John 1:9-18 Election Day Sermon
+in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Well: greetings on election day.
I don't know if it’s a relief to you, but it is to me – to know that as of today, it's over. The general election campaign of 2012 is over. For months now we've watched two men in a titanic struggle of money and media. By every means possible they have sought to induce a public perception of themselves as the more qualified and leaderly. We've been deluged in television ads. We've sat through the debates. We've combed the headlines, headed to the fact-checking sites, argued with friends. And now, after all the stumping, speech-making, promising, and accusing, the action of the election has decisively changed hands. Now the cumulative perception of the voting populace will determine which of these two politicians leads our nation. I, like most of you, have sincere hopes that the American public will have arrived at the recognition of one of these men as the better presidential material. But all of us will have to live with the large-scale consequences of our common perception. The lives of millions will be affected in significant ways – for good and ill – as a result of our ability in past months, culminating today, to evaluate these two men judiciously.
All that hubbub seems far off from the cool, slow style of St. John’s gospel. I used to find the famous opening somewhat abstract. But in fact, these verses that Deacon Shane just read render in trimmed-down and reflective prose the drama of misperception that is at the heart of the whole gospel story. St. John sets us up to think that the most natural thing in the world would be for humanity to recognize the Word of God in our midst. We are told earlier in the chapter that all things were made through this Word; that he is the life of humankind; that the world was made through him! One ought reasonably to expect, then, that the Made would recognize its Maker. But St. John then throws us a major curveball: “he came to his own, and his own did not receive him.” Did NOT receive him.
This “not receiving” sounds somewhat bland, but it is St. John's shorthand for the mystery of human blindness about Jesus’ identity, a mystery that powers the entire story of our Lord's betrayal, suffering, and death. St. Paul says in a different place that if the rulers of this age had understood, had perceived rightly, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But these rulers, and the majority of people in Jesus’ day, and indeed, even his own disciples for much of the time did not perceive Jesus as what he was: the singular Word of God.
And that, after all, isn't such a surprising thing. We've had a couple millennia to get used to the idea, but it always bears repeating that at bottom, we Christians affirm a very odd and radical thing: that a backwater criminal who underwent capital punishment is identical to God. St. John writes from a very deeply considered Christian outlook and so makes out Jesus’ rejection as the most absurd failure of perception. But on the ground, I for one am not surprised that few really saw and received Jesus as the Word of God.
But in nearly the same breath, St. John does speak of some – the few – who did receive Jesus. And the evangelist specifies the way they received Jesus: they believed in Jesus' name. In other words, the peculiar way by which the true identity of Jesus opened up to their perception was faith. Trust is the way to seeing Jesus rightly.
Straightaways St. John addresses the consequences of this perception: of course later in the gospel, St. John will identify the consequences of not believing in Jesus. But here at the beginning he speaks only positively, of the remarkable effect of believing in Jesus: “to those who believed he gave the right [or power] to become children of God.” Children of God! St. John tells us here that believing, trusting in Jesus changes us into those who belong specially to God: who, like Jesus, have real closeness with God, who have unhindered access to God’s love, who have God’s unwavering support.
St. John also fills out the way that believing in Jesus changes our vision of Jesus. In effect, believing in Jesus changes not just us, by drawing us closer to God as God’s children, but also our perception of Jesus. Whereas before we might only have seen an inspiring teacher or intriguing subversive, the way of faith opens Jesus up to us as the singular, radiant point of God’s own beauty: in St. John’s words, “the glory as of the father’s only Son.” What does it mean to see Jesus as the glory of God? I don’t know altogether, but it means at least being able to affirm with St. John that Jesus is “full of grace and truth” – that in Jesus we can marvel at the generosity and fidelity of God in their deepest measure. This, too, is a consequence of perceiving Jesus rightly by believing in him.
So: even now as we wait on the nationally consequential verdict from the voting booths, and hope against hope that the American public’s perception of these two presidential candidates has been judicious, let us once again own our unusual perception of Jesus through faith, and remember its consequences. We are God’s own children today, and by receiving Jesus our crucified Lord, we recognize in him God’s own grace and truth.