In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. 14And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.
At our Advent Sunday family service, Carolyn began our journey to Christmas by encouraging us to be ready and not to miss the moment. Well, these days it’s almost impossible to miss the moment of Christmas – even those who want to miss it can’t avoid it! But it can be difficult to climb back into the reality of the actual moment when Jesus was born, to strip away the layers that countless years have added to the story and return to what it was really like.
But the actual moment was, in fact, missed by pretty much everyone – just another baby born unseen. When we retell the Christmas story, it all feels so miraculous and wondrous that it seems as though everyone knew all along that something magical was happening, in the full glare of the world’s attention. But when you read the Biblical accounts, you realise that the actual moment of Jesus’ birth passed entirely unnoticed, just another unremarkable birth, unknown to anyone but his mother and father. And even they (despite messages from angels), I wonder how much they understood the full extent of what was happening?
I’m pretty sure that at that moment, they wouldn’t have realised what John would later write about that moment in his Gospel: that the one who created the world was becoming a human being, breathing the creative force back into a dying world to re-create us, re-igniting our lives by being born again as children of God.
It was only with hindsight that that magnificent reality dawned on us. That paradox between how the moment appeared and it’s true significance is summed up beautifully by U.A. Fanthorpe in his poem, BC:AD:
This was the moment when Before
Turned into After, and the future’s
Uninvented timekeepers presented arms.
This was the moment when nothing
Happened. Only dull peace
Sprawled boringly over the earth.
This was the moment when even energetic Romans
Could find nothing better to do
Than counting heads in remote provinces.
And this was the moment
When a few farm workers and three
Members of an obscure Persian sect
Walked haphazard by starlight straight
Into the kingdom of heaven.
That poem reminds us that both of those realities are true: that it was an entirely unnoticed and very ordinary event and it was a moment when all heaven and earth stood still to watch and wonder and worship. But only with hindsight did we see how powerfully and magnificently God was at work in that apparently ordinary scene.
It’s a reminder that God comes to us in the ordinary everydayness of life. There are moments in life when God feels very close – and Christmas [Eve] is surely one of those. But when life is humdrum and boring, it’s harder to be aware of his presence. And it can be particularly hard when life is tough, when we feel as though we are God-forsaken, that he has walked out on us and just left us in darkness.
But in fact, he is always present, whether or not we are aware of his presence. And that makes sense when we understand that God came to us as light. The thing about light is that you can’t see it. But we do see by it. And all we need to do, according to John, is to receive it – to receive Jesus and to believe in him. To open our hearts to him, trust his teaching and steep ourselves in it until we live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.
I can certainly testify from my own experience that doing that has been light to me. The daily practice of my faith disciplines rescues me daily from the dark thoughts that seem to try to creep in to my mind, be they a judgmental attitude towards my fellow human beings or the lurking fears about my own self-worth. His light keeps those darknesses at bay. But he has also been light in the same way that summer sun suddenly makes everything seem more vivid, more beautiful and more alive. For me Christmas recaptured the magic of childhood when, as an adult, I began to see it through the light of faith.
This is a light that shines in the darkness. The darkness will always seem bigger and more threatening. The light will always seem faint and glimmering, almost overwhelmed by the darkness around it. And yet the darkness cannot overcome it. It is powerless to resist. And so it is with God, whether in the frail form of a vulnerable baby, or simply by a barely tangible Spirit, God is always present, always more powerful than the darkness.
And he is surprisingly powerful. By paraphrasing the open words of Genesis, John reminds us that Jesus is the same Word that, in the beginning, said “let there be light”; that it is the same light that first created everything, which comes to us again at the point of deepest darkness, when we are in greatest danger of extinction, to bring us his full creative power, to assure us that no darkness will ever overcome us, that even if the world does its worst, there is the possibility of re-creation and new birth.
It is by this light that we see, that we understand the significance of our lives, even if only retrospectively. And that should draw us on in hope, knowing that in the future, we will understand more fully what the value of our ordinary everyday lives are, that we will see, in them, something infinitely more glorious, more graceful and more true.
This Christmas, at this darkest time of the year, I pray that his glorious light may enlighten us all and all whom we love, that we may receive him afresh, as glorious life, full of grace and truth. Happy Christmas to you all.
Preached: – Brougham, Morland 25 December 2018