You Are Here to Kneel
The Rev. Sara Cosca-Warfield
Scripture: John 1:1-18
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
In the beginning. It sounds familiar. Like another story we’ve heard before. “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and the darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.”
“In the beginning.” Something about those words gives me goosebumps. There’s something vast and promising and visceral about those words, about these passages. Something beyond me, beyond you, beyond here, beyond now. I can’t quite find the words to get at it, so I’ll use a poet’s instead. T.S. Eliot wrote,
At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is.
John invites us into a new dance, a new thing coming into being, the creative force itself, the Word, coming into creation, the still point of our turning world. “The true light, which enlightens everyone.”
This is the spirit of Christmastide, this season after Advent when we move from excited anticipation to simply basking for twelve days in this new light that has come into the world. It is a time to enter the still point of the story of Jesus, that time between his birth, full of exaltation, and his baptism which launches him towards the Christ he becomes.
The incarnation is about knowing “What has come into being in Jesus is life, and the life was the light of all people.” Life as light. Jesus comes into this life, this world, opening himself to all the experiences of being part of God’s material creation. Love. Loss. Pain. The acute sense of beauty that comes when someone shows another person kindness.
I have often preached that faith is a verb, but sometimes that verb is rest. Faith is found in resting with what is, allowing the light to shine on each different experience that life brings, letting our bodies know, or remember, that feeling our feelings is what it means to be alive, what it means to be created by God and to be in this world, weaving our own lives into all the lives of God’s creation.
Each of us is God’s creation, which means each of us is called to live into every inch of how God created us—to embrace our gifts, to love our quirks, to recognize that what makes us different is also what makes us beautiful. It also means that we are called to embrace the different gifts, to love the different quirks, in others, to recognize their unique beauty. Together, all of our different ways of being create this world, and it is joyful.
And when I say joyful, I don’t mean happy. I preached about this a few weeks ago. Sometimes we confuse the two. Joy is about seeing God in one another and ourselves, just as we are. Sometimes we confuse each other because of our vast differences, sometimes we astonish each other with compassion, sometimes we fall deeply in love with one another, and sometimes we break one another’s hearts.
The Word became flesh and lived among us. In his life, Jesus, who was called Emmanuel, God with us, was confused, astonished, loved, and broken. He let the experience of humanity wash over him, and the world was changed because of it. He embodied joy and showed us how to do the same. That’s what faith is.
Faith doesn’t always make logical sense. I return to T.S. Eliot:
If you came this way,
Taking any route, starting from anywhere,
At any time or at any season,
It would always be the same: you would have to put off
Sense and notion. You are not here to verify,
Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity
Or carry report. You are here to kneel.
I keep turning to poetry because I find it really hard to write in a more conventional way about how today’s gospel is talking about faith. Because faith doesn’t always make sense. So often, I think it’s our culture’s expectation that we verify, instruct, inform, report–when actually it is our soul’s deepest desire to kneel, to surrender ourselves to the joy of God all around us.
And I think poetry is one way that we humans have found to kneel before God. John seems to feel it, too—the Gospel today is poetry. Poetry doesn’t quite make sense. Sometimes the poet selects words for sounds rather than sense. Line breaks can jolt us like an untended dirt road or carry us like a soft spring stream. We feel poems first, rather than understand.
It’s not just poems. The same is true for music. Paintings. They make us cry or smile before we can form a rational thought about them. They are loss made flesh, happiness made flesh, fear made flesh, love made flesh. They are faith. We humans know faith, know how to make the word (small w) flesh, because we, too, are creators (small c), made in God’s image.
“From his fullness we have all received grace upon grace.” We create because we are so filled with faith, with God’s aliveness in us, that we can’t help but kneel, but surrender to it. Some of us are formal artists, yes, and some of us give flesh to our faith by the way we love our children, by the way we teach, by the way we care for those who are suffering, by whatever way we daily embody our gifts and quirks and our beautifully unique selves.
In the beginning. Today, we find ourselves on the cusp of a new year, another new creation. Looking back, 2021 has been a hard year. We have known loss in this community. Jobs lost, relationships lost, beloveds lost. A plague has changed every part of our lives. Our leaders have let us down.
I don’t know what this new year, this new beginning, will bring. What I do know is that the Word became flesh and lived among us, and he remains with us, the still point of our turning world.
There are of course times to verify, instruct, inform, and report, to move through the world with logic and reason. But as we let go of the burdens of this past year and move into the promise and hope that tomorrow brings, I invite you to remember: you are here to kneel.