January 5, 2014
Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.
In the beginning was the word.
The Greek word for “word” is “logos,” and while “word” is a reasonable translation, the full meaning of “logos” is notoriously difficult to translate. As Brian P. Stoffregen points out that “[t]here are 60 pages of meanings in the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament.” So if we get a little muddled, we can be forgiven.
Logos means word. It can also mean idea, description, pattern, principle, discourse, prophecy, rule, mandate, ground, reason or cause. It is the root of –ology, as in biology, theology, geology, the words/ideas/patterns/reasons of life, God, the earth.
It is clear that as Matthew uses the Exodus as a framework for telling the story of Jesus, John echoes the creation story of Genesis. And just as the first creation story in Genesis is laid out as a liturgy, what might easily have been a call and response or worship reading, some have speculated that the poetic words of the opening of John may have originally been a song, a hymn to God.
It does not take much imagination to read John like this: God had an idea, a pattern. And that idea, that pattern, was a part of all of creation. Nothing that God made was made without this idea being a part of it. This idea came to be seen in the law of Moses, the rebukes of the prophets, even the very patterns and majesty of creation itself.
This idea was the light of the world; it shines and no darkness can overcome it.
But then God put this idea into human flesh, wrapped in up in a body, with muscles and sinews and bones and skin, and this idea dwelled among us, full of grace and truth, but we did not like the idea and did not understand the idea, and things that we do not like and do not understand scare us, and we try to get rid of such things.
And this is a messy idea. That God would take something holy and lovely and so connected to God to be as God, and put it into a human, which, as we all know, is a fragile and messy and notoriously stubborn form. While John is mystical, the purpose of the story is to talk about how the Word of God got mud on its sandals, and water from fishing nets on its robes, and the touch of lepers and the unclean and the unwashed on its skin.
John’s Gospel opens with a love song to the acts of God in sending Jesus.
But the words “idea” and “pattern” seem to get us stuck in our heads. If we are going to drop back down into our hearts and our guts, perhaps we can imagine “logos” as a song. God had a song. Singing, like creation, requires breath. Singing adds tone and tune and dynamics and rhythm to words.
And God sang this song into creation.
So what is this song of God? What song to we hear throughout the Gospels, throughout the prophets, throughout the Torah, throughout creation?
There are verses of rebuke, to be sure. Because what parent who loves a child does not set limits and keep the boundaries and call the child to account?
There are bars of the blues as well. The love we have for God is so often stifled by our actions, drowned out by the cacophony of the world, hard to keep in rhythm with when we are in pain, or lonely, or scared. The love of God for us is so often frustrated by our inattention, our constant distractions, our need to be right, our quest for fun. And difficult, unrequited love, that sounds like the blues to me.
But is not the song of creation, the song we hear through the prophets, and especially in Jesus, the song of homecoming?
We hear it again in Jeremiah this morning. Jeremiah is a prophet who can write some serious blues. But here, we hear him in a different key. I don’t know if you caught it in the reading this morning, but the first and last words of these verses are the same: Thus says the Lord.
And what does the Lord say?
Behold, I will bring them from the north country, and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth, among them the blind and the lame, the woman with child and her who is in travail, together; a great company, they shall return here…
With weeping they shall come, and with consolations I will lead them back, I will make them walk by brooks of water, in a straight path in which they shall not stumble; for I am a father to Israel, and E’phraim is my first-born…
For the LORD has ransomed Jacob, and has redeemed him from hands too strong for him…
They shall come and sing aloud on the height of Zion, and they shall be radiant over the goodness of the LORD, over the grain, the wine, and the oil, and over the young of the flock and the herd; their life shall be like a watered garden, and they shall languish no more.
Then shall the maidens rejoice in the dance, and the young men and the old shall be merry. I will turn their mourning into joy, I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow.
I will feast the soul of the priests with abundance, and my people shall be satisfied with my goodness, says the LORD.
The song of God, the tune we hear in Jesus, is a love song of homecoming.
Thanks be to God.