Updated: Oct 31
Our journey through Advent and Christmas this year has had two trajectories. One has had us looking up at the stars. We stood beneath the stars and marveled at the galaxies that stretched out before us. We have followed NASA’s Webb telescope – its glimpses of the universe as we had never seen it before – star-birthing regions. We’ve looked up and seen starlight that originated millions of years ago – that is only reaching us now – and we wonder at the light of our sun and where it might be millions of years from now. We wonder at the God who made all this. And us. We wonder with the Psalmist: “What are humans that you are mindful of them, O God?”
The other trajectory of our journey has had us walking around in our everyday lives – and noticing the trouble and the grace we see here. As shadows lengthened and days grew short, we have marveled at the love and tender mercy of our world – in darkness and in light – the hurt and the healing – the longing for freedom. We’ve read the stories of Advent and Christmas and listened to their ancient longing – we’ve heard of the coming of the Christ – and we’ve sung how “the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”
One trajectory has had us traversing the expanse of God’s cosmos; the other has had us journeying through the embodied, oh-so-earthy realities of our everyday lives.
In this first chapter of the Gospel of John, those two trajectories converge. The Gospel of John begins not with the story of nativity, but with this: In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God – or towards God – the Word was God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.
The Gospel of John begins with the expanse of the cosmos – across time and space. “In the beginning” – with those few words – the Gospel takes us back to the very beginning – back to Genesis – “In the beginning, everything was in chaos and without form” – and God spoke – God spoke all that is into being. With a Word. Stars, and sun, and moon, the expanse of the sky, land and sea, every living thing. God said, “Let there be”... and there was... and God said that it was good. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
This Word in Greek – the Word that was in the beginning – the Word in Greek is Logos. In Greek, Logos is the warp and woof of creation – what one writer calls “the logic that permeates and structures the universe” – the Logos – this transcendent, life-giving, life-enabling word. In this morning’s scripture, Logos is a creating word – the Word by which everything comes into being. And, it is a communicating Word – the word by which God makes God’s self known. The Logos – the Word creating from the very beginning – a light that endures through the darkness – a cosmos teeming with life.
And then, the cosmic becomes embodied. This Word becomes flesh. Remember, this is the start of the Gospel – the Gospel of John – the Word becomes flesh and dwells among us, full of grace and truth – and the story of Jesus flows out from this. The dwelling word is more literally that the Word comes in and sets up a tent – comes and takes up residence. And – if you look closely at the Greek – it’s not so much that the Word comes and dwells among us – it’s actually more that the Word comes and dwells in us – that’s the preposition in Greek – in us. The Word becomes flesh and dwells IN us, full of grace and truth. The cosmic becomes embodied.
There’s some science to that. Along the same lines we’ve been thinking, Krista Tippett has noted that “every generation of our species has looked up at the night sky and wondered where we have come from.” The gift of science, she says, is that “we are the generation that learns that you and I and everyone you see are actually made of stardust. We are connected in our cells in cosmic time – the life and death of stars in us.”
An Irish preacher I’ve quoted before – Maurice Boyd – speaks of the connection like this: “For us to exist, God had to create everything in which our being is grounded. To make us, God had to make the stuff of which we are made. We are made of stardust. No stars, no us.”
And so John begins: All of this – from the very beginning – the very creating Word of God that permeates and structures the cosmos – this Logos – this Word – has become flesh and dwelt in us, full of grace and truth.
That’s the beginning of the Gospel of John.
And reading it this morning, that’s where begin 2023.
I said earlier that our task today is simply to arrive – to arrive in the beginning of a new year – not to dwell on the year just past, not to rush into the year ahead – just arrive – be here, now. I’ve mentioned before that over the past year I’ve been embracing (and learning about) the practice of mindfulness. Mindfulness is the human ability to arrive in any given moment and to “be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not be overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.”
I’ve run across lots of mindfulness practices offered for the start of a new day – beginning each new day mindful and aware – and thought those might also work for the start of a new year.  Those morning mindfulness practices tend to have three themes: (1) there’s gratitude, beginning the new day grateful; (2) there’s awareness, welcoming what is without judgment – seeing the world as it is; and (3) there is intention-setting for the day – taking a moment to pause, reflect, and say for this day, “This is what I intend” – so that we don’t just stumble through life. We’ve talked recently about gratitude: I preached on it, and this week, I sent out an end-of-year gratitude practice. Next week, we’ll talk about intentions.
