There was once a small child named Jacob. Jacob had not been much interested in Christmas-too young to remember the previous Christmas, and not comprehending what it would mean this year. Not much interested, that is, until his mother and father began to string lights down the banister and around the entry area of the house. “Oh, Mommy, Mommy!” he exclaimed, “Let me help make Christmas!” and gathering all the rest of the lights in his arms, he ran to his room and began to string them everywhere until his room resembled something like the Griswald’s house in the movie Christmas Vacation.
Small as he was, he grasped an important truth. Christmas is all about the lights-the light of the angels bursting through a cold, dark sky to sing the music of heaven to terrified shepherds who could not remember anything like this happening before, nor comprehend what was happening now. The light of a star appearing in the sky to anxious magi who had never seen anything like it before and could not comprehend a king who was born in a stable. The Light of the World, born in a stable to a scared teenager supported by her worried husband.
Light gets our attention. On that first Christmas, the true light came into the world, the light that shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not overcome it. The Light comes again today for us. It comes into our lives. It is here enlightening our lives. Do we see the Light of Life as the shepherds did, or do we see it as a disturbance, something that unsettles us, something that makes us uneasy, something that brings a wave of guilt, but doesn’t lead us to repentance? Because of the Babe born on the first Christmas, our lives are lit up with the grace of God, the love of God, the forgiveness of God, the power of God, and the peace of God.
John’s Gospel has two purposes:
1. To introduce his readers to Jesus, and
2. To establish who He is and what He did, all with the sole aim of leading them to embrace the saving work of Christ.
God came to us in Christ. When hostility and enmity exist, we can break the silence because of Christ and offer what God has offered the us-a word of Grace. The true light came on the first Christmas-the light that shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not overcome it. Light equals life. The Light of Christ has come into our lives. Do we see it as a disturbance, or do we see it as the Light of life, like the shepherds did? This light brings peace, comfort, reconciliation and joy into our lives.
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There is a story about two brothers, named Tom and John, whose father had died. He had willed the farm to the two of them to keep his sons together. It had not worked that way. John had married and lived in a small town with his family. Tom, who remained single, lived alone in the old farmhouse. “John is always preoccupied with his family,” Tom thought. “I do more than my share of the work.” He began to resent his brother. “Tom is always so grouchy,” thought John. “He is jealous of my wife and children.”
A wall of resentment built up between them. They would hardly speak to each other. They attended the same little church in town and sat on opposite sides of the nave during the Christmas Eve service. John was troubled because they had hardly acknowledged each other’s presence as they sat in church. On the way home John said to his wife, “Tom is alone and has no one to share Christmas. I know he won’t come here. Maybe we can take a warm dinner to him.” His wife prepared a delicious meal and put it into a sleigh and started from the small town to the farmhouse in the country. Meanwhile, Tom, sitting alone, said to himself: “Life is too short for this. John is my only brother and he has it hard with his wife and family. I will load my wagon with wood for the fire and gifts for the children.” So he loaded his wagon and drove toward town.
Down in the valley between the farm and the town they met. They were silent for a moment and then they embraced with shouts of “Merry Christmas!!!!” The reconciliation took place at that moment, and the true light of Christmas was bright with a glow that could be seen for miles around.
Christ the light was in the world. The world was made by Him, but the world did not know Him. In the Bible, the word “flesh” often means “the whole person”. Human nature is distinct and separate from God; the human nature in all of its weakness and susceptibility of sin. The rejecter’s loss is the believer’s gain. The way has been opened for God’s purpose to be fulfilled in us. Christ’s grace is inexhaustible. The purpose of the Light is to make us His children. He is God over us, and He is our advocate. He pleads our case because He loves us.
Jesus revealed His love for us through the greatest act of self-sacrifice a man could perform-He gave His life for us. God became one of us. Christ has identified with us, and He wants to enable us to live fulfilled lives. The church owes its life to the Word of promise and is nourished and preserved by the same Word. If the soul has the Word, it is rich and is lacking nothing of peace, of righteousness, of salvation, of joy, of liberty. Advent’s mood calls us to a mature, clear-sighted and steadfast faith. The real meaning of Christmas lies in the combination of magical ceremonies and the message that God has broken through our human selfishness.
John’s Gospel adds perspective whereby the reader is led all the way back to Creation to see even that in the light of the resurrection. John points us continually toward Jesus and His mission. John’s life is directed toward Jesus and in service of His kingdom. We must let go of EVERYTHING that is blocking God’s path to us. To have a relationship with Christ is to have a relationship of openness to God and share His eternal life. The world can’t understand the light and darkness, but the darkness of our universe has been scattered. The one who is light suffered the darkness of death and hell in our place. The Crucifixion did not extinguish the light because Jesus is Lord of Death and Lord of Life. We are not in darkness anymore. We have “seen the light”. God’s word has created us and bound us together.
