily living of the human species (Peters 2005:714).
All our collected human wisdom
is a visible expression of this God-with-us Presentness,
active for millions of years in human development,
active in all places, at all times, in individuals and cultures,
seeking expression in the betterment of humanity.
John the theologian makes the incredible claim
that the one called Jesus of Nazareth is in this Presentness.
At this time of the year, and as progressive Christians, we rejoice in the birth of Jesus.
In him we see the fullness of human possibility:
to make God visible in our lives.
In him we have seen this Presentness
come to expression in human form.
In him life makes sense.
And we rejoice that this same Jesus led people to discover the sacred in the ordinary:
in the crowd,
in the lowly,
in everyday life,
in human yearnings to be better people,
and in being neighbour to one another.
But the work of God-with-us, of incarnation, is not over.
God continues to be embodied today, as we live in God
and God lives and comes to wonderful expression in us, and our world.
As theologian Karl Peters suggestively says:
"The divine is continually present churning up the waters of life. If we are in tune with... the Word that signifies the hidden structures of life's possibilities, we will discover... new ways of acting, thinking, and feeling. These will add to the richness of our lives in a continuing evolving world" (Peters 2002:59).
So let us celebrate the gift of our full humanity,
and network together for a more loving communion
with Creativity God, and
with each other.
Peters, K. E. 2005. “Confessions of a practicing naturalistic theist” in Zygon: Journal of Religion & Science 40, 3, 701-720.
Peters, K. E. 2002. Dancing with the Sacred. Evolution, Ecology, and God. PN: Harrisburg. Trinity Press International.