Sermon Ideas For John 1:1-14 Part 1
While the emperor Constantine thought that the controversy and dissension that threatened his empire occasioned by an obscure priest and even more unknown bishop's secretary were of no great importance, he still felt the necessity of calling over three hundred bishops together to the town of Nicea to deal with the formenting problems of church doctrine. At the council of Nicea, Arius presented views which Athanasius would spend his life fighting, and which the Church would reject when deciding upon the creedal formulations that would shape the christology of the Church for centuries.
Certainly a line can be traced, in whatever crooked fashion, from Nicea back to the readings for today, specifically to the Gospel lesson. The heart of this passage is christological and is informed by a rich and complex heritage. Who was Jesus, and more
importantly, why should we care, was a question every Gospel spoke to. but this one captures a poetic and narrative imagination that attracts many.
The early Christians were seeking to define who Jesus was in the context of the culture and chose certain names and concepts which led to a christology that concentrated upon Jesus' earthly life and his triumphant return. But questions arose when Paul wrote about the other aspects of Jesus' life, and these writings and their author moved into the larger cultural world beyond Judaism.
With the background of mystery cults, savior cults, and Greek philosophers exploring the idea of the Logos as a rational principle that guides our understanding, the Church struggled with how to explain the emergent faith and its founder. The writer of the Gospel this morning fashions a theologically rich portrait of Jesus that has guided the Church through Nicea, right to the present age and its controversies.
Perhaps the first theological theme for us to reflect upon would take shape in thinking about the notion of Word or Logos mentioned initially in this passage. The context of Hellenism was for a long time the assumption of those who sought to understand the prologue of John and his treatment of the Logos, however, more recent study, with an appreciation of the Jewish background of this text, has focused on the affinities between the ideas of Wisdom (Sophia) and Logos (Word). Much discussion on the concept of Sophia in the contemporary Church has obscured the possible uses that the writer of the Gospel may have employed in the Logos terminology.
The divine Sophia does make its dwelling in Jacob (Sir 24:8f) and becomes incarnate, after a fashion, in the "book of the covenant" (Sir 24:23). But this passage from John affirms that the Logos becomes incarnate in a human being as a unique manifestation of that which has always been true, even if fragmented. This Word has always been in the world.
Judaism's understanding of Wisdom as an agent of God's creating, sustaining, and reconciling power is here manifested in full light. Unlike Wisdom, which stands in biblical Wisdom, speculation as an agent to accomplish God's will, the Word of the prologue is no longer scattered and fragmented in the world. It has become fused into a single Word. Christ supplants Wisdom, becoming the hinge of history between the ages of God's action to save all the world. This is a theme that can be mined deeply today as a congregation's minds may have actually moved from the feast of St. Materialism to reflecting on the question of what it all means.
Moving deeper into the mystery we find that the Word that was already present in the world has its origin in the deepest recesses of the Godhead, and in this context, along with the theology that emerges in the Pauline texts, sets the stage for the type of theological reflection that incorporates the christological pattern of pre-existence, incarnation, and exaltation. These are the patterns that Athanasius appeals to in his struggle with Arius, who in turn appeals to the patterns of focusing on the earthly life and exaltation of Jesus.
In examining the Gospel accounts this morning we move along a path where the Church struggles with its traditions of Jesus. Noetus, Sabellius, Tertullian, Gregory of Nyssa, Augustine and the entire theological constellation of thinkers is, or has been, exercised by the concepts and beliefs the Church has used to define its life.
Is Jesus human or divine? How are we saved? Was Jesus begotten or made? As the theology of the prologue moves from abstract to concrete embodiment in the world we see Jesus portrayed as God's eternal Word. The creedal statements are formed to show that the Lord of the Church is not the Lord of a mystery cult, or even of a partial Wisdom, but the Lord who claims creation as God's own, and manifests light into a community that responds to the incarnating Word with a joyous "Yes!"
One way of reflecting theologically on this passage might be to ask, in the face of this theological richness, where is America's idolatry of Christmas found? Is it in the economic orgy that surrounds Christmas in this culture? Probably so. But cannot it also be argued that our culture, even in the midst of a celebration that centers itself on a baby, domesticates this flesh to a sentimental gnosticism which places the salvation of God in the province of the heavens?
If the cities of Alexandria and Constantinople were filled with every butcher, baker, and candlestick maker arguing substances and natures, what will our culture reflect today? A theology that prefers Christ stay the Word, captured in a book, or in theology? Or the light shining in darkness, calling persons to decision, and extending the heritage of sonship and daughterhood to a new humanity within life's rich pageant?
Jeffrey C. Pugh