So this week, today, I thought I’d invite us into a practice of basic awareness – into an opportunity to arrive in this new year and take a moment to be aware. I’ve adapted a meditation that uses the phrase “Let it be.” I’ll guide us through this meditation – we’ll notice what is – what’s happening right now – and we’ll use the phrase, “Let it be.” Remember, today we are just arriving.
Now, “Let it be” can have two senses about it. There’s the sense of acceptance of what is – This is what is, let it be. And, there’s also the sense that introduces a bit of hope – this is what is, this is what true, this is what matters – Let it be – almost like saying, Let it be so. We’ll let the phrase have both senses.
So, I want to invite you to settle in wherever you are – whether you are here in this room – or in a room in your house – or joining us from another space. Settle in. Arrive in this space. Arrive in this moment.
Maybe settle in by noticing your breath. There’s no need to take a deep breath unless you want to. Just notice your regular breath. Your breathing in. Your breathing out. This miracle of every moment that we do without thinking. Breathing in. Breathing out.
Let it be.
And then, open your awareness a bit more to the whole of you. How are you arriving in this moment? How are you feeling? Maybe check in with your body. Is there any place that feels achy or tight? Any place you feel particularly free? Are you groggy or alert? How are you arriving in this moment?
Let it be.
Then, open your awareness a bit further – to the space around you – inside the room you’re in – and just outside. What is here right now? What do you hear? Or see? Who is here with you – in person – or in this expanded space we are sharing? What is here right now?
Let it be.
We are here. Together. Now.
Let it be.
We’ve just heard these words – and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us – in us – full of grace and truth. And here we are – under a sky, with distant stars hidden by the daylight of our star – the sun – in this rest between the rains. Here we are – our hearts beating together – breathing together on this first day of a new year.
Let it be.
We gather, each of us bringing our own cares and longings – for healing, and love, and freedom, and community, and tender mercy – we bring all of who we are to this moment. The Word became flesh and dwelt in us, full of grace and truth.
Let it be.
We gather in a world also full of all that it is – full of brokenness and suffering and joy and laughter – full of the whole of life – a world in need of peace and wholeness – so much hurt in need of healing. A world also full of love. And here we are together. The Word became flesh and dwelt in us, full of grace and truth.
Let it be.
How are you arriving? What is here right now?
Let it be. Amen.
This Scripture – In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt in us, full of grace and truth – This Scripture is just the beginning of the Gospel of John. Everything that flows out from it will be the story of the life of Christ – all the learning, all the healing, all the suffering, all the joy – a;; the light, all the love, all the life, life beyond life, more expansive than ever we imagined.
We experience this Scripture – this Word – on the first day of a new year – January 1, 2023 – everything that flows out from here has the potential to be the life of Christ – made flesh – in us – full of grace and truth – all the learning, all the healing, all the suffering, all the joy – grace upon grace, bringing light and love and life, abundantly, for the whole world.
Here we are, together in this moment,
a fresh and living Word for a new day in a new year.
Let it be. Let it be. Let it be.
© 2023 Scott Clark
 Some of the nuances of translation from the Greek and background for the text are drawn from and indebted to Herman Waetjen, The Gospel of the Beloved Disciple: A Work in Two Editions (New York: T&T Clark Publishing, 2005), pp. 61-81; and Gail R. O’Day & Susan E. Hylen, John (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006), pp. 22-28. The reading of John 1:14 based on the translation that the Word became flesh “in us” is my own. See also Judith Jones, Commentary on Working Preacher at https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/christmas-day-nativity-of-our-lord-iii/commentary-on-john-11-14-6  Krista Tippett in the On Being podcast, “Foundations 4: Calling and Wholeness,” at https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/on-being-with-krista-tippett/id150892556?i=1000584995972  See Maurice Boyd, The Fine Art of Being Imperfect (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1998), pp.88-89 (“Our earth is a fragment of an exploded star, so that you and I, made of the dust of the earth, have been fashioned from stardust.”). See https://www.mindful.org/meditation/mindfulness-getting-started/  The meditations offered on the Ten Percent Happier podcast and app provide a diversity of morning meditations.  The phrase for meditation “Let it be” comes from a meditation by Sebene Selassie, experienced through the Ten Percent Happier podcast and app. Her meditation has much more to it, and I commend it to you in full. It should be noted here that the phrase is adapted here from a meditation that is grounded in Buddhist traditions to a meditation that reflects Christian traditions.  See id.
Photo Credit: Mohamed Nahasi, used with permission via Unsplash