Toorak Uniting Church

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Looking beyond the immediate

John 1: 1 – 18
Rev. Anneke Oppewal
24 December 2003

The pictures that were shown during the concert tonight all suggested somehow something of the beyond.
They were all suggesting there was more to see than the immediate and were meant to invite to more than just viewing them but to also use the imagination to envisage what was behind them and beyond them.

We will look at them again now, briefly, for those who have joined us after the concert:

A gate, with a round arch, evoking curiosity: What is behind it?

Again a gate but this time with a fence half open, making one wonder: where does the path leading through it lead to?

Trees, singled out from the landscape surrounding it, again raising questions as well as answers: Where are they, what are they, what context have they been singled out from and why?

The tantalising view of water through tree ferns,

Wheat sheaves blocking a view: Making one wonder about what is hidden behind them.

A fire, is it a bushfire? Or are they roman torches?

A lonely tree standing out against a red rocky back ground,

a starburst against a black sky.

What is visible in these pictures, as interesting as what is not.

The first chapter of the gospel of John which we read tonight is a bit like that. It summons up powerful images, full of contrast, that quicken the imagination, but leave as many questions as it gives answers.

In the beginning was the Word
and the Word was with God
and the Word was God.

John does not start, like Luke with the image of a vulnerable child born into a hostile world, surrounded by awe and wonder. He goes back to the first words of the Bible in Genesis one, where, at the beginning of creation, God calls the world into being through his Word. A Word so strong it can bring forth life.
Mysterious, although maybe not as mysterious as it sounds.

Words are very powerful instruments. They can give life and support as much as they can hurt. They can lift up as much as they can put down. Words, once spoken, can take on a life of their own, in a positive as well as in a negative sense. Poetic words that call up images and emotions. Romantic words that cherish and warm, ill considered words that will sometimes hurt and do damage that is hard to repair.

This particular Word of God is full of life. Filled with light and love. Light for people like you and me. Love for a world that would be quite lost without it. God breaking into greyness and darkness that lies like a cloak over this earth with a breath of life and light, chasing the darkness away.

There is not so very much is needed to light up a space that is dark: one candle will take away the edge of any darkness. But it does need that candle. And according to John that is what God’s speaking does: it lights up the darkness as a candle in the night. A candle that is impossible to put out.

This light bringing speaking of God becomes flesh. Becomes walking and talking reality, is what John tells us. It enters the world as a tangible every day reality. A child, a man, a person like us but full of that life-giving love and light of God.

And is rejected.

That starburst of God’s love ignored. The light that stood out so clearly against its background is not received with joy but rejected. The path through the porch not taken, the beckoning future behind the opened gate not explored, there is a turning away from the wells of salvation.

Gods Word of love and light became flesh; Came among us and was one of us. And we saw its glory, the glory which befits God’s only son, full of grace and truth.

Gods glory, Gods grace, Gods truth living among us. Knowable, accessible, vulnerable, a miracle and a mystery that evokes more questions than it answers.

And yet, that is what we celebrate with Christmas: God in his love seeking to be near us. Wanting his truth and grace and glory to be born among us, for them to become part of our lives in such a way that we can become part of his.

The life of Christ a starburst beyond imagination. One tree standing out against the background of common humanity showing the light and love of God in the world.

A light that proved impossible to put out.

As those pictures the images John evokes are full of contrast: Light and darkness, life and death, the abstract of the Word of God at the beginning of creation in contrast with that same Word becoming flesh, coming among us, becoming one of us. Saying what is beyond saying: God recreating the world through Jesus Christ. Beckoning us to follow, to follow the path that he tread before us to a light shimmering in the distance, a light beyond the immediate we can see, kindled by a love so powerful and strong it cannot be put out by any darkness.

We will share bread and wine with one another tonight. A visible, tangible sign of what in Jesus Christ God came to do: To give of himself, to share of his love and his light, to nurture in us what is his, to bring us to communion with him and with each other. Living life in his footsteps.

Amen.

© Rev. Anneke Oppewal, 2003


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