First Sunday after Christmas 2015

Gospel: John 1:1-18

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. 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.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.'”) From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.
As virtually everyone in America knows, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”, is playing in movie theaters everywhere. My wife Cindee and I saw the film on opening day, as did many of you, I suspect. The film is set some 30 years after “Return of the Jedi” (It’s hard to believe, but it has actually been 38 years since the first Star Wars). As the film begins, we learn that there are still legends told of the Force and of Jedi warriors, but it’s been so long since the Jedi had actually made an appearance that no one is totally sure if the Force or the Jedi are real. In an encounter between this episode’s new heroine, Rey, and Han Solo, Rey says, “There are stories about what happened,” to which Han Solo replies, “It’s true. All of it.”

We tend to forget that the synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke were recorded some 60 years after Jesus walked the earth. The gospel of John, from which we read this morning, was composed even later – probably well after anyone who had actually known Jesus was still alive. The events surrounding the birth of Christ, the Christmas story, as we know it, are described in varying, but similar terms in Matthew and Luke. While Mark begins his gospel with a fully-grown Jesus, being baptized by John Baptist.

However, the story told at the beginning (known as the prologue) of the gospel of John is completely different, unconcerned with the facts of Jesus birth, presenting a mystical introduction to Jesus’ life and ministry. Matthew gives a comprehensive account of Jesus’ earthly ancestry and Matthew and Luke are responsible for the rich Christmas details of mangers and donkeys and shepherds and visits from wise men and kings.

But the first chapter of John begins much more simply, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” It’s a creation story really, of the kind we find in Genesis, but this creation story contains a reference to Jesus, being at one with God, from the very beginning of creation.

In his gospel, John is using “the Word” to refer to Jesus, but in the Greek in which the book was originally composed, John actually uses “Logos”, a word rich in significance in the Hellenistic world of Jesus. I like to think of logos as the cosmic mediator between God and the world.

Each of the gospels, in different ways, tells the story of how Jesus embarked on what famed mythologist Joseph Campbell called “the hero’s journey.” When Campbell talks about something having mythological significance, he isn’t using the word “myth” as we sometimes do, to refer to something that isn’t true. Instead, myth, refers to stories that are passed down from generation to generation, that have meaning that transcend single cultures, stories that hold the essence of great truth – truth that is of more consequence than mere facts can ever be. A powerful myth conveys an idea that is fundamental to human experience.

The hero’s journey, described by Campbell, is one of those stories with mythological importance. The hero’s journey requires three things: leaving one condition, finding the source of life to bring you forth, and resurrection. The hero’s journey necessitates striking out from home, overcoming challenges, and then searching for true calling. It is the journey that Jesus underwent, and it is our journey as well.

It is also the kind of journey required of the heros in Star Wars – departure, initiation, and return. It is life’s motif, if we choose to accept the challenge.

Decades ago Joseph Campbell, met with the creator of Star Wars, George Lucas, at Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch in California. Lucas had long admired and studied Campbell’s writings back to the time of his early drafts of the Star Wars series, explicitly crafting the Star Wars films to follow the stages of the hero’s journey detailed by Campbell.

“The imagery is necessarily physical and thus apparently of outer space,” Campbell says, “The inherent connotation is always, however, psychological and metaphysical, which is to say, of inner space.” As we look to the stars, we are inherently reflected. It is what Campbell calls the “inner reaches of outer space.” The hero’s journey isn’t just about courage. It is about a life of self-discovery.

Or as John tells us about Jesus, “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.” Jesus, like all who take the hero’s path embarked on a journey of self-discovery – discovering the light within him.

Every hero is faced with the classic battle of the Dark Side versus the Light.

You see, Luke Skywalker’s teacher, Obie Won Kenobe, doesn’t just give Luke a light saber. He gives him a spiritual weapon to be used against the darkness. Perhaps you remember that with the shield pulled down on his helmet, so that he can’t see anything with his eyes, Luke is, at first, unable to effectively wield the light saber. That is, until Ben Kenobe says, “Use the force, Luke. Let go.”

Ours is not just a physical existence, we are called to the spiritual adventure of life. If we don’t look inward, listening to the spiritual demands of the heart, we run the risk of missing out on the real adventure.

In describing his films, George Lucas says “ I wanted to use the classical mythological motifs to deal with the issues of today. We all have good and evil inside of us and we can choose which way we want the balance to go.”

We have obligations to other human beings. And we have control over our own destiny. “You have a path, and through inner exploration, you can discover that path and choose, or not choose, to walk it.

In “The Empire Strikes Back” Yoda, speaking of the Force, says, “Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us and binds us. Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter.”

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God… The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

“It’s true. All of it.”

The Force be with you.

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