Text: John 1:1-17
Christmas is absolutely my favorite time of year. I love the colder weather and the opportunity to dust off my felt hats and long coat. I love the seasonal food. I love the Victorian cultural ethos that often goes with Christmas in the English-Speaking world. I love the last vestiges of our folk song heritage; everyone knows the Christmas carols. I love that our second daughter was born just a week ago; a new baby is a wonderful Christmas present.
When you look at today’s Gospel, the reading assigned as the Gospel for the primary Christmas service since the 5th Century, you may wonder what happened to the baby. John 1 doesn’t sound like the familiar Christmas story! There’s no booked inn. There’re no shepherds. There’s no manger. There’s no Holy Family. And where’s the baby Jesus? Well, the easy answer is to tell you to turn the page in your Prayer Book! It’s the OTHER Christmas reading! And lest we forget about the Magi, the Wise Men, they’ll show up in a couple of Sundays for Epiphany, when we conclude the 12 Days of Christmas. The reason the Church Fathers wanted us to read John 1 rather than Luke 2 or Matthew 1 for the main Christmas Gospel, is that they didn’t want us to forget that Christmas isn’t primarily about a baby. Rather, Christmas is about God becoming Man. Christmas is about the Incarnation. Christmas is about the Creator of Heaven and Earth entering into his Creation to rescue his creatures.
You see, humanity has a problem. When God created mankind, our first parents were perfectly made in God’s image. They were put in charge of the earth to care for it as God’s stewards. They were without sin and death. They neither knew nor experienced evil. But the first time they were tempted to rebel against their loving heavenly Father, they took the bait. They listened to the voice of evil, and tried to make themselves into gods, earning the sentence of death. Sin had entered the world like a cancer, things went from bad to worse.
God could have given up on his creation. He could have washed his hands of us. But he instead had a plan, a plan to rescue us from ourselves, a plan to rescue us from Sin and the Devil. And in the process, the Son of God, God the Son, would become one of us.
In our Gospel, found on page 97 of your Prayer Book, St. John writes:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
In calling Jesus “the Word,” (Logos in Greek), St. John (in typical fashion) is giving us a dense, multifaceted metaphor. On the one hand, it would have reminded his 1st Century Greek-speaking audience of the Logos in Greek Philosophy; this logical force that is the foundation of all philosophy, and perhaps even the generative principle of the Universe. For a Jewish audience, “the Word” would have reminded them of God’s Holy Word, the Scriptures, the Law, again foundational to everything they held dear. “The Word” conveys a rich concept of God sending humanity a message. And if God really is God, infinite and transcendent, the only way we could know about him is if he makes the first move, if he sends the first message.
But John is saying that the Word is no mere force of logic. No mere principle. No mere message. Rather, the Word is a Person, a Person who was with God and was God. And this Person reached out to us. We had earned death with our sin, but the God the Word, God the Son, the Son of God, was coming to bring us life. We had become spiritually blind, benighted in the darkness of our sin. God the Word came to bring us light!
Incidentally, this is why we put lights on our Christmas trees. This is why Christmas and light go hand-in-hand. This is why we all should take a drive in Windcrest this week to see all the night illuminated by each house, a reminder that “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
Skip down to Verse 9 in the Text:
The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become the children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
There is something fundamentally stubborn about humanity. We are experts at self-deception. When I was a kid, we loved to watch a movie from 1971 called The Point, narrated by Ringo Starr (in our version; other versions had Dustin Hoffman or Alan Thicke as the narrator). One of the characters was a man made of rock with a voice like Wolfman Jack, who tells the kid-on-a-quest Oblio “You see what you want to see and you hear what you want to hear.” Like much of the animation from the 70’s the message is a little too on point (pun absolutely intended), but it is nevertheless true.
Even though Jesus came to rescue us, and to bring us into his family, all because God loves us too much to leave us to our own destruction, the default position of the human heart is to turn a blind eye to the Lord. It’s easier to think we can handle our destinies on our own, thank you very much. It’s easier to think that we’re basically all right, rather than to face the truth: we’re pretty messed up. Even when we try really hard to do otherwise, we’re often mean and nasty to each other, completely selfish, giving nary a second thought to the One who made us. But still we think we can handle it. The thing about light is that it brings the secrets out. It reveals what’s hidden. The “true light” the Gospel talks about shines into the hidden parts of our hearts, but all-too-often we’d rather keep stuff in the shadows.
To use another illustration, we had to give Leah, our three-year-old, eyedrops this week. She’d gotten an infection, and her eyes were frankly gross. But more to the point, she felt terrible, especially with respect to her eyes. But try and convince a toddler that life will be better if she takes her medicine! The first couple of days it took two adults to administer those eye drops, because she was not having it! That is the default position of the human soul with respect to God’s help. We will not have it, even though it will be for our healing and salvation.
But, as the passage said, “to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” God brings us into his family, by the Incarnation. God becomes man so that man can be joined to God. Through Christ we are adopted into God’s family, made co-heirs with the Son, getting back everything we lost in the Fall and then some. You see, our First Parents had the potential to Fall. When we’re glorified, we won’t. Though they were made in God’s image, there was something of a distance between God and our First Parents. But in the Incarnation, Christ forever joined his Divinity to humanity, forever bringing our nature into his own.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”) For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
Back in Exodus, there was a time when Moses asked to see God’s face. God told him that he wouldn’t be able to handle it, so he hid Moses in a rock, sheltered him from the Divine Glory, and passed by, showing only his back. Moses didn’t know, but God saved his life that day; had God showed Moses his face, it would have been like that scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark when the Nazis looked into something they shouldn’t have seen. But St. John tells us that when God the Son, the Word, became flesh, we now had access to God’s glory. We could quite literally see God face to face, because God had taken upon himself a face like ours, a face he still has.
But not only did he come to take our flesh upon himself, he also came to give us “grace upon grace.” He gave us from his fullness. He gave his life for us so that our lives would be saved. He became the Paschal Lamb, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. How? By shedding his innocent blood in our stead. By taking our punishment upon himself, as the only one who could bear the punishment, conquering death, snatching the very keys to the hell and the grave from Satan’s paw.
One of our icons in the back has little icons of Christ’s life on the border. If you look really closely for the icon of the Nativity (after all, it is rather tiny), you may notice that the manger looks suspiciously like a tomb, and the baby’s swaddling clothes look suspiciously like a burial shroud. You see, that baby in the ass’s trough came to die for you and for me, so that you and I could live. This is what the Incarnation is about. Emmanuel, God-with-us, graciously redeeming us with his own blood, so that we would become children of God.
And this is my favorite thing about Christmas: at Christmas, we are surrounded with the Gospel, in the lights, in the creche, in the carols, in the lessons and prayers. And that Gospel is always for you and for me. So, if you have been washed in the blood of God’s Lamb, baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection, come to his Table, partake of his Feast, have union with him in the Holy Communion. And if not, he is inviting you to him. After all, that’s why the Word became Flesh.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.