Inspired by John 1:1-14
I’ve probably mentioned this before but the Gospel of John is my least favorite of the four Gospels. At the same time it may be the most beautifully written of the four. It’s my least favorite because it is so philosophical, so heady, so very deep. Each line is just jam packed with meaning and history that births these advanced theological concepts. You practically need a manual beside you as you read it!
And maybe that comes from the special place in my heart for the unchurched, the growing population of people who have not grown up in the church, who have not had these stories read and taught and preached on throughout their lives, who hear a phrase like “the Word became flesh” and have no idea what that means. Needless to say, I would never give an unchurched person the Gospel of John to read. [whisper] Give them Mark. But I digress.
So, when I remembered that today’s Gospel reading was from John, which it always is on Christmas Day, I rolled my eyes and thought, ugh, what am I going to do with this! Christmas is supposed to be light and fun and celebratory! Not deep and serious and theological. Not to mention the fact that there is just so much in this, every line could make a great sermon! So, whenever I come across a passage like this I have to calm myself down and realize, I can’t address it all, and that’s ok. I’ll just pick a few things from this and go from there. And then I saw Owen’s musical choices for today, which are like a weekly Christmas gift all year long, and I particularly noticed the hymn of the day, which we will be singing as soon as I’m done here, entitled, Love Has Come.
John writes, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness doesn’t extinguish the light.” I cannot think of a better time to think of God coming into the world, in sweet little baby Jesus, as light shining in the darkness. We live in dark times, war runs rampant across the world, hate spreads like a plague, inequality based on race, class, gender, sexual orientation, religion, and whatever else, just doesn’t want to die no matter how hard we try to stamp it out.
But, it is in the darkness that Christ shines all the brighter, it is in the darkness that we yearn for Christ all the more, it is in the darkness that we are challenged to reflect God’s light in this world. Because if you don’t see the world as this dark place that John and I describe, then I am so very happy for you, but please know this, many people around you do, and that only means that you are called to be their light.
The 2nd of the three stanzas reads: “Love is born! Come, share in the wonder. Love is God now asleep in the hay. See the glow in the eyes of his mother; what is the name her heart is saying? Love! Love! Love is the name she whispers; Love! Love! Jesus, Immanuel.” John writes, “The Word became flesh and made his home among us.” There is this earthy awesomeness in the way that John describes God for us in the event of Christ’s birth. There is a sense of wonder as he describes the way in which the almighty God on high, breaks into the reality of our existence, in the flesh and bone of a baby boy laying in a bed of hay, looked upon by a his mother the way that most of our mothers did. It was John’s way of allowing us to both glorify and relate to this awesome scene.
And the 3rd and final stanza of this beautiful hymn begins, “Love has come and never will leave us! Love is life everlasting and free.” And John begins his Gospel with, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” Jesus being the Word that John is referring to, here he expresses the timelessness of the Christ. Earthy and fleshy to be sure, but also everlasting and eternal at the same time. And if you’re like me, you need both. Both a Christ that can relate to our human existence, but also a Christ that can transcend that, rise above it, and even conquer it, especially when we cannot.
As I said, there is so much packed into this Gospel reading, we just can’t get to it all in one sermon, or maybe even in a lifetime of sermons. But at the very least, I hope that we can allow this next hymn to flesh out, pun intended, some of what John beautifully expressed to us in this passage—like the light of Christ, the earthiness of Christ, and the timelessness of Christ. My hope for us this Christmas and always, is that we can take these truths, plant them in our hearts, so that we can sing these final words of this hymn with boldness and confidence, “Love is Jesus within and among us. Love is the peace our hearts are seeking. Love! Love! Love is the gift of Christmas; Love! Love! Praise to you, God on high!” Amen.