The beginning

Short sermon at All Saints, Coddington, 2nd Sunday before Lent 2015

Prov 8.1, 22-31; Col 1.15-20; John 1.1-14

From Christmas to Candlemas (last week), we’ve been hearing St Luke’s gospel. The three synoptic gospels all begin as though they were histories: Matthew with a genealogy of Jesus’ descent, defining his role as God’s Anointed. Mark opens with the preaching of the Baptist and the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry; and Luke with stories of Jesus’ early life. But today, in the run up to Lent and to Jesus’ Passion, we have a different opening, a scene on a much vaster stage. The starting-point of St John’s gospel, like the passage from Proverbs we heard before it, is that unimaginable time before time began, before the big bang that started the universe, before even the stardust of which we are made had come into being. Then – before the singularity of the formation of everything – then was the Word of God, the pre-primordial Word that came to us in human form. That which was born as a baby in an ordinary family was the God by whom all things were made, and without whom nothing was made that has been made.

The very language of John’s gospel reads like a dramatic poem whose words echo down the ages. It echoes, of course, the opening of the book Genesis:
“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.”

The Prologue of St John’s gospel comes from a Christian community which had meditated on the Jesus whom they worshipped. They had obviously thought about different strains of the Old Testament story – including, of course, the opening chapter of Genesis, but also the Book of Proverbs where divine Wisdom is portrayed as a person, a person who is God’s (N.B. feminine) companion in creation. And then, in their prayer and meditation, they made the connection between the divine Wisdom and the divine Word of God in the human person of Jesus. The effect of that insight is to make ever more obvious that Jesus is not just a good man, not just a courageous and wise prophet, but he is God himself – here on our planet and in our lives.

Many religious people are startled by this. Some Muslims think we must have tampered with Scripture to come to that conclusion. They have a deep reverence for Jesus and for his mother, but are deeply shocked by the notion that we revere Jesus as God, because, they say, we must have two Gods. Sikhs are perhaps more relaxed about this, but emphasise that there can be only one God. Many Hindus are quite unfazed by our claims for Jesus: one more divinity in the pantheon is not a problem, though more sophisticated religious teachers do ultimately point to the oneness of one God above all other divinities.

We Christians do have to hold in our minds and – more importantly, in our hearts – our paradoxical understanding that Jesus is at one and the same time fully human and fully divine; that by being born as a human infant he has brought the divine nature into our human nature; and by rising from the dead has taken our human nature into his divine nature. In doing that, he invites us to become ourselves part of God’s divine nature - whilst still being our human selves. I can’t explain it; I can only proclaim it. But I can tell you that, when you will allow this Jesus into your human nature, you become – to that extent – part of the divine nature.

In this sacrament of the Holy Communion, you take into yourself, in a simple human action, the divine nature of God. As you do so, your human nature comes that much closer to becoming divine. This is not a theological conjuring trick. It is the simple gift of Jesus to you, to join your nature with his.