This sermon never got preached because we cancelled service because of the weather. So I put it up here to offer it for reading. The Scriptures for the day were John 1:1-18, Psalm 147:12-20, and Matthew 2:1-12.
As we all know, the mainline church is declining. One reason for that, I believe, is that we lack a robust mysticism. We like our faith rational and heady, explainable and action-oriented. But there are things between heaven and earth that cannot be intellectualized, that can barely be put into words, and yet it is on these very things that all faithful action rests, if it is to be more than political and cultural.
One such thing is our relationship to life in its entirety. For those of us who have experience with silent prayer and meditation, you know in such practices we are encouraged to look at life. The life that surrounds us and the life within us. We are encouraged to look, not with our eyes but with the faculties of our heart. And what do we discover when we adopt a heartful gaze towards life?
We discover that the gaze of faith differs from the gaze of materialism. Life isn’t simply an interplay of atoms and molecules. It has an ineffable quality to it. A quality of aliveness, of being life, of being alive to those who are alive to it.
That may sound trite, but it’s quite countercultural. The prevailing scientific view of life is that it is explainable by the dynamics of matter. Atoms and molecules congeal and coalesce, and when their dance becomes complex enough, life emerges. In this view, life is mechanical like a reaction in a petri dish, just a little more complex.
Faith begs to differ. Faith is faith because it finds in life a quality that goes beyond that which can be measured and quantified and observed at will. A quality that eludes ordinary language, that requires mystical language to do it justice.
Our reading from the Gospel of John is the pivotal piece of mystical language that the Bible offers us to illuminate the Christian view of life. It is nothing less than a Christian cosmology. And it builds on the Hebrew Scriptures. In Genesis 1, we learned that God speaks the universe into being. This is a metaphor of course, an attempt at putting into words that which cannot be put into words.
In John 1, we learn more about this elusive Word that God speaks to create. Everything that is, we learn, was created through this Word. The Word is life, the Word is light, the Word is what shines and lives in all of life, what gives life its aliveness.
If you find that abstract, that’s because it is. Mystical language is highly abstract because it seeks to capture the deepest level of human experience, at a depth where words lose their meaning.
But we don’t need words. We have a much more meaningful, a much more significant translation of God’s Word. We have Christ himself. The claim of the Christmas story is that God’s Word became incarnate, literally became flesh, in the form of a tiny baby in a shabby backwater of the Roman Empire more than 2,000 years ago. The claim of the Christmas story is that this tiny baby is not simply a link in the unending chain of life, but a direct expression of the Source of all life, a representation of the Origin of all that exists and of its Destiny.
It’s a bold claim. But not much bolder than the claim that everything about life can be quantified, measured, and put into mechanistic equations.
And in the stories relayed to us in the Gospels, we get an even better idea of how to think about the Word at the Origin of all being. If Christ is God’s Word incarnate, then the Word is like Christ. If Christ is God’s Word incarnate, then the Origin and the Destiny of all that exists is God’s self-giving love. If the life of Christ represents the true nature of life, then life itself is an ongoing dance of healing and self-emptying in death and renewing in new life. If Christ is the Word incarnate, then the true nature of the universe is a luminous, healing, self-emptying holiness.
No wonder that when Christ was born the stars aligned themselves to point towards him. No wonder that wise men from faraway lands thought it necessary to come and bring him gifts of praise.
Once we have been awakened to the luminous, wondrous quality of life, we are tempted to sing praises to God, much like in the Psalm we read today. Another piece of mystical language, so easy to misunderstand. No, God is not a micromanager. God doesn’t aim tornadoes at Garland at a whim, or dump snow on Lubbock. What the Psalm is saying is this: all of life is God’s, always has been and always will be, ever since it was spoken into being. It has whirled on ever since, much on its own terms, yes, but always illuminated from within by power of the Word.
To see this luminous beauty is faith. To lose sight of this luminous beauty is sin. To be made seeing again is salvation. To be saved is to receive grace upon grace, the grace of wonder upon the grace that is life.
Christian faith is incomplete if it doesn’t restore a sense of wonder, if doesn’t alert us to the healing and the light that is always right here. Also, in this sense of love and wonder we can find common ground with other faiths. My Hindu wife and I were talking about our view of life recently, and what she said was so beautiful that I want to share it here. For her, she said, love is the basis of life. Sadness and tragedy are the exception. They come and they go. Love is always there. The foundation of all things.
According to our own Scriptures, this is how we are called to see life.
Please join me in a moment of prayer.
Lord, you have gifted us who wrestle with Thee a life abundant beyond measure. May we awaken to see it so we may respond in joy.