Galatians 3:23-25; 4:4-7; John 1:1-18
December 28, 2014
Merry Christmas! on this 4th day of Christmas – 1st Sunday of Christmastide. The Church’s historic rhythm of 4 Sundays of preparation during Advent and 12 days of celebration through Christmastide reminds us, as David Lose, President of Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia says, “Christmas isn’t just a holiday or festival but rather a witness to a reality that permeates our whole life.” During Christmas, Jesus shows us God and empowers us to be God’s children, alive with light, glory and grace. The prologue to John’s Gospel makes this abundantly clear in John 1:1-18.
John may have customized a hymn to introduce his Gospel, showing us God in Jesus so we could become God’s children. What is not clear is whether this was already a Christian hymn or if John drew on a Jewish, Gnostic or even pagan source. While no longer in verse form, it is still dense with poetic meaning.
Twice he interrupted the hymn with comments about John the Baptist, with whom he started the story of Jesus. Unlike the synoptic Gospels, John never used the title “the Baptist” for John but we easily know who he meant.
The themes of John 1:1-18 are intricately woven together with literary dexterity. Listen for the layers developing.
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.
6There 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. 10He 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.
15(John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’”)
16From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.
John 1:18 says, “No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.” Paul wrote it this way in Colossians 1:15, “He is the image of the invisible God.” Hebrews 1:3 says, “He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being.” During Christmas, Jesus shows us God and empowers us to be God’s children, alive with light, glory and grace.
Starting with “In the beginning” and calling Christ “The Word” evokes the creation story in Genesis 1 with God speaking, “Let there be light!” etc. John echoed creation in verse 3, “All things came into being through him.” John may even have been thinking of the hymn in Proverbs 8:22-31, with wisdom in creation personified as a woman, Sophia. Colossians 1:16 also presents Christ as the creator. “In him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him.” Hebrews 1:2 says that God “has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds.”
Translating verse 14 as “the Word became flesh and lived among us” is too weak. It might better be, he “pitched his tent with us.” Karyn Wiseman, who teaches at Lutheran Seminary at Philadelphia, wrote that Christ did not come as a tourist or even visiting rescuer, he fully identified with and lived as one of us so he could change our world.
During Christmas, Jesus shows us God and empowers us to be God’s children, alive with light, glory and grace. John 1:12 says that “to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God.”
This goes beyond being created in the image of God. This is to share kinship with God the Father through the only Son who is close to the Father’s heart. This is spiritual power beyond all imagination.
Galatians 4:5-6 that we read earlier says that when we are adopted at God’s children, God sends the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, so we can cry “Abba,” “Dad,” right along with Christ. The power to become children of God includes the intimacy of being close to the Father’s heart.
During Christmas, Jesus shows us God and empowers us to be God’s children, alive with light, glory and grace.
To be alive with light is to see wonders darkness cannot overcome. Fred Rogers said his mother told him when disasters strike, look for the helpers. When you feel darkness closing in, look for someone holding up Christ’s candle, such as George Mason, pastor of Wilshire Baptist Church just recognized for their response to Ebola.
To be alive with glory is to revel in being personally encountered by Christ’s presence. Mark Ashton was a little kid in the small church we served in Illinois 40 years ago. He is now the pastor of Christ Community Church, a thriving, innovative congregation in Omaha, NE. I am awestruck that he says my part-time ministry there helped to inspire him to consider pastoral ministry.
To be alive with grace is to proceed from setbacks with confidence in Christ. Candy has two cousins who have been pastors but are not active now for different reasons. Both of them have written publically about the struggles of their journeys and their search for Christ’s leading, which affirms for me that Christ walks with us hand in hand even when we feel we’ve jumped the track and our plans seem derailed.