The True Light – Dec. 29, 2019

The True Light

A Sermon by Rev. Karen A. Mendes

John 1:1-18

Dec. 29, 2019

Main point – Jesus reveals God to us.

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen.

Today is the First Sunday of Christmas.  Advent is over.  The waiting is over.  Christmas has arrived and continues for another week!    After all of our preparations we have come to the time we were waiting for.  It is unfortunate that in our culture we put so much energy in the time before Christmas that we don’t have much left for Christmas itself. So this morning we are celebrating Christmas;  singing carols and contemplating Christ. This morning there are no more tasks to accomplish, nothing to wrap or cook.  This morning we can just sit together and listen to the Good News of Christ.    The miracle of Christmas is so tremendous that we can’t really get our minds around it but we can open our hearts to it.   The truth of Christmas is that Jesus of Nazareth reveals God to us.  The Christmas story is more than a sweet tale of a baby in a manger.  It is an astonishing story of power and grace and most of all, divine love.  It is the story of the incarnation, and it is an incredible statement of our relationship to God.  As we look ahead to what 2020 may bring, we can be empowered by the truths it expresses.

The Prologue to the Gospel of John is one of the most beautiful and profound passages in all of Scripture. We could explore this passage for days and days and still not exhaust the wisdom contained within it.  I strongly encourage you to read and reread the passage on your own (after the service) as you will be greatly blessed by it.

This text attempts to crystallize the main point of John’s gospel;  that Jesus is the most perfect expression of God.  The story told in today’s text is the story of God’s love in action.

John starts out talking about The Word, logos in Greek, which means a word in action.  This Word is with God, this Word is God.   Echoing Genesis, this Word is present “In the Beginning” of creation.  And nothing in creation was made outside of what the Word created.  

This Word contained life and the life was the light of all the people, all humanity.  This Light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it.   This Word is a beacon to all who struggle in darkness.  There is no evil or darkness that can prevail against it.

In this first part of the prologue, John is talking about creation and divine reality.  These are truths which are foundational and timeless. Both the Jewish people and the Greeks who heard it originally would have had no problem agreeing with him.   But in verse 9 John makes an astonishing claim.  “The true light which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.”  This is the Christmas story, the outrageous truth that separates Christians from people of other faiths.  “He was in the world, and 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.”  The Creator of the universe joined creation, and nobody recognized it!  At least those who would have been expected to recognize him, did not.  But John tells us that some people did recognize him and they were given power to become children of God, regardless of their background.

Then to emphasize his point, John states his outrageous claim boldly.  “The Word became Flesh and lived among us.”   The Word was God.  The Word became Flesh.   God became Flesh.  God, the source of all being, the omnipotent power, beyond our understanding or imagining, God in Jesus, chose to share our earthly life!  And through Jesus’ earthly life we can see God’s love and purpose for us.  “From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.  The Law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (v. 16-17)  Here, finally John names Jesus as the Word.  And here he talks about grace, about how this wonderful reality of the Incarnation, the Word made Flesh, changes our very lives. 

Through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus our Christ, we can see into the very heart of God.  Think about that for a moment.  As John put it “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.” (v.18)

This is the central tenet of our Faith and yet how often do we forget or ignore the incredible power of its truth?  How often do we let worries, grief, ambitions, or petty monotony cloud our vision and blunt our responses?  How many of us were glad to get Christmas over with rather than to savor and wonder about its incredible claims?

Our Christmas story is more than the characters of our nativity set, although Luke and Matthew’s stories tell us much about Jesus and God.    What happened on the day of Jesus’ birth changed creation forever.  For God’s word, God’s speech, God’s intention became human.  The creator of the universe became a human baby.  “The Word became flesh and lived among us” (v. 14a)  And therefore we can “see and hear and know God in ways never before possible.” (Gail O’Day, New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary p. 524).  God’s incarnation in Jesus is a window into the heart of God which is full of love for us.

Through Jesus we know that God heals, forgives, embraces outcasts, and prays for those who hurt him.  Through Jesus we know that God understands suffering, pain, betrayal and death.   Jesus’ earthly life, and death, and resurrection is a lens like no other into the intentions of God.

But Jesus is more than just a lens, more than the historical Jesus of Nazareth.  He is the pre-existent Word of God who gives power to those who believe in him.  The miracle of Christmas so long ago continues to this day and forever.  Christ is a light to all people and those who receive him, believe in his name, are given the power to become children of God; to join the family of faith which is not limited by ethnicity, or status, or background.    Jesus has the power to restore us to community and to restore us to a right relationship with God, even in the most difficult of circumstances.

It is not an accident that we celebrate Christmas during the darkest time of the year.  The yearning for light in the darkness is one of the oldest and deepest human needs.  Most ancient cultures of the north had a celebration at this time of the year to recognize and give thanks for the lengthening of days.  And whether by design or happenstance, the early church was wise to have the celebration of Christmas bridge one year to the next. 

In two days it will be 2020 (and it will still be Christmas!).  The year ahead will present challenges for all of us, for our whole world.  The turmoil in Washington, the climate crisis, protests around the world, financial anxiety, griefs, new opportunities, partnerships, blessings. The time into which Jesus was born was not unlike our time.  The world then was troubled by wars and conflict.  People suffered. People struggled to survive.  The challenges facing us in 2020 loom large and they will require attention, cooperation and sacrifice. We, like the generations before us, have a great gift with which to face all that approaches us.  The gift that God is with us.  That God in Jesus, has shared, does share in all of our experiences, not only sharing but empowering us with grace upon grace.  

For the next week may we continue to celebrate Christmas.  May we be emboldened by God’s outrageous action in Jesus the Christ.  As we look toward the new year,  let me share a favorite  poem from Madeleine L’Engle entitled “First Coming”. (Madeleine L’Engle, and Luci Shaw, Winter Song; Christmas Readings p. 72)

First Coming   

He did not wait till the world was ready,

till men and nations were at peace.

He came when the Heavens were unsteady,

and prisoners cried out for release.

He did not wait for the perfect time.

He came when the need was deep and great.

He dined with sinners in all their grime,

turned water into wine.  He did not wait

till hearts were pure.  In joy he came

to a tarnished world of sin and doubt.

To a world like ours, of anguished shame

he came, and his Light would not go out.

He came to a world which did not mesh,

to heal its tangles, shield its scorn.

In the mystery of the Word made Flesh

the maker of the stars was born.

We cannot wait till the world is sane

to raise our songs with joyful voice,

for to share our grief, to touch our pain,

He came with Love: Rejoice! Rejoice!

Will you join with me in prayer?

Incarnate Word, Amazing God, we are in awe of the gift you give to us each Christmas, each day.  Help us to remember and honor the glory and power of your presence with us.  Help us in the new year to lead our lives as witnesses to your power and love.  In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.