It all started with the idea, The idea in God’s mind, The idea which is God.
It started with God. Everything exists because of it, Nothing exists without it. Life is possible because of it. And in it lies enlightenment.
Such light pierces through the dark, And darkness cannot put it out.
If the community of the 4th gospel knows anything about shepherds and angels and mangers wise men from the east, there’s no indication of it in anything they left behind.
Instead, for this early tradition the arrival of Jesus signals nothing less than the re-creation of the world. In their experience of Jesus, they had found enlightenment. (Remember, the Judaism out of which Christianity arose was an eastern religion. The Romans considered the Jewish god one of the oriental deities.)
And with enlightenment they saw the dawning of opportunity, a new way, to stand against the darkness of their time.
This Christmas Eve, whatever form your celebration takes, and from whatever tradition, and in whichever community, may you celebrate the dawning of opportunity to stand against the darkness of our time. And may enlightenment bring you renewed life, much joy, and (if we dare) the chance to participate in the remaking of the world.
God sent a man named John to be a witness
Vouching for the light
So by his testimony everyone could recognize it.
He wasn’t the light.
His job was to point to the light.
When Homeland Security sent interrogators from Washington to ask him, “Who are you?” this is what he said. He owned up to it. He didn’t shirk it off, but he stated plainly: “I’m not the Revolutionary you’re looking for.”
They asked him, “What then? Are you codename Elijah?”
He said, “I’m not.”
“Are you codename Truth-teller?”
“No,” he said.
So they asked him, “Who are you then? We need answers for those who sent us. What do you have to say for yourself?”
He said, “I’m the voice Isaiah was talking about, shouting in the desert, ‘Make a straight highway for God.'”
Some of the interrogators had been sent from the Legal Department. So they asked him, “Why are you bathing people, since you’re not the Revolutionary, nor Elijah, nor the Truth-teller?”
John said, “I just get people wet. There is someone among you – you don’t know who – who will come after me, and compared to him I’m unworthy even to untie his shoes.”
This all happened in Hickville, on the other side of the continental divide, where John was bathing people.
The first part, within the 4th gospel’s prologue-in-verse, is akin to the choir in a Greek tragedy letting the audience know what nobody within the dramatic circle “gets.”
The second part begins the gospel’s story, the theme of which is: the people who claim to be in charge of things just don’t get it, and the people you’d least expect to be important are.
In this scene, the paranoid protectors of the establishment send their lackeys out to a place that is of no geopolitical significance to shake down people with no geopolitical interest other than to be left alone. Bethany was a leper town nobody went to unless they were sick or dying or otherwise unclean. It’s the home of Simon the Leper (Matthew 26:6-13, Mark 14:3-9). It’s the place from which Lazarus’s family sent word that he was about to die (John 11:1-44).
But John was cleaning those unclean dying people up. Offering them a bath. A little sanitation. A chance to have someone care and listen to them before they shuffled off their mortal coils. And that anyone would offer help and meaning and human dignity to those who had been declared untouchable by the establishment was a threat. Who would do such a thing? What if he started a revolution?
As it turns out, it didn’t have to be the Revolutionary, or a larger-than-life hero returned from the dead. It was just John. It was just this guy who cared about sick people and rejects. Like the guy whose briefcase gets switched at the airport and suddenly finds himself mixed up in a world of international espionage. Could be anybody.
It could be anybody who sees and tends to the need of others where the rest of the world turns a blind eye. It could be you. In the 4th gospel’s world those who see and care are those who are really in charge, and they are the ones who see God.
But, because the 4th gospel is a drama about how the people who claim to be in charge aren’t and those who are of no geopolitical consequence really are, this turns out to be the incident that touches off the very Revolution they live in fear of. A Revolution the early Christians who told this story called Resurrection.