Thursday, December 25, 2014
And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.
As we gather to celebrate the nativity of our Lord, many of us will have in mind that familiar Christmas story. There are traditionally two different texts from the Gospel used on Christmas; the first is our passage from John 1 and the other is from the Luke 2. It is from Luke that we have all those well-known details: the journey to Bethlehem, the inn in which there is no room; the stable in which Jesus is born and the manger in which Mary places the swaddled new born, the shepherds and the angels and their song of praise and the visitation to the Holy Family. All of these come from that passage from Luke. While Luke tells us what happened on the day that Jesus was born, our passage from John helps us to understand the meaning of this birth, why it happened.
John's Gospel opens with these deceptively simple words, In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Though the words are simple, what they convey can be elusive. God's Word, like our words, is the Father's self-communication. The Word is God's perfect self-expression. For John, if you want to know who God is, then you look at Jesus, the Word incarnate. That Word was present with the Father in all eternity. It was there at the beginning of time in the word of Creation. In the opening verses of Genesis, we are told, God said, let there be light and there was light. The Word created and gave order to the world. The crown of creation was the man and the woman of whom God said, Let us make man in our image. The Father through the Word, created humans to be in fellowship and communion with him and with one another. Man is invited share in the communion of love that existed for all eternity between the Word and the Father.
Of course the remainder of the Old Testament is about how the man and woman turn away from God, believing in the lie of self-sufficiency and life apart from God. This is quickly succeeded by the lie that we can live apart from one another, so that by Genesis chapter four, we hear the muderous Cain say to the Lord, am I my brother's keeper? In the succeeding history, God again and again gave his Word to the prophets who called the people back into fellowship with him. The Word, spoken through the prophets, told the people to love God with all their heart, soul and strength and to love their neighbors. This was not anything new. It was the way God had created the world to be through the Word.
The shocking affirmation of John is that this Word, the Word that created, the Word spoken through the prophets, became flesh. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. The Word would no longer need to come to man through the medium of creation or through the words of the prophets, but there is a kind of immediacy. We can see and touch the Word of God in the man Jesus. In the life of the Word made flesh we see an outpouring of love. Jesus persisted and persevered in love for the Father and for man, even when that love led him to Calvary. There is an exercise I do with our children and ask them how much God loves us. Not this much (hands close together). Nor even this much (a little further apart), but this much (with hands extended). It is the position of crucifixion but also of embrace. He persisted in love so that we could be restored to communion with God and one another.
To put it quite simply, the truth of Christmas is that, as John says, the light shineth in darkness. And in his first epistle, John states, the darkness is past, and the true light now shineth. All of this is represented in the church by all the candles that are burning tonight. In that simple stable over 2000 years ago, a light of love was placed before us and before all humanity. There is no extinguishing this light because this light is a persevering love. Even the worst of human darkness cannot overcome it. Now that we are on this side of that birth in Bethlehem, we are called to put all our lives in that light. We have to let go of those lies that have been around since the beginning of creation, namely that we can live apart from God and apart from one another. The God who made us is our soul's food; we need him and he is our true happiness. The same God has declared, it is not good that man should be alone. We need one another, in all particularities and diversities. This Christmas, let us turn again to this light of love and embrace the greatest gift we will ever receive, wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.