Sunday, December 27, 2015

Meaning, Imagination, Stories

Homily in HNEC, PC, Florida, Sunday, Dec 27, 2015, the Rev. Tom Weller. Text: John 1:1-18.

LOGOS. TheoLogos. I shall speak of “the process” — truth, Creation, meaning, imagination, stories — doctrine. You may be seated.
In the beginning was the LOGOS, and the LOGOS was with God, and the LOGOS was God. The LOGOS was in the beginning with God. All things were made through the LOGOS, and without the LOGOS was not anything made that was made. In the LOGOS was life, and that life was the light of humanity. And the LOGOS became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.

We have a "doctrine Sunday" today as sure as Trinity Sunday is a doctrine Sunday. I’d rather have a “story Sunday,” one of our imaginative stories about Jesus, especially Christmas stories from Luke -- 
  • John the Baptist, conceived by a withered old man and a barren old woman, to come as a prophetic herald. 
  • An angel coming to Mary and hearing her breathless consent to conceive and bear the Son of God. 
  • Mary and Joseph traveling from Nazareth in Galilee to Bethlehem of Judea and, because the village is crowded with pilgrims for the census, taking shelter with the animals for the birth of the holy Child — our most earthy story, and our Christmas pageant to tell the story again and again with children of the kingdom rightly and rightfully filling all the roles.
  • God lacing the night sky with angels and song, terrifying shepherds in the field.

I love the way we blend Luke’s story of shepherds and angels and a babe in a manger — blend Luke with Matthew’s story of Magi coming from afar to worship the King, bearing majestic gifts as foretold in Isaiah and the Psalms of David. 

I love the Christmas tree — and the Night before Christmas when all through the house, a miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer, St. Nicholas and a bag of toys. Laying his finger aside of his nose, with a nod of his head, up the chimney he rose* is almost as much part of our magical story as shepherds in the field. It’s all good.

The Christmas story, as we mix and celebrate, is glittery, gaudy, colorful, elegant, outrageous, and doubtful, and I love the stories and our customs, as mixed and delicious as Christmas fruitcake soaked in brandy.

As a child I loved getting lost in the stories and being a shepherd. Today the stories are what I love about Sunday School and my Tuesday morning Bible Seminars. However, my gospel this morning is not an imaginative story but our central doctrine as the church espies, recognizes and appropriates LOGOS, the creating power in ancient Greek philosophy, makes LOGOS a person, even a man, names him Jesus, and doctrine is born. 

I prefer a story: Once upon a time long ago and far away, a child was conceived in love, by the love of the creating God, because of God’s love for us. And it came to pass that in those days there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, and a man and woman traveled to Bethlehem where the love child was born, and angels filled the heavens, frightening shepherds in the field; and a star in the sky led kings to the brightness of his rising. And Heilsgeschichte, our holy history with God had a new beginning.

I love to tell the story, I refuse to lecture the doctrine. And there are other stories better than doctrines and their creeds. Better than creeds and doctrine is C. S. Lewis’ imaginative chronicle where witnesses who have unwittingly dragged a lamppost from a London streetcorner across a wrinkle in space and time listen in awe as Aslan sings creatively in the darkness and ever so gradually light dawns upon Narnia, where Aslan and LOGOS are one, and Jesus Christ can be seen, and there is no creed but lovingkindhess. 

In the Koran, Allah tells Mohammed that we are “people of the book,” and so we are, with stories that tell imaginatively of God’s love and of Christ Jesus. But doctrine is a human concept: God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten not made, homoousios with God the Father.** Not “Glory to God in the highest,” the story sung by the angels, but the Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the Holy Ghost incomprehensible. And yet they are not three incomprehensibles, but one incomprehensible.*** It is not possible with doctrine and creed to explain, the only way to get a sense of it is where the stories are told and sung by God’s children through the ages of ages.

Looking around, we breathe air and see dirt and life and beauty and death. Gazing into the heavens we see a fraction of Creation still being sung into being by LOGOS: galaxies, planets, stars, sun and moon. Beholding the splendor, we ask, “what’s the meaning?” and stirred by what Friedrich Schleiermacher called “a sense of the infinite,” our imagination explodes with stories of angels and shepherds, and of the love of God set loose in the midst of us. Over decades and generations, stories are told over and over, and written down so we remember and get it right in the telling. But in time men argue and fight, and shout “heresy” and “heretic” at each other, and codify doctrine, and a creed is born. (No thank you. I can think for myself).

Bible stories gave birth to doctrine; but the stories are prior. The stories are truth and grace. Doctrine comes last, and, set in creedal concrete, quenches the imagination that cast us in the divine image from the time of Adam and Eve and the Serpent in the Garden.

LOGOS creates and we see meaning in creation. Imagination illumines meaning with stories, but stories grow into doctrine. “Let there be Light,” and it is so: meaning, imagination, stories, and doctrine in that order. The truth is in the stories. Yes, the stories are childish, but unless ye become as little children, ye shall not enter the kingdom of heaven. In the beginning was LOGOS the Word, but Christmas only comes true when children parade down the aisle on Christmas Eve as the story. Tiny shepherds and lambs, angels, people singing, kings bearing gifts, a little mother in blue, bewildered old Joseph wondering what happened, and a newborn infant “no crying he makes,” is more salvific than all the doctrine the Church Fathers could lay on us. The story is the essence of Christmas. 

LOGOS, meaning, imagination, and a story. The truth of Christmas is found in following a star. Don’t fret about an incomprehensible Creed, just say it!!! All you need to remember, the real thing, is right in front of you under a star, right before your eyes, a picture story of God’s love for us. And that’s the truth.

* 'Twas the night before Christmas
** Nicene Creed
*** Athanasian Creed

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