Proverbs 8:1, 22-31, John 1:1-14
2nd Sunday before Lent
St Barbara’s; 4.2.2024
Rev Jeremy Bevan
“What’s the point of it all, anyway?” Though spoken in the darkness of a youth hostel dormitory nearly forty years ago, I hear those world-weary words like it was yesterday. Long after lights were supposed to be out, a group of four older men returned from a lengthy session in the local pub, and got ready for bed. Not quietly. As one of them hung up his trousers over the end of a bunk, a large volume of small change emptied itself from his pockets onto the floor with a clatter, ensuring the whole room was now wide awake. Into the silence that followed, he posed his question about the meaning of life.
Since then, I’ve often wondered what he’d gone through to make it all so seemingly devoid of purpose, though it’s a question we probably all ask, at least from time to time. And it’s a question to which today’s Bible passages try to give answers. Our Proverbs readings suggests that wisdom is, as it were, ‘baked into’ the way things are: it makes them make sense, and in doing that, can make life a thing of joy. John’s gospel goes a step further, asserting that what our Old Testament calls wisdom has a name: God’s word, there with God in the beginning, working with God to fashion creation, is Jesus. God says, in Genesis 1, “let there be” light, sun, moon, earth, heavens, all the myriad creatures, but it’s through Jesus, says John, that it all comes into being: it’s all alive with the life that is in him. John, perhaps working backwards from knowing how much sense Jesus had helped people make of life during his earthly existence, now declares him to be the one who gives meaning to everything that’s ever been. It’s a bold and startling claim.
And if it’s true, what might the point of it all be? Well, one point may be to increase our sense of wonder and thankfulness. That Jesus, the Word of God who was with God in the beginning, and through whom God created, should nevertheless come to earth and become a creature of flesh, is amazing. It speaks volumes about how much matter matters to God, and what a blessing it can be. The word’s beauty blesses us, in myriad ways. Through art and culture, science and technology, we create from material things and learn the blessing of a world marvellously put together, fine-tuned for abundant life. So a sunset, produce from your allotment or garden, the latest in medical technology, can all be occasions for thankfulness. Exclaiming “wow, thank you God” at a fiery red sky like those sunrises and sunsets we’ve seen this week, or the wonder of a crop of carrots or onions, or hearing aids like the ones I’ve just got, exercises our wonder and thankfulness muscles in a most natural way. I’ve regularly stopped this week on my walks to give thanks for the birdsong I can now hear. Making gratitude a discipline in our lives, for example remembering giving thanks for food before we eat, can help make it a habit.
Another point today’s Bible passages suggest is the need for reverence for all life. That Proverbs reading describes wisdom lifting her voice, crying out. I wonder if we hear a new note of urgency in that, as the way we live increasingly threatens the life of non-humankind (or ‘otherkind’) amid the global heating we’re bringing about? If, as John’s gospel says, all things have in some sense the life of Jesus in them, Jesus incarnate in them, surely this calls for us to be wiser about the impacts we’re having on our planet, through our diets, our use of fossil fuels, the ways we dispose of our waste?
The problems can seem huge, but sometimes God can use tiny steps to encourage us and challenge us. Last Sunday at the 8am service, as I turned the page of my service book to the Gloria, there was a beetle crawling down the page. When it reached the words “We worship you, we give you thanks, we praise you for your glory”, it stopped. To give thanks, perhaps? And maybe to remind me that all things, even beetles, have the life of Christ in them? As the psalmist perceptively wrote all those centuries ago, ”Let everything that has breath, praise the Lord.”
A third thing I think our Bible passages can help with is a sense of meaning in the midst of suffering that so troubled my fellow youth-hosteller way back. But while wisdom may be baked into the way the world is, and Jesus our fellow creature of flesh shows us meaning in it all, sometimes suffering comes randomly, seemingly also ‘baked into’ the way things are. So there are bacteria necessary for our lives, and bacteria that have evolved to kill us. Perhaps a degree of ‘baked in’ suffering is the price creation pays for being the wonderfully diverse thing it is?
But if there is suffering we can’t always avoid, Christ the Word of God speaks solidarity with us, knows what it is to suffer and to die through bloodshed. That blood is the same stuff as ours, rich in iron that comes originally from the explosions of stars in the early history of the universe. Jesus, like us, like every creature that has ever lived on earth, is made literally of stardust. By becoming ‘flesh’, as every creature is flesh, he sheds light on our predicament from within, walks with us and every suffering creature through the midst of it. Not as some sort of celestial painkiller or anaesthetic, but as a creature of the substance of the earth, one with us.
We live, so to speak, with our noses pressed right up close to the world. And most of the time, people in the Bible do, too. But every so often, as in our Proverbs reading and those opening verses of John’s gospel, the writers take a step back to give us ‘the big picture’. Let that big picture today be a spur to a sense of wonder and thankfulness; a stimulus to reverence for all that is alive with the life of Jesus, the Word of God – a comfort and a companion amid those big questions about “the point of it all.”