Audio transcript available soon.
Christmas Day B14 John 1
Christmas is a great time of anticipation. Presents and food and good company are things that some of us look forward to. Every year I look forward to Christmas Day for the reading of this extraordinary passage from the Gospel of John. The other three gospels- the synoptics- each begin in a different way, Mathew with a genealogy, Mark tells us he is bringing the Good News and then launches straight into John the Baptist, Luke explains why he is writing and then tells us a story of Jesus’ birth- they are all narrative beginnings. John, however, is a poet, and rather than starting with a narrative he begins with the same words as the Hebrew Scriptures, “In the beginning,”and transports us back to the moment of the creation of the world. What a way to beginning the story of Jesus of Nazareth, that baby whose birth in Bethlehem we are celebrating today!
The problem I think, for John, is that he cannot separate in his mind the man who walked the earth, from the God who created the universe. This is very high Christology, he has a very strong view of Jesus as the Christ, who God is, in the person of Jesus, and what the function is of that being who was incarnate, in a body, made flesh to dwell among us. The baby in the manger is of no use to John except that it is the moment when the Word was made flesh and became visible, tangible, and audible. John wants convey the enormity of what has happened when God chose to take flesh and dwell among us, when the Word, which spoke creation into being took on the limitations of earthly life, in order to shine God’s light into the world.
This Word was there right at the beginning of creation when life as we know it, came into being, when God spoke it into being, and this life, John tells us, was light! When you read it out the poetry of these verses elevates and reveals this idea.
We do know that life doesn’t work without light- the two are intertwined. There are things, organisms that can live in caves or on the very floor of the ocean, but generally life requires light. Things have evolved to survive with very little light but the light and the warmth of the sun is essential to both plants and animals- it is what we are designed for, whether you think that design is result of evolution, or not. So what does light do? Well, I am not going to explore the processes of photosynthesis, or the way the growth of plant matter is converted into calories that are stored and burnt, because we all know without the science that we need light for growth and productivity. We need light for health and well-being, as well. You only have to look at a spotty teenager that spends too much time in the cave of the bedroom to know that an application of light is needed for general well-being. Life is light and light is life. John wants us to understand the connection between our existence and the God who powers it, the God who speaks and brings us into being and who sustains us because God is light, the God who created our sun and the other stars. There are human beings, many of them, who in this day and age think that we can have life aside from God. There are people who cannot see that God exists and believe that everything can be quantified and explained by the human mind, without understanding that right back at the most fundamental level there is God who is light and life. The force of creation, the spark that began the process, what ever it was, the catalyst that caused life to be is God. How do I know that- because God is life, God is light, in whom there is no darkness at all.
The light, John tells us, shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. And suddenly we are in a dualistic place, dark verses light and good verses bad. This language of opposition is typical of Greek thought, the prevailing view when the author was writing, and indeed until very recently in Western ideology. Perhaps in this post modern era we no longer think of darkness as opposed to light, but rather about darkness illuminated- the darkness, which is a lack, is filled by the light. And when we have that light things are both revealed and exposed. The things that are beautiful can be seen, the plants can flourish, the plain and simple can be revealed in all their glory, we can now see! Love flourishes, like the plants, in the light of God’s glory. And at the same time, the things that cause the cankers in our society are exposed. The negatives, the sins, if you like, of unkindness, of greed, of seeking after power, of man’s inhumanity to man are exposed in the light of the Christ. The lack of love, the lack of integrity, the lack of mercy and justice become obvious once the light shines on the world. When the light comes we can see and what we see might cause us deep joy or great grief, but when we can see, in that figurative sense, we become fully human, we become the beings that Christ has created us to be. And in the light we can see each other, our beauty is revealed. I am reminded of an opal that I own. It is in a very bad setting that lets in very little light. It is a “Jelly Opal”which is dark but translucent, and most of the time appears just a dark stone, but when the light hits it there are wonderful colours swimming about in its inky depths. We human beings are to a greater or lesser extent like that. We all have beauty, but for some of us it is more hidden and it takes more light to become visible. Of course the light can also reveal things not quite so beautiful, or welcome. I remember the moment, when at 25 years of age, I walked outside holding my baby and reflected in the car window I saw a silver hair glinting in the strong sunlight. Of course a silver hair which I regretted age 25, becomes a beautiful thing on the right head. The light reveals things whether we want them seen or concealed. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
The light, in the form of Jesus, also reveals God. We have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s only son, full of grace and truth. However the God that is revealed in the person of Christ and in the work of the Holy Spirit may not be quite the God that we are expecting. That was certainly true, wasn’t it, of Jesus? He wasn’t the kind of Messiah that they were expecting, not that the Messiah was in any way equated with God- the Messiah was God’s instrument, God’s man on the ground, but not God himself. But when Jesus was revealed, not just as the salvation of the world, in the fullest sense, but also as Son of God, they rejected him. “The world did not know him”, they “did not accept him”John tells us. Part of the problem is that we human beings want to make God in our own image. We want God to like the people we like, and condemn the people we don’t like. We want God to support the causes that we support and fight against the things that worry us. And the reality is different. God is a God of love, for all, and God is also a God of justice, but not from our perspective but from God’s own, justice for all, as well. This light enlightens everything.
And if we choose the light, we become children of God, who walk in that light. God’s light is the star that guides us, like for us in the Southern hemisphere, the Southern Cross, which, if we know how to read it, will always tell us which direction to go in. If we walk in the light we can stay on the path. And the love of God, that light, also provides us with comfort and warmth, which we can share with others. We are called to testify to the light that has come into the world, reflecting Christ’s glory for all around to see by, and be warmed by, so that they might see God and be able to grow and flourish as we do.
This Christmas, as we celebrate the creator God, made flesh and coming into our world as light, may our world be illuminated by God’s glory and may we shine for those around us! In the name of Christ, Amen!