God of the Word, you are the tent God, pulling up stake to be wherever we roam. It is time for us to see who dwells in our midst, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever. Amen (preachingtip.com)
One of my favorite movies growing up was the Lion King. I hope you've seen this children's classic. It's a movie that if you have kids, you cannot just watch once. At least ten years after the Lion King came out, Disney made the Lion King 1 1/2, a different kind of sequel. The movie starts with Timon and Pumbaa, the comic sidekicks, in a theater watching the Lion King. Timon starts to fast forward the movie and Pumbaa protests.
Pumbaa: Uhh, Timon, what are you doing?
Timon: I'm fast forwarding to the part where we come in.
Pumbaa: But you can't go out of order.
Timon: Au contraire, my porcine pal. I've got the remote.
Pumbaa: But everyone's gonna get confused.
Pumbaa: We gotta go back to the beginning of the story.
Timon: [fast forwarding] We're not *in* the beginning of the story.
Pumbaa: [rewinding] Yes we were, the whole time.
Timon: [fast forwarding] Yeah, but they don't know that.
Pumbaa: [rewinding] Then, why don't we tell them our story?
Timon: Hey! Pumbaa! I have a great idea, why don't we tell them our story?
Which they then proceed to do, they go back, before the beginning of the story and retell it though their perspective. I feel like this is what John is doing, he wants to tell God's story, but he can't just start with Jesus' baptism and the beginning of his ministry, he has to go back, all the way to the beginning. John knows that history is important for relationships. It's important for us to know where we have been, it gives insight to where we are going, gives us a grounding, but it should not stop us from going forward.
So the beginning of John's gospel recalls the beginning, Genesis, where "In the beginning when God created." It was in the darkness of chaos, as the priestly writers of Genesis say, that God first spoke light into being. In the Hebrew tradition, this is when the Word, which was in God and was God, was spoken and came into action. In ancient times, agreements were not written down, everything was done by word of honor. In Hebrew, daber, which means word or to speak, also means a thing. The connection is deep between what is spoken and done. In Greek as well, logos, the word, has a dynamic quality to it, the spoken word gives character and coherence. Words shape reality. We know the power of words, we feel it when someone shares their love for us or yells out in anger at us.
God speaks, gives birth to, the marvelous Light of the universe, and "the Word became flesh and lived among us." God sent his Son to us to be the reality of his love and grace and relationship with us, to help us understand the presence in a human way. John doesn't stop with the beginning and creation, he continues connecting God's story into a integral whole. He talks about Moses and the law and how during that time, God's house was a tent. The Greek literally translated says, "the Word became flesh and pitched his tent among us." The people were nomadic, moving through the desert. God dwelt among the people of Israel in a tent, so that whenever they moved, God moved with them. Through Jesus being among us, God continues to dwell with us no matter where we are.
Even though we build houses and gardens and set up lawn ornaments, we still move around, wandering, in our hearts and minds as we journey through life. God was not just with the people in the desert for 40 years in the tabernacle, God was not just with the Galileans in Jerusalem two thousand years ago or with the reformers four hundred years ago, but God is with us now, moving as we move, knowing us better than we know ourselves. God goes with us, wherever we are. God has a nomadic lifestyle, always has, always will... Being with us, wherever we are.
God is with us and God is love. Those are the main points in John's Gospel and he sets them up nicely in this beginning passage. It is beautiful in style and writing, especially the way we have it. Its rich. Its laden with meaning. Its full of the gospel, of love and hope and joy. We have been saved. We have God. God came here to us. The Jesus who was and is and will be. There is poetry and theology there. We know God's spoken Word of grace, we know Jesus, born on earth and in our hearts. The Word is spoken, and grace is given. We try to celebrate all the instances that we see it, the daily epiphanies, the birth, the death, the teachings... We live a life of celebration (even calling our church service leaders celebrants) there is something special about every day of our lives with God and we try to capture that knowledge daily, weekly, and yearly in the celebrations of the feasts.
Today, we are still in the midst of celebrating the birth of our savior, and (at the 11 o'clock service) we will celebrate the baptism of another one of God's beloved children. The writers of the prayer over the water in baptism have this grounding urge when telling the story of water in the Christian life, it's not just that Jesus was baptized in water, but water was present at the very beginning. The baptismal prayer gives the whole arc of biblical history in relation to water: "We thank you, Almighty God, for the gift of water. Over it the Holy Spirit moved in the beginning of creation. Through it you led the children of Israel out of their bondage in Egypt into the land of promise. In it your Son Jesus received the baptism of John and was anointed by the Holy Spirit as the Messiah, the Christ, to lead us, through his death and resurrection, from the bondage of sin into everlasting life."
In the beginning, through our journeys, in our baptisms, in our deaths and resurrections, God's Word, God's Love, God's Grace was wrapped around us and will be until the end. God is with us, Emmanuel, wherever we are, wherever we roam.