John 1:1-14 – First Communion of Christmas Sermon
‘So what is your family history?’ The doctor conducting the medical said to me. ‘How do you mean?’ I replied ‘Well virtually every human illness has a hereditary component and so if we know the illnesses from which your parents and grandparents suffered, we can evaluate the likelihood of you suffering from something similar and advise you on the way to live to minimise the likelihood of the same conditions reoccurring in you…you can take decisions which can change the course of your life
‘I was adopted,’ I replied, ‘so I’m afraid I don’t know.’
The doctor wrote ‘no family history’ down on her pad.
It never really troubled me, but it can be a problem, being adopted. How can you know who you are, if you don’t know where you have come from?
When you don’t know your genetic make up, if you don’t know the level of ability with which you were born. Are you clever, but lazy like your Dad? Are you hardworking, but not so bright like your Mum?
If you are adopted, you don’t know what your parents were like…If you are adopted,you don’t know the genetic trajectory on which your life has been set.
But it isn’t just your physical make up which sets a course for your life: your emotional and experiential background sets a pattern for the decisions that you will take which will affect the course of your life.
We are a product partly of our nature but also we are the product of our nurture.
So much of how we evaluate our lives comes from what we experienced as children in our own families, with our own parents.
In our survey of the parish in the Summer called ‘Who Cares’, we asked people what in their lives hurt the most. A substantial number of our population reported feelings of failure of not being good enough and, its my guess, that many of those feelings derive from expectations set in childhood. Comparing ourselves and our lives with those of our parents and grand parents.
And Christmas is often a time when we feel the spotlight of our relations attention set on us most acutely. Whether its our career ‘are you still in that dead beat job?’ or our relationships ‘when are you going to marry that girl?’
Whatever we have achieved some of us can be made to feel that we don’t measure up and we can wonder about our lives and whether things will ever improve whether we will ever make the grade.
But, as I think about my own adoptive parents circumstances, the circumstances of my nurture not my nature… I can see looking back the reasons for my mother’s disastrous decision making and unhappiness, these probably stemmed from the lack of love, the detachment from paternal engagement, her father showed her during her childhood; which in turn probably stemmed from the emotional damage done to him in the First World War, about which he would never talk.
In fact you can understand, if not excuse, almost all behaviour today by looking back further and further.
Nature and nurture, genes and experience: it can all seem so random. That we are buffeted on our course by our genetic make up, on the one hand and by the circumstances of our upbringing on the other.
From generation to generation, we reap the consequences. Doubtless there is a chain of cause and effect right back to the beginning of time; a genetic lottery
as one ancestors genes mix with another’s.
And some scientists suggest even the beginning of time itself was completely random that Big Bang ‘just happened’.
Well the passage in the gospel of John we have just read takes us back to that beginning and tells us categorically that the universe did not ‘just happen’ in the beginning there was a deliberate act of a sovereign and sentient mind and an executive person through whom everything came into being. This majestic universe which we see around us, the stars that you will see as you step out of the church this evening: you and I; the pinnacle of creation: St John denies that all of it is just a random collection of molecules which just happened to come together by chance.
John tells us that the One whose birth as a human baby we celebrate tomorrow was there at the beginning of all things.
John tells us that he is the Word, the divine logos, the starting point of it all; he was with God and he was God: that all things came into being through him and without him not one thing came into being; that He is life, the light of all people, the light that shines in the darkness…
Although no-one has ever seen the Creator God but the Word, the Son, the one who was there at the beginning, Jesus Christ, has made the Creator God known to us.
He became flesh and blood, as an ordinary baby and He lived among us and revealed the nature of the Creator God to us. And it is that that we celebrate on Christmas Day.
But he is not only the beginning, in Revelation 1:8, we read he is also the end the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end; the genetic trajectory of nature upon which our lives are set, the cascade of nurture across the generations, all have their beginning
and their end in Him, in Jesus.
Francis Collins, the distinguished scientist and author of the Human Genome Project which for the first time mapped the entire human genome speaks in his book The Language of God of how he manages to reconcile his profession as a genetic biologist, with his passionate belief in the God of Christianity.
For Collins, everything turns on the Big Bang on that beginning of which John speaks.
He writes ‘The Big Bang cries out for a divine explanation. It forces the conclusion that nature had a defined beginning. I cannot see how nature could have created itself. Only a supernatural force that is outside of space and time could have done that’
A supernatural force outside of space and time: The Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.
John tells us that the very beginning of our genetic and our experiential trajectory, the very beginning of our nature and our nurture, is in Jesus Christ, the divine word, the divine logos. And we see from Revelation that Jesus is also at the end of all things as well, as he is in the present.
If there is a person at the beginning and the end of this relay race that we run across the generations setting us and our ancestors off at the start and receiving us and our descendants at the end, then the one who started us on this journey and will welcome us home at the end must also have a view on what the purpose
of that journey is what is its meaning…
Indeed John reveals what our role in creation has always been intended to be: the role set not by our parents and grandparents, by the expectations that they set on our lives, with the poor genetic materials that they have passed on to us: so that we end up judging ourselves as failures because we don’t achieve what they expect or are arrogant and distracted because we exceed them….
No our role in creation is verse 12, nothing less than to become children of God, to be adopted by the Creator of the Universe; to play our part in the on going story of creation and its eventual re-creation which is His story, to play our part in the future of the universe.
It is only by whether we choose to take on that role that we should be judged on whether we are failures or successes; on whether our lives have had eternal significance or whether everything that we have done, everything that we have been is, as the writer of Ecclesiastes writes, meaningless….
That is the only decision that we really do have to take in our lives.
Are we going to play the part in the progression of the universe that the Creator has set for us to take or are we going to allow ourselves to be buffeted about by our genes and our experiences by our nature and our nurture, by the trajectory set by our parents grandparents and our ancestors, constantly failing their expectations or arrogantly exceeding them in what will soon be the forgotten triumphs of a bygone age…
It is a decision that we can take regardless of our genetic heritage, our nature; regardless of our nurture, because John makes clear that we are offered an opportunity to be reborn (verse 13) not of blood or the will of the flesh or the will of man but of God.
Its a decision, which when we take it, feels as if we have started something which was always intended for us and which will always have significance as the effects of that decision cascades down the generations.
But how do we take this step? Its a step which involves repentance from carrying on life’s journey as if only our nature and our nurture mattered.
Its a step which involves asking Jesus into our lives as our sovereign lord and God; its as simple as that: to change the course of history and to find that we have come home….