On this seventh day of Christmas, I wish you all a Merry Christmas! After decades of oral tradition had been preached, transcribed, and collected, the Holy Gospel according to John was finally formulated about ninety years after the crucifixion of Jesus. John’s Gospel was conceived at a time of immense chaos and hardship. Brutal persecutions of the marginalized poor by Roman authorities occurred daily; conflicts between Gentile Christians and Jewish Christians were rampant; and a rife antagonism between Christians in general and Jews brewed in a Hellenistic crucible of Polytheism and Gnosticism. All of this made for a deeply broken and fragmented society. As radio, television, and social media fuel the divisive purposes of those in seats of power today, and the legislated persecution of the marginalized poor continues,1 we, like that first century Johannine community, are desperate for a Word of wholeness and unity. In our fragmented present, we are tempted to be divided across lines of opposing dualities: good and bad; right and wrong; black and white; liberal and conservative; rich and poor; old and young; us and them. One approach to begin healing these breaches is Poetry.
Poetry has the unique power of binding two opposing ideas in a sacred tension; a divine synthesis that reveals an entirely new Truth which consumes, knits together, and integrates a pair of opposites into a unified whole. This wholeness is Holy. A holiness captured by the sublime closing line of T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets in which “the fire and the rose are one.”2 The deeply fragmented communities in John the Evangelist’s time were aching for this holy, healing balm of Poetry. For those suffering on the margins; the disinherited and the oppressed; for those, in the words of Howard Thurman, “who need profound succor and strength to enable them to live in the present with dignity and creativity,”3 Poetry is life-giving. Audre Lorde, knew this truth in her flesh when she wrote:
… poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence. It forms the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action. Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought. The farthest horizons of our hopes and fears are cobbled by our poems, carved from the rock experiences of our daily lives.
sublime work of Poetry ever conceived in the history of humankind. John the Evangelist’s poetry was the holy language his fragmented faith community needed – a people whose hopes and dreams of survival and whose deepest hopes and fears are named and consecrated by divine words. In John’s sublime poetry all of the opposing dualities of existence are reconciled in God’s sacred event of The Incarnation. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” – that which is eternal is reconciled with that which takes place in a very particular time and space
when “the Word became flesh and lived among us” in the person of Jesus the Christ. That which is, and that which is not, Being and Non-being, are fully reconciled by the Logos – the unfathomable essence of God’s very substance – who becomes human flesh and “All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.” Life and Death; Light and Darkness are reconciled together in Jesus Christ since “What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” John’s soaring poetry invites us to relish these paradoxes: the eternal and the particular; Being and Non-being; Life and Death; Darkness and Light, and hold them together. Each
warm, bright comfort of light cannot exist without fully embracing the cold, beautiful darkness within which the flame glows. We cannot celebrate the fullness of life without embracing her twin sibling, “most gentle death” who leads all of us back to our eternal home. We cannot know the transcendent, eternal, ineffable God without embracing that poor, meek and helpless Palestinian child, born in the immanent particularity of our own human flesh, blood, sweat, and tears. In John’s prologue the vast expanse of the entire cosmos is reconciled with the ordinary pulse of a human heart, beating in the chest of the Christ child, cradled in the arms of his young mother in whose courageous “yes” to God’s will we find our faith.
As we stand together on this cusp of a New Year and prepare to bid farewell to 2017, like the Roman god Janus who faces both the future and the past – we too must face both our past and our future in this eternally present moment. As individuals and as a community of faith, today’s Prologue to John’s Gospel invites us to reconcile the paradoxes in our own lives. As we cross the threshold into a New Year together, let us embrace all of the opposing aspects of our lives. Let us have the courage to embrace the truths we keep hidden in the shadows: our deepest fears, our failings, our broken,
our greatest joys, our happiest achievements, and our superlative, mountaintop bests. When we reconcile these paradoxes in ourselves, we live more integrated, authentic, and truthful lives. Jungian analyst Robert A. Johnson in his text, Owning Your Shadow reminds us that this is very meaning of the word “religion,” derived from the Latin word religare: “the heart of the religious experience, is to bond, repair, draw together, to make whole.”5 When we draw together the paradoxes of our lives we experience a glorious dissonance. Do not be afraid of dissonance, because, as Theodor Adorno famously proved, “Dissonance is the truth about harmony.”6 When we reconcile dissonant truths in our fragmented lives, we begin to live Whole lives. Whole, Holy lives which harmonize with the most Holy of Paradoxes – the Word of God made flesh in Jesus the Christ – who dwells within each of us, and in whose beloved image we are all made, ever more and ever more.7 Amen.