Sunday, 10 January 2016

Revd Sue Watson's Sermon for Christmas 2 on John's Prologue

Have you ever wondered why the beginning of John’s Gospel is so prized as a reading at Christmas? It’s the one Gospel reading we are told we must read at least once at the Christmas day services…

And yet, from all appearances, it would seem that John knows next to nothing about angels or shepherds, stars or magi. He doesn't appear even to know the name of Jesus' mother or her visit to her cousin Elizabeth – or at least, he doesn’t mention either of them! He gives us no family tree and no information about Joseph.

Why, then, is this particular reading a particular option for Christmas Day and again for this second Sunday after Christmas?

Well, it’s because John’s words in these first few verses of his gospel capture the heart, the meaning, and the benefits of the Christmas story - in a nutshell.

John’s tone is super confident: did you notice how he begins his writing by repeating the opening line of Scripture itself- “In the beginning…” – Genesis chapter 1, when God created all things from nothing.

God spoke and the world came into being : “Let there be light, and there was light; Let the earth bring forth vegetation…let us make man in our image” : God spoke and the Word spoken was the force behind creation itself.

And here in John, is the Word:”In the beginning…was the Word.”  Like the author of Genesis, John too is talking about creation, God's new creation in Christ, God made flesh.

This is poetry, with power! To explore it more closely, let’s use the five ‘W’s…What, Why, Who, Where and When.

First of all, what  is John telling us about what is happening through Jesus?

 Jesus, according to John, has been a part of creation from the very beginning. What is happening now is that God's eternal Word – the means through which he created everything and by which we exist - God’s Word is coming down to earth to take on human flesh. The most extremely significant event in the history of God’s dealings with us.

This is not the first time God has become involved in human history, of course. God has been at work in the world through covenants with Abraham and Moses, through the giving of the Law, through judges, kings, and prophets. Yet now God is getting more personally involved, as the very Word of God – the expression of who He is -takes on human flesh and dwells with us in our own human form.

Why is this happening?

Because, says John, the world that has fallen into darkness needs light! And so God comes, prepared to struggle, light against darkness, day against night. That struggle is captured in verse 5: "The light shines on in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it."

Who does this affect?

It affects us all: this event, says John, is a new creation, a new beginning and a new beginning means new possibility for everyone! Even though many, including many who were close to him, did not recognize in Jesus what God was accomplishing, all those who do recognize and receive him are invited to become God's own children: verse12 “But to all who received him, who believed in his name he gave power to become children of God”. An invitation to something new.

 And John says we have the freedom to accept God’s invitation to new life: children of God are born not of blood (in other words, we won’t be subject to the frailties of human flesh forever), or of the will of the flesh (we are more than our desires), or of the will of humans (we will not always be subject to whim and will of others). We can become children of God freely, restored to God's original intention for us in creation.

Where  and when does this new creation take place?

 Not just in a manger long ago, but here, today, now! Perhaps this is why John gives such scant attention to the details of Jesus' birth. He is, ultimately, more interested in our birth, our new birth as children of God. According to John, that is, the main focus of Christmas is not really on Jesus' birthday at all; rather, it is on ours.

 Christmas is the day we celebrate our birth as children of God, it’s the keeping of all God's promises, and the beginning of the restoration of all creation.

John may not tell us anything about the details of the Christmas story, but he does know about the heart and soul – the true meaning - of the Incarnation, of what it means for God to become human.

Jesus - who is the very embodiment of God's grace – becomes fully human, and as a result, we are granted the chance to know the unknowable God and recognize ourselves as children beloved of God. As verse 18 says: “No one has ever seen God. It is … the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.”

This is the gift of Christmas, a new identity, a new opportunity, a new humanity knowing God in our lives – a gift received through Christ. This is the gift of Christmas, and it deserves our full attention on this day and, indeed, throughout the year.

John's prologue is, in many ways, a hymn to the Word, the Word that created in the beginning, created again in Jesus, and still creates when anyone receives Jesus in faith.

This passage is packed with meaning and metaphor, and perhaps can best be understood more as a poetic testimony to the light, life, and living Word of God.

John’s opening verses sum up the reason why Jesus came to us as a vulnerable human being – as a gift, a chance to start again, to be a new creation.

 So today, we have an opportunity to contemplate more quietly than perhaps we have on Christmas day, the profound mystery of the Incarnation, the doctrine at the heart of Christmas and to which John gives witness.

And as we anticipate the New Year of 2016, with all its hope for new and better things, we can reflect more fully on God’s great gift of the possibility for new life, received through believing in his Son, the creative Word made flesh.

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