Harrowing Of Hell
December 31, 2017

In the Beginning was the Word

Preacher:  Wyatt Smith

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” This line from the prologue to the Gospel of John is, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful and poetic passages in the whole of Scripture. Here, we are reminded of the eternity from which the Word Incarnate has entered into time as a human child. This Gospel reading draws connections between the story of the Creation of the world and the birth of the Christ Child. This poetic passage has inspired wonderful works of literature, visual art, and music. By these means, we are able to delve deeper into the Scriptures through study and meditation. This morning, I will offer this Gospel reading through the lense of three different artistic means: literature, visual art, and music.

The following passage comes from one of my favorite points in C. S. Lewis’s book “The Magician’s Nephew”. It is here that the young and slightly disoriented Digory has just entered a dark and empty world, which was soon brought to life by the lion, Aslan, who sang Narnia into being.

“In the darkness something was happening at last. A voice had begun to sing. It was very far away and Digory found it hard to decide from what direction it was coming.

Sometimes it seemed to come from all directions at once…Its lower notes were deep enough to be the voice of the earth herself. There were no words. There was hardly a tune. But it was, beyond comparison, the most beautiful noise he had ever heard. It was so beautiful, he could hardly bear it…Then two wonders happened at the same moment. One was that the voice was joined by other voices; more voices than you could possibly count. They were in harmony with it, but far higher up the scale: cold, tingly, silvery voices. The second wonder was that the darkness overhead, all at once, was blazing with stars…a thousand, thousand points of light leaped out – single stars, constellations, and planets, brighter and bigger than any in our world…The new stars and the new voices began at exactly the same time. If you had seen and heard it, as Digory did, you would have felt quite certain that it was the stars themselves which were singing, and that it was the First Voice, the deep one, which had made them appear and made them sing.”

This part of the adventure in Narnia first recalls the Creation of the world, though by association we can draw a connection to this morning’s Gospel. Together, they provide a sense of depth, of eternity, and of birth. Further on in the Gospel, the summation of creation is summarized: “All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being was life, and the life was the light

of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” This young child in the cradle, whose birth we celebrate, was there at the beginning when life and light were created. What an unfathomable and humbling thought!

Moving now from literature to visual art, we are given another way to understand and interpret this story. We have a fine depiction of today’s Gospel right here at Epiphany, as seen in the frontispiece of the Gospel of John in the St. John’s Bible, which can be viewed in the narthex. This frontispiece depicts an eternal, cosmic background with a golden figure, which is seemingly stepping out of the heavens and toward the reader. Surrounding the head is this passage from later in the Gospel reading, “And the Word became flesh and lived among us,” which informs us that it is indeed the Christ. Along the left side of the figure, the artists chose to include a part of the hymn by St. Paul, from his Letter to the Colossians. Here specifically from Chapter 1, verses 15-20: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.” I encourage you to spend some time with this work of art as you consider the depth and meaning of the incarnation in your spiritual life and journey.

Finally, we come to music. Throughout the centuries, composers and musicians have taken different texts or stories as inspiration for a musical work. For the Church, hymns form a large part of this, wherein text and melody are joined together in harmony for the Church on earth to proclaim praises for their God. This morning, we get to sing about the Word of God, Incarnate from eternity. In particular, we are going to sing two stanzas from one of my favorite Christmas hymns: “Of the Father’s Love begotten.” In this hymn, we proclaim the eternity and magnitude from whence the Christ Child came. “Of the Father’s Love begotten, ere the worlds began to be, he is Alpha and Omega, he the source, the ending he, of the things that are, that have been, and that future years shall see, evermore and evermore.” Not only is the Christ Child from eternity, he is also the end of time. The Alpha and Omega. Though for those of us here now in this Christmas season, standing before the cradle containing the child from before time, a stanza rings true from a hymn by the Lutheran hymnist Paul Gerhardt: “O Jesus Christ, Thy manger is My paradise at which my soul reclineth. For there, O Lord, doth lie the Word Made flesh for us – herein Thy grace forth shineth.” From these words, we can take inspiration from the cradle into ourselves as the seasons turn.

These artistic means, each providing their own perspective, draw us back to one fact: God came to us as a child from eternity to save us, his people on earth. How profound a thought is that?! What Love God has for us! As we go forth from this place, into a world that has moved on from Christmas decorations to Valentine’s Day chocolates, let us carry the love and joy of Christ, the Word Incarnate, with us in our hearts and on our lips. Tomorrow, we embark on a New Year. How can we best show forth the light of Christ in the dark and dreary days of winter and throughout our lives? Be it to friend or stranger, let us share with others the love, light, and joy given to us by Godin the form of the Christ Child, our Savior. In this coming New Year, let us now hold close these words of love from the end of today’s Gospel: “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.”