It was uncommonly like Nothing. There were no stars. It was so dark that they couldn’t see one another at all and it made no difference whether you kept your eyes shut or opened. Under their feet there was a cool, flat something which might have been earth…The air was cold and dry and there was no wind.
In the middle of a chapter, in the middle of a book, in the middle of his beloved series, C.S. Lewis tells the story of the beginning of the land of Narnia. Two children, Digory and Polly, have found themselves in the middle of the darkness at the beginning of a world being made.
In the darkness something was happening at last. A voice had begun to sing…Sometimes it seemed to come from all directions at once. Sometimes [it seemed to come] out of the earth beneath them. Its lower notes were deep enough to be the voice of the earth herself. There were no words. There was hardly even a tune. But it was, beyond comparison, the most beautiful noise [Digory] had ever heard. It was so beautiful he could hardly bear it.
When last the Church gathered as communities of faith, in the star-bright darkness of Christmas Eve, we raised our voices to sing with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven and earth, Joy to the world, the Lord is come! We rejoiced in the middle of the darkness at the beginning of a world being made new as a newborn baby on a silent and holy night.
Today we gather to continue our celebration of that blessed birth, to mark the midpoint of the season of Christmas, to keep singing the beautiful beyond comparison carols that let us adore him, to linger a little longer in the stable where good news of great joy awaits…
But there is no stable in the story we hear today. There are no shepherds, no swaddling clothes, no manger, no Mary. John’s gospel has no nativity. But it does have a beginning…
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. It doesn’t sound like the story pictured on greeting cards from friends, or presented by children in glitter and bathrobes, or portrayed by the family heirloom figurines of Mary and Joseph and all the rest. In this story, Jesus doesn’t look like a baby. It doesn’t feel like Christmas.
Instead, John invites us to go back to the beginning of the story, before there even were a heaven and nature to sing. The Church, by placing this gospel reading on the Sunday following Christmas, invites us to go back to that beginning from right here where we stand at the manger, gazing down at the child in whom is mingled divinity and DNA. For every twinkle in his dark eyes, every crease in his tiny fingers, every soft hair on his sweet head contains not only his human life but the life that is the light of all people. This little one who has come into being is the one through whom all things came into being. In the glow of a stable lamp lies the light that shines in the darkness, which the darkness did not overcome.
In the beginning was the Word…The Reverend Mary Morrison writes, “We are invited to let the words roll over us, like waves of music. We love to hear them, even though we may not be too sure about what they mean.” The beginning of John’s gospel is a song weaving together the ancient harmonies of creation with a new melody of incarnation. The words are not as simple as those we heard on Christmas Eve, To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger. John’s words are not as simple, but as surely as Mary held her baby in her arms, so does John’s gospel hold the Word made flesh who lived among us, as one of us, so that we might learn to live with God.
And as the rest of John’s gospel, his telling of the story of the good news of Jesus Christ…as the rest of John’s gospel unfolds, it elaborates the theme and swells the sound of all that was said and done in the beginning. Frederick Buechner notes that the Hebrew word dabar means both “word” and “deed,” such that to say something really is to do something. When we speak, that which was contained, hidden, in our hearts and minds is given substance and released into the world, like stones thrown into a pool where the concentric circles lap out endlessly, he writes. Let there be light, God said, and there was light, rippling its way toward this very morning when the sun rose and our day began.
So it is with the Word who was with God, the Word who was God, the Word who became flesh and dwelled among us, full of grace and truth. In the vast and mysterious and wonderful and intimate stories of creation and of Christmas, the Word is not only God’s expression of light and life and love but also God’s active agent of light and life and love. No one has ever seen God, John wrote. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made God known.
Making God known to all the world was what the baby sleeping in Mary’s arms would grow up to do. Making God known to all the world was what he would ask those who believed in him to do. Making God known to all the world is what we are called to do, we who are the Body of Christ, we who through Christ are close to the Father’s heart. The light of life is kindled in us, so that we might shine in a world that is so often dark and cold and dry. The song of love is stirred in us, so that we might sing in a world that is so often deaf to compassion and mercy.
Then two wonders happened at once, C.S. Lewis continues with his story. One was that the voice was suddenly joined by other voices; more voices than you could possibly count. They were in harmony with it, but far higher up the scale: cold, tingling, silvery voices. The second wonder was that the blackness overhead, all at once, was blazing with stars. They didn’t come out gently, one by one, as they do on a summer evening. One moment there had been nothing but darkness; next moment a thousand, thousand points of light leaped out…If you had seen and heard it, as Digory did, you would have felt quite certain that it was the stars themselves who were singing, and that it was the First Voice, the deep one, which had made them appear and made them sing.
By the light that dawns in the newborn world of Narnia, Digory and Polly see such glory, as of a father’s only son. They see that the First Voice, the Singer of the song of creation, is none other than Aslan, the great lion whose presence at the beginning of all things brings light and life, whose sacrifice in the middle will demonstrate the depth to which love will go, and whose living again will make a new beginning of life and put an end to darkness.
This Christmas, for we are still gathered at the stable illumined by lamps and stars and the Light of the World, let us lend our voices to sing with those who tell the story of Emmanuel, God-with-us. May our song bring light where there is darkness, love where there is coldness, joy where there is silence. In the words of one of our beautiful beyond comparison Christmas carols:
Of the Father’s love begotten, ere the worlds began to be,
He is Alpha and Omega, he the source, the ending he,
Of the things that are, that have been, and that future years shall see,
Evermore and evermore.