In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. 6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. (John 1:1-9 NRSV)
Christmas is over once again. How many of you have taken down your Christmas decorations or do you leave them up all year long? New year is upon us and our next thought of Christmas is probably about 11 months away. Today we hear the Christmas story one more time. The telling of Jesus’ birth in Matthew and Luke make for powerful images and create a sense of connection we can see replayed every year in Christmas Pageants across the globe. But John goes another way. He utilizes “grander theological declarations” in his Prologue to bring us into the story of salvation.[i] In fact, Each of the gospels begins with an account of Jesus’ origins. Mark introduces Jesus to us as an adult, telling us that Jesus was “a man from Nazareth” whose advent fulfills the arrival of God’s salvation as foretold by the prophet Isaiah. Matthew and Luke’s narratives begin earlier still, rooting Jesus’ very conception and birth in the prophecies of old and God’s will to deliver humanity.
This first chapter of the Gospel of John is called the prologue. The goal of this writer is to help us understand to some degree how incredibly important and significant is Jesus presence in the world. The gospel of John shares a lot of stories of miracles. We will see Jesus turn water into wine, raise Lazarus from the dead and even defeat death and be resurrected into heaven. But John’s gospel begins with the ultimate of miracles. We can hear echoes of Genesis when we hear in the beginning. We are told that the Word was with God & was God. The word is Jesus Christ. This gospel assures us that Jesus was not created or born new on Christmas morning. While there was a human body that Jesus was born into through some mysterious miracle–the God of eternity was living in human form.
He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. 14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. 15 (John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.'”) 16 From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known. (John 1:10-18 NRSV)
There is debate about what this Scripture means about God coming to his own and them not accepting him. One possibility is that this is speaking back over the history of God’s people when time and time again God came to them through prophets & angels yet so many refused to listen to God and to trust him and to follow. In an historical context when the Gospel of John was written Christians were still trying to find their identity. And if not trying to find their identity, but to hold onto it. How do we continue to worship one God, as was the belief as Jews while equally claiming allegiance to Jesus Christ? This gospel may have been an answer in part to some who believed God could not be a part of humanity because we were too evil and God was too good and pure. The answer is definitive that Jesus is not different from the God of our mothers and fathers, but he is one in the same.
The next question raised is why do some believe in him and some do not? In verse 12 it says that all who believe, God gave power to be children of God. So the same God who sent his son Jesus into the world, also has given each of us the power to become sons and daughters of God. Whoaaaa….. far out dude.
The real confusing part for me and I think for many is apparently we didn’t do anything other than believe for some reason. The thing that I do understand is being able to cry out with John recognizing that God in Jesus Christ is in me and with me in every aspect of my life.
In my job as chaplain at Woodwinds Hospital, I get the privilege of having conversations with people almost on a daily basis about how they recognize Jesus Christ in their lives. A lot of people have seen God’s glory full of grace and truth somewhere in their lives. Strangely God’s grace and truth shines through brightest in some of the harder parts of life. I visited with a person who had an ongoing disease that required chemotherapy and had left her immune system weakened. She had the questions that I would expect of why did I have to have this disease? She didn’t linger there long but also assured me of her great peace that she had in knowing that God was in this with her. She also shared her wonder about how she or anyone could go through what she is without a faith in Jesus Christ.
That raises yet another question from this Scripture? As people empowered to be children of God by God, what is our responsibility to people in this world in knowing Jesus Christ as the light in the darkness. The Scripture tells us that no one has ever seen God except for Jesus, but yet we have seen Jesus. I don’t mean in a TV portrayal of Jesus’ life, a little baby in the manger from one of the Christmas pageant programs or in a portrait hanging on the walls in this church or in your home. Jesus is the light in the darkness. Have you ever sat around a campfire and stared at the flames as it kept you warm on a cold summer evening. I think it’s interesting how sitting around that fire always seems to spark storytelling. Sometimes they are scary stories because the dark is all around us and they tend to draw us closer to that fire and each other.
Sometimes I catch myself wondering why do I believe? How much of the Christmas story do I believe? Is this Christmas story just a made up tale that people just continue to buy into? I also wonder why did God choose me to believe in the first place while so many still do not know him through Jesus? No matter how many questions I ask, somehow Jesus is still in my heart. The more I work myself up, the more I end up clinging closer to Jesus for hope.
This passage from the Gospel of John raises a lot of questions for us and can even cause some confusion. The beautiful part of our faith in Jesus is that we don’t have to have everything figured out. Don’t confuse that with giving up on reading the Bible and studying because we really do find Jesus through what’s written in the Bible but not because it is some great information source but rather an interactive living Word that is also alive in each of us who are empowered to be children of God.
As we participate today in holy Communion, we have the opportunity to be encouraged and strengthened in our faith as we share in this awesome meal that Jesus invited us to. I hope that each of you will find encouragement as you remember Jesus’ blood and body and the amazing love he has for each of us as he was born-lived among us, gave his life for us and leads us in his resurrection over death and all evil.
As we put the carols to rest, box up decorations, and get things back to normal. Jesus is with us. The light is in the world being carried by all of us who believe in the incarnation. We have been empowered to be children of God. We can confident that Jesus will take us through anything we face in this world that prefers the darkness. The season following Christmas invites us to reflect on the significance of this event: How does our belief in Jesus with us shape the way we understand God, our relationship with God, and our relationship to one another?
Now to the Ruler of all worlds,
undying, invisible, the only God,
be honor and glory forever and ever!
[i] Thomas H. Troeger, ‘Homiletical Perspective for John 1: (1-9) 10-18″ in Feasting on the Word, 191.