So our reading from the Gospel of John this evening is one of the three chosen Gospel readings for Christmas Eve services around the world in mainline churches. It’s quite the heavy passage if you really think about it for a moment. Listen to how it begins, “in the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.
This first sentence is of course telling us about who? Well about the one who’s birth we celebrate this evening, the Son of God, the Word who became flesh and lived among us, Jesus Christ himself. But this first passage tells us more about who this Jesus is than just that he lived a life on earth here amongst us. And this is where it can get a bit tough. In the beginning was the Word. The beginning of what? Of life? Of time? Well we’re not really sure. But we know that apparently, the first thing, the beginning thing, was the Word and that that Word was not only with God, but is God himself.
This same Word who comes into the world and becomes flesh – Jesus Christ – is eternal, he wasn’t created, he simply is, because he is God. Always has been, always will be God. Hebrews even affirms for us that this Word, Jesus, is the exact imprint of God, God himself, not some lesser being, not merely an angel or a Spirit, but God himself. And yet, even though he is God, not created, not an Angel, in the beginning with God, he is also some how distinct, he is the one who, unlike the Father, is sent, who comes to earth, who becomes flesh to live among us while remaining God, one with God, and this Jesus we refer to as God’s one true and only Son. So we distinguish this Word from God our Father in one way, he is sent by the Father and as we learn elsewhere, by the Holy Spirit (born of the Holy Spirit).
Okay, so why is this, ‘theological description’ this seemingly academic mumbo jumbo so important? Well, let me start with saying that it took the Church a few centuries to work out exactly how this Word, the Son of God, Jesus Christ, was or could be God himself, and yet spoken of separately from God as we hear in this passage from John. Not easy stuff. But here’s why it was so critical to understand how we can refer to Jesus as God: ask yourself this question. When verse 3 says, “all things – that’s you and I – your kids and grandkids – came into being through the Word, and nothing at all, not a rock or stone, or river, or human being, came into being, could ever exist, without him” ask yourself this: could it be possible for a created thing to bring everything into existence? Wouldn’t something else have to create a created thing before it could bring other created things into existence? Just like a family, a mother and father bring their child into existence, but a man and woman brought that mother into existence, and another man and woman brought that father into existence, and so on. But what John is saying here in our Gospel, is that God simply is, that Jesus Christ, is God and God simply is, without anything or anyone else creating him. So God brought all things that are into existence.
So God created all things and brought them into existence, from our first ancestors, all the way through to us, from the glaciers, all the way through to our Appalachian and Rocky Mountains, to our great lakes. Here’s the really important part in all of this. Yes, he brought everything into existence. But he didn’t then sort of stand back and say, ‘ah, my work here is done.’ No, he ordered everything in order that all of creation might be, in its own way – every single person, every mountain, every sunset, every action, every child born, every word of love and every flower that blooms – might in its own way reflect God’s very own being in its particular proportion, to the extent that it can in its created being. That’s why he made everything that is: so that each thing could reveal to other things, the love of God.
Of course throughout Advent, we’ve been exploring our failure to live into this purpose for which we were made, otherwise known as the effect of the fall, or sin. Why do we do this? Why don’t we just talk about all the good stuff Jesus is going to do? Because we’ve heard that we are still having to live in a world that experiences the effects of sin, we see it all around us and we see it in our own hearts, from hatred, violence, bigotry, murder, corruption, to treating each other poorly, to holding grudges, to reacting to one another so defensively and so harshly, that we end up alienating people from our lives, to gossiping and talking about others behind people’s backs, to cheating on one another, to stealing away hope and acceptance where people are ashamed, fearful, hurting, or confused. All these are the effects of sin that are manifested in so many different ways by all of us. No one is good, no not one, say our psalms. If you say you have no sin, John says, the truth is not in you.
Advent has been about coming to terms with this struggle that Paul relates in Romans 7 between the old life we’ve had, of the flesh, caving to the temptation presented to us to turn away from God to make our own way, or to secure ourselves on our own terms; and the struggle to live into the “new life that is the light of all people” that the Word, Jesus, brings into the world at his birth, his coming amongst us. Advent has been a reminder of our calling, as John the Baptist has put it the last two weeks of Advent, to confess our sin, to determine where in our lives we are stuck in this old world of the flesh, of pretending as if this world we see around us is all there is, to repent of living as if we are our own masters, and to face into the coming of Jesus Christ into this world, and into our very lives. Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand, John told us.
We’ve been anticipating God’s fulfillment of his promise to come into the world, which is precisely what we celebrate this evening and into tomorrow morning and for the next 12 days in fact. What is it that we are celebrating? We are celebrating the fact that Jesus, being God himself, has reconciled us to a life that we chose to throw away, a life of purpose and meaning, of goodness and of love. We are celebrating the fact that being God and not just another created being, an angel, a messenger, a mere human, God opened the way for us to immigrate from our old lives that are ordered to the fate of the things we see around us: decay and death, into the kingdom of God, eternal life with him. We are celebrating that fact that when Jesus comes into the world, he joins us to himself even as we still so often slip and fall away, he calls to us, he entices, challenges, presses us and pulls us to himself, so that joined to him, we might be raised to life with God. That is what this new day, this new life, is, that you and I, that Christians across the whole world, billions of them from South and North America, to Africa, to the Middle East, to Russia and to the far East, are celebrating this Christmas. That this light of truth, this light of God’s love for us that is Jesus himself, shines light into the darkness through which we are now looking. That this Word who has come to us that we will hear about in Scripture once again this year, this Word we hear is the very life of God given to us, shining a light not only on the world, but into the figuratively darkened corners of our own lives – our fears and anxieties, our suffering, our loneliness, our longing, our hopes, our needs, our failures, our really, really big screw ups, our hunger for acceptance and love and reconciliation with him and with one another, for those we have lost this year, for those we long to be with us, he shines a light that allows us to see him not just as another frail created person, but as our Lord and God who has the power, the capacity, and the will to bring us out of our self created darkness, into the light of his loving presence.
It is to this reality of his presence with us, his shining light on the truth of our lives before God, that he calls us to open ourselves this day and into our new year. Will we accept him? Much of the world did not and has not. But John tells us, “to all who received him, who believed in him, even when they couldn’t figuratively stick their hands yet into his wounds, he gave the power, the ability, to be reconciled to God, to receive his grace and to live our lives now knowing this to be true. This next year, let us take hold of the grace that we have been granted through this Word. Let us turn not to our own ways, but to ways that God has laid out for us in his Scriptures through his Son, the Word, Jesus Christ. Let us take hold of this truth and allow it to inform every decision, every choice, and every hope, in the lives that we share with one another. In the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,