ELCG-ESC ...
December 25, 2011
Written by Rev. John C. Moyer   

Sermon by Rev. Dr. John Moyer
Based on John 1:1-14
Geneva, Christmas Day 2011

 

Happy Christmas.  Merry Christmas.  May the joy of this day and the liturgy in which we participate together today be a blessing  for each of us.  May the Word of which we speak today also be a blessing for all who see the Light wherever they may be in the world today.

The Prologue of the Gospel According to John is one of the great proclamations of our faith.  God loves us and is with us.  The Source of the Universe, the Creator God, is known to human beings through Jesus the Messiah, God’s Word.

We often associate Immanuel with Christmas and the birth of Jesus.  However, this Gospel does not focus on the nativity narratives as do Matthew and Luke.  The focus is not the birth of Jesus, but the recognition of the incarnation of Jesus the Messiah as the Lamb of God and the Son of the Father as was witnessed by John the Baptist.

What combination of human events could lead to such a revelation?  Kings and Emperors have declared themselves divine and called themselves God.  God has been revealed in Temples and in pyramids and alters built by powerful people.  People have come to Holy Places for centuries.  So how is it that a community of poor and powerless people in Judea would proclaim that Jesus is the Messiah?  Let us go together to Alexandria in the last decade of the first century and find out what happened there that would inspire the writing of the Gospel According to John.

Some sixty years before this witness to the incarnation was written Jesus was executed by the Romans.  Some forty years after his execution Jerusalem was sacked by Roman Legions and the Temple of the Jewish people was destroyed.  The population of Judea fled in mass.  Some  went to Rome. Some went with James, the brother of Jesus to Jordan. Many went to Asia Minor (Turkey) and many went to Alexandria.  Some learned to speak Greek, the dominant language of these areas.  They lost their homes, their Temple (Where the Creator God was worshipped) and their cultures.  Twenty years after the destruction of Jerusalem the Gospel According to John was written in its first edition in Alexandria in the midst of the Jewish community.  (The second edition, which includes the last chapter was written in Ephesus and that edition was focused on Gentile Christians in that city.  Many of the Jewish Christians in Alexandria identified with Rabbis and their new schools.  Disciples of John the Baptist lived there.  Also living there were many Jewish Christians.  There were theological divisions among these groups. Even in the community of Jewish Christians there was division.

For many in these communities there was the question, “What new center of unity could replace the catastrophic loss of the Temple cult and its sacrifices?”  This question is addressed in the Gospel According to John in its first edition.   The author of the Gospel, referring to Genesis in the Torah, the Logos Philosophy of Philo, the Jewish Wisdom writings and most important, using John the Baptist’s witness to the ministry and mission of Jesus, gives an eloquent answer to this question.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.  …..What has come into being in him was life and the life was the light of all people.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. “

This word is God speech.  In Genesis God said it, God spoke it and it happened.  It is a word that actively mediates between God and humans.  This Word is mediated through Wisdom, through the Logos, through light and it is tented (tabernacled) in the world, incarnated as agent of Grace in place of Grace (meaning Moses and Jesus) and in truth leading to the reconstruction and resurrection of the world.  What has come into being from the Creator is light and life.  This light and life is Jesus the Messiah, the Christ.  God’s Word, God’s Spirit, God’s new Temple is tented, incarnated, not only in a place, but in Jesus the Messiah.  Jesus is one with the Word and the Word is the Word of God.  Jesus the Christ now functions as the Temple even as the Torah now functions as the Temple for the Jewish community in Alexandria.

It has been noted that in Rabbinic Judaism in Alexandria at this time the Torah was seen to be pre-existent, was identified with Wisdom and was an agent of creation, just as the Logos of Philo was.

We know Jesus teachings about the Reign of God and that we are to repent and to love, show mercy and do justice and live in the reign of God.  And now we know through the Gospel According to John and the experience of the people of Alexandria that God loves the life that God created.  God loves life.  God loves the world.  God’s gift to God’s creation is that the whole human race can know God’s love and God’s forgiveness.  God’s love transforms human beings so that we can live in the reign of God’s love.

The Prologue to the God of John presents a theology that transforms the catastrophic experience of a people into a deeper understanding of how God speaks.  God speaks with power and with love.  God is incarnate in life and light that overcomes death and destruction.  God restores and resurrects the entire cosmos, in fact the entire universe.

In many ways the experience of the congregation in Alexandria rings true for us in this congregation today.  Many of us come from distant lands.  We come with the Gospel as it is understood in many different traditions, cultures and languages.  We have come to live and serve in a very international city even as Alexandria was in the first century.  We live in a time of tremendous global conflict, upheaval and economic crisis which may well continue in the years to come.  We live in uncertainty about our life here and our life as it could unfold in our home country or wherever we may go from here.  Most of us are foreigners in a foreign land.  Such uncertainties can lead to conflict among us (even in this congregation) or it can lead to a deeper understanding about how God is with us in this time and place and how we can live together in peace with forgiveness and do more justice in our world.

Many of us have only been in Switzerland for a short time.  However, the body of Christ has been in Switzerland a long time.  By the way, when did it arrive?  Who organized it?

Beatus brought the Gospel to Switzerland in the first century.  He was educated and baptized in Avalon in England.  His name before baptism was Suetonius.  He was baptized by Barnabus, whose brother was Aristobulus, who Paul the Apostle sent to England to represent the Apostle to the Gentiles.  This is the same Barnabus, together with Paul, who founded the congregation in Antioch in 43 CE.

Before Beatus left Britain he liquadated his wealth and used it to ransom prisoners of war on the continent.  He organized a band of devoted missionaries in Switzerland who built hospitals and churches and carried on his work.  He died near Lake Thun in 96 AD.  The Beatus cave where he is buried can be seen today.  Beatus came to Switzerland after his baptism and before the Gospel According to John was written.

We have a great challenge during our time in Switzerland.  There is much more to be done together with our families, and in our congregation.  There is much to be done in our labor in the international institutions, the confessional bodies, the ecumenical bodies, the corporations and the NGO’s and in our daily life.  We are often tempted to focus primarily on our own security and well being during these difficult times, but our calling is clear:
“…to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God.”  We have each been given God’s gift of life and light to serve each other, the community, those who suffer from injustice and all of God’s creation.  Let us go in peace today knowing that God is with us, calling us to choose life and light in all its abundance, overcoming the darkness, fear and insecurity. That is the greatest gift.  With all this in mind will we say together Merry Christmas? Amen.

(Cf. Waetjen, Herman The Gospel of the Beloved Disciple: A Work in Two Editions)

End notes.

1. Based on Waetjen’s work we can say that The Logos-Sophia is androgynous.  
2. More work is needed concerning what the Gospel of John means when referring the “the Jews.”  However, since almost all of the members of the congregation in Alexandria were Jewish, can we not put forward again what we have said about Synopic Gospel treatment of the Jews?  When Jesus attacks Jews, he is referring to Jewish leaders who collaborate with the Romans and with the Herodian powers supporting the Roman occupation.