On 4th February 2018, the second Sunday before Lent, Helene Milena preached the following sermon in the Anglican Cathedral on Epiphany Island in Second Life. The readings were Psalm 104:26-35, Colossians 1:15-20, and John 1:1-14.
It was very important that those living in Israel in the first century understood who Jesus is. God sent John the Baptist ahead of Jesus to prepare the way and prepare the hearts of the people to respond to Jesus. As we know, many did respond but others rejected him. Still others chose to condemn Jesus to death. John the Evangelist wrote his Gospel so that those who came along later could also understand who Jesus is and have the opportunity to respond. That opportunity is still available to everyone today.
If I were to ask each of you, “Who are you?” I wonder how you would reply. Many of you would probably begin with your name. For us here in SL that immediately presents a puzzle: account name, display name (which may well have changed many times), offline name? Which is you? Are they all you? Are you just this you, or are you an alt as well?
Perhaps you would describe your family relationships: son of X, daughter of Y, brother of Z, wife of T. Once again, are these offline relationships, or online? Many people in SL have wives, husbands, sisters, brothers, children, prim babies, here. It’s role play on one level, but on another level it’s very real. Do these SL relationships define us or only our offline relationships?
There were none of these issues for John as he opened his Gospel. He was intent on telling us who Jesus is. He does it without telling about Mary or Joseph. They were Jesus’ mother and father in an earthly sense, and no doubt very real and very important to Jesus. This is perhaps equivalent to our online relationships. John relates Jesus to God, that connection that can never be broken, that was true from the very beginning and before. This is rather like our relationship to biological parents. They are an unchangeable fact of our lives, whether they bring us up or not, they have made us what we are and we will always be connected to them by inheritance. However, I can’t push the analogy too far as it breaks down.
Who does John say Jesus is? Jesus is the Eternal Word. In the beginning, Jesus, the Word, was already present. Nothing was made without him, so nothing was made before he was in existence. Before time, Jesus IS just as God the Father IS. We know from Genesis, that other book that begins “In the beginning” that it was God’s words, in fact God’s Word, which spoke everything into being. “All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being” writes John. “All things have been created through him and for him” writes Paul.
We could have had a reading from Proverbs Chapter 8 today also, which personifies wisdom but could equally apply to the Word: “When he established the heavens, I was there, when he drew a circle on the face of the deep, when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep, when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command, when he marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was beside him, like a master worker.”
Not only is the Word eternal, and so with God when the beginning began, but we are told that “the Word was God”. If the Word was with God and was God himself, he is obviously equal to God. Not some kind of sorcerer’s apprentice, being allowed to do the easy bits under supervision. The Word is an equal person of the Godhead.
Then we are told something very important. This Word, this creative one, has in him life. That life is light to everyone. The equating of life and light echoes the book of Genesis once again. God said, “Let there be light, and there was light”. It was only once light came that life could begin. It is light that sustains life (although we know that some creatures seem to be able to live at the bottom of the ocean in darkness). For humans and many other creatures we depend on the ability of plants to use light to make food which we can eat and oxygen which we can breathe.
Of course, the life associated with the Word is more than just physical life, it is eternal life. It brings light to a dark world because it brings hope. We live in a broken world, one full of dark things, but the light cannot be totally enveloped by the darkness. It shines on, forever. No matter how bad things get, it tells those who choose to believe it, that there is more to life than the many dark things. If we would but look up, the light beckons us to better things.
Just in case anyone should miss this momentous arrival of the “true light which enlightens everyone”, John the Baptist, the greatest of all prophets, was sent ahead of Jesus as a witness, much as a herald would announce news of battle or victory. John’s task was to make it possible for everyone to believe in Jesus.
I said last week that the cross was there in Jesus’ life from the beginning, from conception. The shadow of the future hung over him all the time. We can see it here in John’s writing too. Despite the witness, Jesus arrived in the world that he had created and the world chose not to relate to him. He came to what belonged to him, because if you remember Paul wrote that all things were created for him, but he was not accepted. This rejection would lead ultimately to the cross.
It would be very sad indeed if it was necessary to leave things like that. God, however, gets his timing perfect. He knew what he was doing, he accounted for the rejection, but he also knew that some would want what Jesus had to offer – light and life in a world of darkness and death. Those who chose to believe that Jesus was who he was, Eternal Word, God, Life, Light, were given the power to become children of God. Children reborn with a divine nature, not a human one.
For many people John the Baptist was not enough as a witness. So here we have another John, John the evangelist, who declares that this eternal Word has been personally seen and was full of glory, the glory of God. John the Baptist came “so that all might believe through him”. John the evangelist wrote at the end of his gospel that he was “the disciple who is testifying to these things and has written them, and we know that his testimony is true”.
The light still shines in the darkness, steady and unquenchable, for those who choose to believe. The power to become children of God is still on offer. All we need to do is to reach out and claim it.
Thanks be to God.
Helene Milena (Lay Pastor)