January 4, 2015, John 1:1-18
It’s the first Sunday in a New Year! Happy New Year! New Years is the most celebrated holiday in the world! But January is a strange time for a year to start, I think. There’s nothing really that makes a new beginning in the dead of winter in the Northern Hemisphere. I could be persuaded that the new year could start the day after the winter solstice, when the amount of day light starts to increase. Or the spring equinox, when there is more light than darkness each day, but January 1 seems arbitrary to me. I did some research and learned a little bit about this holiday:
January 1 has been observed as the start of the new year since the Romans made that designation in 45 BCE. The month January takes its name from the Roman god Janus. Janus has two faces; so it is the god of gates, and doorways. It is also believed to look both into the past and into the future. New Year’s Day is a time when lots of people look back at the year that has passed and look ahead to the year that is coming. I heard on the radio last week that health clubs plan on lots of new customers signing up at the start of the new year. Many people use the turn of the calendar page as motivation to make positive changes in their lives. I also heard that it is common for health clubs to have capacity for as little as 2% of their members. And the other 98% subsidize the 2% who work out faithfully year round.
Today’s lesson from John’s Gospel points to some of the confused ways Christians regard time. I hope you were a little confused by these familiar words. Christians believe that God is eternal. That is that God will exist forever into the future. That’s a weighty, but conceivable concept. The other half of eternity is a little harder to grasp, I think—that God has always existed. That is that eternity goes back into the infinite past as well as into the infinite future. To put this in spatial terms, time is a line that stretches infinitely in two directions—the past and the future.
Christians go a little farther, though. We believe that God is a trinity, that God can be thought of as having three personae: Father, Son and Holy Ghost in the oldest terms, or Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer in more modern terms. And we believe that all three of these distinct aspects of God have existed throughout eternity. So as John’s gospel asserts, “He [that is Jesus] was in the beginning with God.” So Jesus was present at Creation.
But we do something even a little more elusive and hard to understand with language here. John’s gospel begins, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” I hope you noticed as Ken read that the word “Word” was capitalized. In the Bible when Word is capitalized it means “Jesus.” Jesus was the word of God in human form. The Greek word that Word translates into is λογος. It’s the root word for the English word “logic” and we use it at the end of all kinds of word that indicate the study of something like “biology” and “ecology.”
So Jesus, God in flesh, with us residing, as we sing in the season of Christmas is the embodied logic or structure or intention of God. And, as I indicated earlier was present at Creation, along with the Holy Spirit.
OK, but here’s where it gets crazy. The Triune God has existed forever. How can we speak of a beginning then? Genesis begins with “In the beginning…” and that passage is the focus of next week’s sermon. John’s gospel begins the same way…This has baffled philosophers and theologians for a very long time. Once Augustine was asked what God was doing for eternity before getting around to making the earth, stars and universe. He quickly replied, “Creating Hell for the curious!” The fact is there is a lot we do not know about time and our origins. While science is pushing back the veil of ignorance all the time, we are still left only able to grope at ways to conceive of time and eternity.
What we do know and what we celebrate in this season of Christmas is that God did something dramatic and unprecedented in coming into the world as a human being. God broke into history decisively, and the forgiveness that God sends the world in Christ makes all things new. The hard part for us is trusting that God really means it. That God really loves us that much. That God is always inviting us into new life, urging us to accept and embrace a new beginning. And this is another paradox: God’s love is always new. God’s love is always working for our renewal.
At the very core of the Book of Lamentations, the prophet Jeremiah writes
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
I’ll never forget talking on the phone to one of our former members more than ten years ago. I asked this gentleman how he was, I hadn’t seen him for a while. And he said, “When I saw the Sun rise this morning, I said, ‘You did it again, Lord!’” This man taught me not only that God is alive, but that God is always alive and always bringing new life!
Paul made a similar point when he wrote to the Corinthians for the second time. “As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. For he says,
‘At an acceptable time I have listened to you,
And on a day of salvation I have helped you.’
See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!”
My friends, any day can be New Year’s Day. Any moment can be the moment we let the new life God sends us in Christ when we make a new beginning. Sign up for the gym. Make those resolutions. And trust and believe that there will be even more new life, inexhaustible new life in this new year. Amen.