In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God; 3 all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. 6 ¶ There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came for testimony, to bear witness to the light, that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the light, but came to bear witness to the light. 9 ¶ The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not. 11 He came to his own home, and his own people received him not. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God; 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. 14 ¶ And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father. – John 1:1-14
Well, here we are – Christmas Day. We made it. What a beautiful night last night was – the candlelight, the carols, family and friends close by – a mirror image of the peacefulness of the scene in Bethlehem all those years ago. We remember Mary and Joseph and the joyful visit of the shepherds and in our imaginations we can see all the animals nearby and the stars shining in the night sky, and we remember how all the things foretold by the Old Testament prophets were fulfilled in the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ.
And now a new day dawns. It’s morning, and the angels have all gone back to heaven, the shepherds have returned to their sheep, and Joseph is tending to the needs of his new family while all around them in the city of Bethlehem people are heading off to work. (They didn’t have Christmas Day off in those days!) The previous night the shepherds had told everyone they ran into about the angels’ message and the birth of this baby, and in the light of day the whole town is buzzing with the news as shopkeepers open their shops and the day begins.
And then what? For the most part nobody heard anything about Jesus again for another 30 years. It seems like life just sort of goes on like it always had.
And isn’t that sort of how it is for us? The buildup is over, and the carols have been sung, and Christmas is here, and tomorrow the world will keep on going about its business the way it always has. Story-time is over, it’s time to start shopping for Valentines Day.
But the words of the apostle John stop us in our tracks. In the Gospel reading for today John presents the Christmas story in a totally different way… a way that makes us stop and think. He begins by saying: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… 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…The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world.
It’s interesting that John starts out talking about light. Scripture tells us that Jesus’ earthly mission was salvation, the saving of humankind. But John starts out talking about light because the world of Jesus’ day, like the world in our day, was a world in which there were many competing religions and belief systems, all of them offering different paths to enlightenment. In Jesus’ day, like in our day, people were teaching that you have to find enlightenment, either through education or lifestyle or giving or diet or spiritual practices like meditation or fasting.
What John says here is stunningly different. John says that in Jesus the Light carme to us. We don’t have to find the light. The Light found us. God himself entered our world bringing light into darkness and freedom for captives and life in a place where death always seems to have the last word. People don’t have to try to work their way to enlightenment – He’s here!
And then John continues the story: The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not. He came to his own home, and his own people received him not. I don’t think sadder words have ever been spoken. If anyone here has ever experienced being turned away by one’s own… know that Jesus has been there too and He knows what it’s like. In the depths of the darkness of our world, it is so dark that people didn’t even recognize their own creator when he came to earth. The God who gave each of us life arrived on the planet, and his own people turned him away. And today those words are still true. We still live in a world where people don’t acknowledge their own creator. We still live in a world that actively turns away from and despises Jesus. And the irony is, Jesus came to earth so that we would never have to suffer the same fate… so that we would never be turned away by God.
What then do we need to do? John tells us: But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power 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.
When the light shines in the darkness, the truth comes to light. To those who see and accept that Jesus really is ‘the Word made flesh dwelling among us’, to those who make him welcome, he gives the power to become children of God. Human beings don’t have the power to become children of God on our own… we could never be good enough or holy enough. We could never find our own way out of the darkness. But when we welcome Jesus into our lives we welcome the Father who sent Him… when we open our hearts to him and receive him, by the power of God we become children of God.
And that is the good news of Christmas. Today we celebrate Jesus’ birthday, the birthday of the one who brings light into this dark world and sets us free to become children of the light, to become children of God. So in a sense this is our rebirth-day too, because by making Jesus welcome we become, as John says, born not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. The promise is fulfilled, and the words are true. Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those who welcome the light of the world. AMEN.