God’s immensity is always flooding us with grace. Our spiritual blindness can’t drive us away from God’s grace. The major consequence of our sinful nature is blindness to truth, reality, the nature of sin and the necessity of a Saviour. The Saviour of humankind has been given to us. The Word is immersed in every aspect of our lives-from empty problems at work, to temptation, to fun-time partying, to betrayal, to exhilaration, to grief, to laughter, to pain. We draw grace from God’s entire resources—an inexhaustible warehouse. From his fullness, we have all received grace upon grace. Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
The other Gospels depict the glory of God coming upon Jesus at the transfiguration; however, John sees the glory of God in all Jesus says and does. In John’s mind, the hour for Jesus to be glorified is the crucifixion.
If we say we have fellowship with God, that means we partake of his divine nature. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves. If we have fellowship with God, we must be like Him and make room in our lives and hearts for others AND for Jesus. Christmas can be a time for sheer joy, but it can also be a time of great pain and sorrow, especially for those who have lost a loved one, or who are in poor health, or who have lost their job, or who have suffered other kinds of losses. There is hope in the true story of Christmas-hope God gave us in the baby, our redeemer, Jesus Christ. The Light of the World brings hope to the world. God lives here within us. If God keeps his promises, is it because he wants to or is it because of his nature? He won’t do anything other than what He has done through Christ and is now doing simply because he can’t do anything else.
I read a news story the other day about a move that is underway to make Jesus Christ the honorary king of Poland. Jesus came to earth on that first Christmas over 2,000 years ago to create His earthly kingdom and draw us into his heavenly kingdom by spreading the Good News of the Word and salvation, especially to the poor, the hungry, and the oppressed throughout the world, especially in countries such as China, Kenya, Iran, Nigeria, India, and Iraq. Even in these darkest corners of the world, the light shines so brightly that it pierces the deepest, darkest corners of man’s soul and opens his heart to the joy of the Christmas season.
In his Christmas Day message this year, Pope Benedict issued an appeal for the poor, the exploited, and all those who suffer. He said (quote):
The humanity of the 21st century appears as sure and self-sufficient master of its own destiny, the avid proponent of uncontested triumphs, yet this is not the case. People continue to die of hunger and thirst, disease and poverty, in this age of plenty and unbridled consumerism. Some people remain enslaved, exploited and stripped of their dignity; others are victims of racial and religious hatred, hampered by intolerance and discrimination. Others see their own bodies and those of dear ones, particularly their children, maimed by weaponry, by terrorism and by all sorts of violence at a time when everyone invokes and acclaims progress. It is for this reason that Jesus Christ is reborn. For he knows that even today, we need him. Despite humanity’s many advances, man has always been the same: a freedom poised between good and evil, between life and death.(End quote)
Even a small light can dispel a great darkness—even a tiny candle can drive darkness out of a large room. Light and darkness are opposites, but they are not opposites of equal power. Light is stronger than darkness; darkness cannot prevail against it…Similarly, darkness cannot overcome those who walk in the light. To witness for Christ often provokes the forces of darkness to violence, and Christian witnesses often become martyrs—a reality as true today in many parts of the world as it ever was in the Roman world of Christ’s time. Much of the world today is still in rebellion. It still prefers darkness to light, because its deeds are evil. That is true of all of us at certain points in our lives.
This same light pierces the darkest corners of our own reality of sins and failures. This same light motivates us more than guilt. No amount of good works can completely erase the guilt and stain of failure and sin from our past. We have the very real Spirit of the Living God whose ministry in the world is to reveal to us our need for a Saviour. This very same Saviour took our problem of sin and nailed it to the Cross. While the Holy Spirit convicts us of our sin, He then leads us to Christ, giving us the gift of faith that we might receive the grace of God. Christ’s forgiveness causes us to become new people. Then, by grace, we are able to walk in the new works that replace the old works.
The Word encompasses both word and deed. It is not us doing through God. It is God living His life through us. It is Immanuel, God is with us. We are called to proclaim the righteousness of God to celebrate the gift of life. We make God known in this world through our witness to God’s love. We stand on the strength of God’s love and reach out to embrace those God sends to us.
At this joyous Christmas time, we can’t even attempt to understand the Word. All we can do is stand in awe and wonder beside the crib, seeing in and through the child “the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth”. The light is visible in the Child AND in all who are struck by the light that comes from the Child.