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Cosmic and Domestic

Sermon for the Second Sunday of Christmas, 5 January 2020.

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Cosmic and Domestic

Posted By : Guest Preacher Sunday 5th January 2020

Sermon for the Second Sunday of Christmas, 5 January 2020.

Preached by The Revd Kelvin Inglis, Rector of St Thomas Salisbury

 

Readings Ecclesiasticus 24: 1–12; John 1: 1–18

 

The midnight liturgy we use at St Thomas’s brings together the cosmic and the domestic, in words from Job and Psalm 90 and the Gospels:

 

Do I not fill heaven and earth? Says the Lord.

Now the Word is made flesh and laid in a narrow manger.

From eternity to eternity you are God,

And now we see you as a newborn child.

 

There’s a moment in the parish nativity play that brings home the domestic nature of the incarnation like nothing else. As the strains of Little Donkey fade away, it’s when Mary and Joseph – or two children suitably robed – come forward carrying the baby Jesus.

 

A few years back, and in another place, I was disappointed to see Mary (with the infant) come all alone to sit by the manger. As I prepared to summon the angels, the west door suddenly crashed open. And little Joseph (who had been surprised not by an angel but by the call of nature) ran the length of the nave at full pelt to take his place.

 

This year at St Thomas’s, I watched as Mary and Joseph approached. Just then a second Mary entered from stage right. She shot past me and threw herself into the chair behind the manger. She carried a baby Jesus under her arm like a rugby ball. In fact – so determined was she to reach the manger – I think if I’d intercepted her, she might have dropkicked the bambino.

 

From eternity to eternity you are God, and now we see you as a newborn child. And when we set up the crib scene or the nativity tableau – we remind ourselves again that God is very near. That the fulness of God is made known in human form.

 

We’ve just heard the prologue of St John’s Gospel and there was no manger, no shepherds, no Christ-child. John avoids the domestic and takes us straight to the cosmic. En archē - In the beginning… he says.

 

What was in the beginning? My subject is history and so if I’m to know anything at all about science I turn to the experts. One has said:

 

Discoveries in astronomy and physics have shown beyond a reasonable doubt that our universe did in fact have a beginning. Prior to that moment there was nothing; during and after that moment there was something: our universe.

 

This is surely what ‘in the beginning’ is about. Bill Bryson

has spoken to lots of real scientists and he suggests we can best understand what happened by running time backwards. We have to imagine everything going into a big crushing machine. Plants, animals, buildings, this cathedral, this city – they all get squashed into a tiny ball. We then add the rest of the world. And the other planets in our solar system and the sun.

 

We then throw in our galaxy - the milky way (which includes 200 billion other suns) - and finally all the other galaxies in the universe (perhaps 140 billion of them). All this stuff is then squeezed together to the size of a tennis ball, then a pea and finally a dot so small that you can’t see it anymore. This is called a ‘singularity’ and in what I suspect is an understatement it is described as heavy, dense and hot.

 

‘In the beginning’, the dot burst. And it expanded. And everything that now exists is made of particles that were released when the Big Bang happened. The everything that exists is made up of atoms and these are fairly numerous as, according to my source, an atom is one ten millionth of a millimetre across.

 

When the writers of Genesis captured the ancient creation myth, they recorded for us something that wasn’t so very far from what (may be) the truth:

 

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

 

If for void and darkness, we read an invisible dot of energy, I think we are talking about much the same thing. And thank goodness for Hebrew poetry, because the numbers that scientists are working with are too much for our minds to grasp. But we can all relate to the separation of Day from Night.

 

What was there before anything else? God. God was there to make whatever happened happen. Creation needed a creator. That for me is the great truth that Genesis chapter 1 conveys – first God and then creation.

 

When the writer of John’s gospel sat down and put pen to papyrus, he chose to begin his gospel with words that set out the epic scope of his story. Not for him the chatty dedication that Luke uses. En archē: In the beginning. He wanted his audience to remember straightaway the creation myth from Genesis. To remember that before anything happened, there was God and that God made it happen. Creation –

 

all things came into being through him

and without him not one thing came into being

 

But he found a different way to put it.

 

In the beginning was the Word.

The Word was with God and the Word was God.

 

Now when we hear language like that we know we are speaking the unspeakable – trying to grasp the ungraspable. Imagine that dot – that ‘singularity’. And imagine the Word that is both with God and God. What is a word? Something that communicates – reveals – something dynamic – gets an idea from one to another.

 

And out of this dynamic, communicating God comes creation and in particular the creation of life. And life is light. Still the gospel writer wants us to be thinking about God as God and he makes no mention of the name of Jesus. And so John the Baptist bears witness to the Light.

 

In the prologue, the great sweep of John’s gospel is reduced to a few phrases. They are ideas that need to be filled out in the chapters that follow - and in the other Gospels and in the full Christian tradition of interpretation and meditation – including the simple beauty of the nativity tableau. But the essence is clear. The Creator God is the Word and is there before anything – think again of that singularity. And everything follows on from that. And that same God is what we see in Jesus.

 

Do I not fill heaven and earth? Says the Lord.

Now the Word is made flesh and laid in a narrow manger.

 

As created beings, fashioned and loved by God, the choice we have to make, day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute, is whether to choose the darkness or the light. And we are guided by the truth that John states elsewhere.

 

God is love and those who abide in love,

abide in God and God abides in them.