John 1. 1-14 Christmas Sermon
Everyone loves a story. Stories are powerful ways to communicate – which is precisely why Jesus used parables, and why we all love movies and books. I wonder what stories you will enjoy this Christmas. A bit of Sherlock perhaps? Some new awfulness on the Eastenders Christmas special? For me, I know that Christmas is finally here – in a secular sense – when I settle down to the Doctor Who Christmas special!
The Christmas Story is sometimes referred to as ‘the greatest story ever told’ (though others argue that the story of the Death and Resurrection of Jesus should be given that epithet). But what a good story the Christmas story is!
The Gospel writers, Luke and Matthew give us different perspectives on the same story. This is a story they have heard, and which they then tell in their own way, decades later. Each of them has a different perspective. Luke’s faith in Jesus is fired by the way Jesus reached out to the poor and the oppressed. So he gives us the story of how a bunch of shepherds, outsiders, are invited to be front and centre at the coming of the Messiah. Matthew, on the other hand, is fired by Jesus’ message that God’s love is meant for all humanity – so he focuses on the coming of Wise Men from Eastern Lands. These are non-Jews, outsiders, who are brought into the fold of God’s love.
But John, writing his Gospel some decades after Luke and Matthew, is not interested in shepherds and wise men. Scholars tell us that John wrote his Gospel in his old age – after a lifetime of spreading the message of Jesus. No doubt the stories about wise men and shepherds were already circulating widely. John didn’t need to re-hash them. So he goes deeper. After a lifetime of teaching and learning, John wants us to grasp the enormity of the Christmas event, the coming of Jesus, what scholars call the ‘Incarnation’ – a posh word which has nothing to do with tinned milk or the flowers often worn at weddings! ‘Incarnation’ describes the in-dwelling of God in human form. The ‘Incarnation’ is that moment when God, who is Spirit, takes on human flesh.
There are two words which John especially plays with, in his poetic Gospel introduction. The first is ‘Word’, and the second is ‘Light’. Let me see if we can’t break them down a little.
‘Word’ is the English translation of ‘Logos’ – a Greek word from where we get the word ‘logic’. John is saying that the incomprehensible being we call God is many things – spirit, love, a creative force that binds the universe together. But he is also mind. He has thoughts. He has desires and intentions for the world that he has created. God’s thoughts, God’s logic, God’s reason – these are his ‘Logos’ – his ‘Word’. “In the beginning was the Word” – the Logos – “and the Word was with with God and the Word was God”. It’s one of those great big thoughts that we human beings struggle to get our tiny brains around – that God can be thought of as having different aspects, but each of them is also fully God’. So, God’s reason, his Word, can be part of who God is as well as being completely who God is. “The word with with God and “was God”.
And, John is saying, that ‘Word’ is the aspect of God which became human and dwelt among us. Again – incomprehensible, isn’t it. How can an aspect of God become human, while not dividing God up into different people? If God is on earth, in the form of Jesus, how can he also be still in heaven? And how come Jesus (God the Son on earth) prays to God the Father in heaven? Is he talking to himself? It’s enough to make your brain explode! And that’s ok. We are limited, created beings. We cannot ever really grasp the reality of God.
So John paints a different picture. He uses a metaphor. He has stated the truth as clearly as he can grasp it, by talking about the ‘Word’ dwelling among us. But now he chooses a different tack, and begins to talk about ‘Light’.
Ah! That’s better. ‘Light’ we can understand. We know about Light. We see its effects. We know that even a tiny spark of light cannot be extinguished by the darkness. We know that if this church was completely darkened, save for one candle, all our attention would be focused on that single solitary light.
“In Jesus”, says John, “was life, and that life was the light of the world. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it”.
And that, ultimately, is the message of Christmas. Darkness is all around us. The darkness of war, and famine, and poverty, and homelessness and selfishness and consumerism and racism and fear of the stranger and all hatred and rebellion against the reason and logic of God. “But the light shines in the darkness”.
In Jesus, through his teaching, his life, and yes even by his death, life is offered to the world. That’s why, on this night of his birth, we are nevertheless going to mark Jesus’ death in a few minutes. Jesus’ whole life is offered to us, by John and the other Gospel writers, as The Way to life. His way of living – generously, lovingly, wisely is offered to us as an example of what God’s logic and reason look like. Jesus’ way of dying – sacrificially, trustingly are still more examples of the Logos of God. These are signposts for us. Lights in the darkness. Clues to how we too should live, if we truly want to find life.
All these things are mysteries. All of them take a lifetime of thought, reasoning, logic to even begin to grasp – as John himself knew in his old age.
Let tonight be a turning point for you. Let the light of Christ illuminate and inspire you. Draw from the spiritual energy he offers around his table, in bread and wine (his body and his blood). Follow and pursue the light of life every single day from this point on. It’s what wise men did, 2,000 years ago. And it’s what the wisest men and women today still do.