Based on John 1: 1-14
December 24 10 pm 2017
Rev Julie Lees
Title: The Grace of God to show us God
Prayer: Gracious God, be with us now as we welcome your presence into our hearts and we look for your light in our lives. Amen.
Any word or sentence one might choose to introduce a reflection on this particular passage falls short. We are wrapped in beautiful phrases and images of the all encompassing, other worldly yet wildly intimate nature of God incarnate. You don’t want to move or speak for fear of breaking the moment of beauty this text offers.
Retired United Church minister, David Ewart, says that perhaps the best approach is to read the text, prop the Bible open in a visible place, then lie face down in silent, abject humility before the text. Then, after 20 minutes or 20 years, stand up and say Amen.
The gospel of John introduces us to Jesus differently than any other gospel.
The gospel of Matthew gives us Jesus’ genealogy to prove his divinity; and offers accounts of the angel coming to Joseph in a dream to accept Mary and all that is happening with her.
The gospel of Mark doesn’t give us a birth narrative at all. We meet Jesus as an adult about to be baptized by the wild man from the woods, John the Baptist. And, Jesus’ divinity is expressed in John’s words that someone is coming who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.
The gospel of Luke offers us tender stories of both Elizabeth and Mary getting pregnant around the same time, except that Mary’s child is the son of God.
And, then we have the gospel of John which opens with this beautiful piece of poetry. Forget divine birth, or angels appearing to stinky shepherds, here we have the all in all, the beginning of the beginning and the end of the end. Details of events that occurred are not important. John doesn’t need to prove anything to the reader about who Jesus is. John invites us into the mystery of who and what Jesus is and how we might turn our lives towards the light, the holy being, the Word, the One, the It, the All in All, the Lord.
John opens with “In the beginning was the Word.” Sound familiar? Genesis 1:1 “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth…” God spoke into being all the animals and humans, trees and plants, birds and fish, air and water. In John, God speaks salvation into being by taking human form. Some feel the gospel writer of John is being quite audacious to write a new Genesis, so to speak, a new beginning.
But, to give it some context:
- When this was being written these new Christian folks were being persecuted for their faith. They had to be sure they could trust those they were with. They had to believe Jesus was God or they were out. All or nothing kind of times.
- And, it’s not like John was making this up from scratch. As Holly Hearon, professor of New Testament at Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis, points out, John is drawing on language related to the figure of Wisdom in the Hebrew Bible. In a first century Jewish text, the Wisdom of Solomon, Wisdom is described as “She who knows your God’s works and was present when you made the world.” John uses these references to highlight how Jesus, in his gospel, is the one through whom the world came into being.
John was passionate and fervent, committed to who he knew Jesus to be; and committed to ensuring that people learn of the magnitude of this man and his life.
What a gift to us this Christmas eve night.
What a pure example of the grace of God. God becomes flesh in Jesus – dropping into the sinful, ordinary, angst-ridden, ignorant reality of our lives and this world so that through Jesus God is revealed to us.
What kind of God does this? A loving God for sure.
As David Lose, president of Luther seminary says “Christmas reminds us of God’s decision to become one of us. God takes on our lot and our life that we might have hope. God shares our mortal life that we might enjoy God’s eternal life.”
Through this action God shows us, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that we matter to the Holy. No matter what is happening – joyful and sad, large and small – God wants to share in it with us. God wants to participate in our lives.
And, we are called to participate in this relationship too. Celebrating Christmas is also making a promise to ourselves and to God that we will focus on God-with-us every day of the year. This not only means talking with God, but also looking for the face of God all around us.
The incarnation of God in Jesus changed everything. Forever. No more could humans identify with God as they once did. More often than not God had been a transcendent God –distant, more of a stranger to us, who did things to us. Now, God was immanent – intimate and a close friend, who did things with us.
God becomes ever present. A loving energy we can turn to all the time.
What a gift.
Light is talked about a lot in this short passage. It’s mentioned six times here and 133 times in the whole gospel.
- What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the LIGHT of all people.
- The LIGHT shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
- He came as a witness to testify to the LIGHT.
- He himself was not the LIGHT, but came to testify to the LIGHT
- The true LIGHT, which enLIGHTens everyone, was coming into the world.
The incarnation of the Holy in Jesus is the light ... the light of all people, the light that shines in the darkness, the light we witness and testify to and the light that enlightens us.
Well, if that’s true we should be pretty bright, right? That is a lot of light.
But, somehow we’re not blindingly bright all the time. Darkness creeps in. It shows its face as poverty, oppression, displacement, depression, addiction, abuse, power, ego, shame, hate, indifference – the list goes on.
John experiences his own little episode of darkness in this passage – he says “the world came into being through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own and his own people did not accept him.”
Some see this as a gentle foreshadowing of the crucifixion. And, you may think this is bad news. We may be thinking “Gosh, I’m not coming back to this church, it’s Christmas Eve – a time for joy and wonder and celebration, and the minister is talking about Jesus’ crucifixion. This isn’t any kind of ‘Joy to the World!’”
Well, hang in there folks, it’s not as bad as it sounds. A close read of most of the gospels will foreshadow the end of the road for Jesus. But what’s so easy to forget is that the church isn’t here because of Christmas. We didn’t all start getting together because Jesus was born. We started worshipping as a church community because Jesus was raised from the dead. Easter is what moved us to gather in this way. How could it be that someone could be raised from the dead?
Ohhhhh, I get it: in the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was divine. All along, with us, he was God made flesh. Now it makes sense.
See? Not really bad news to talk about the crucifixion on Christmas Eve.
Light shines in the darkness ... at the beginning when God said let there be light and there was; in the brilliance of the angel Gabriel when he visited Mary; in the garden in that early morning light when the disciples discovered the stone was rolled away, and right now on one of the shortest days of the year.
We just need to look outside at all the Christmas lights. We are a people who want to shine light into the darkness.
Darkness in this context is more than the absence of light. Darkness is an entity in and of itself. Darkness has an identity whether the Light is shining on it or not. It’s there, always. And, when the light shines in the darkness, the darkness is exposed, it can no longer hide … and it can be reconciled.
There is hope in this. Hope that the light of God is always shining. Hope that as we come to believe more and more in the one who is the Word made flesh, we will grow our ability to shine the light of Christ in our own lives and into the world as well. We can be the hands of Christ for someone who needs to be pulled up from their despair; the eyes of Christ when an injustice is going unseen; the voice of Christ for someone who has been silenced; and the heart of Christ whenever we see suffering.
Shining the light of Christ in the world is participating in this relationship with the God who came to live with us.
As Christians we are called to live with confidence in the promise that the light is stronger than the darkness; that life is stronger than death; and that love is stronger than hate. This doesn’t mean life will be easy, it doesn’t mean that suffering won’t grab hold of us from time to time; but it does mean that we live through these moments knowing the light is still shining and will highlight where we are at, and help us move through it.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
What a gift.
That God has the grace to be with us. That we belong to God. That light shines in the darkness. That we are not alone. Thanks be to God for this incredible Christmas gift.