Sermon by: Robert Austell; December 25, 2016 (Christmas Day)
Text: John 1:9-14
:: Sermon Audio (link) ::
Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell."
:: Scripture and Music ::
Gathering Music: Elizabeth Austell, piano
Hymn of Praise: O Come, All Ye Faithful (ADESTE FIDELIS)
Song of Praise: Love Has Come (BRING A TORCH)
Offering of Music: In the First Light (Kauflin)
Sending Hymn: Joy to the World (ANTIOCH) - arr. Austell
Postlude: Elizabeth Austell, piano
:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf) ::
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose.
We began the service with the great news declared by the Angels: “Behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
This is the great news of this day: Jesus has come to us. This morning we will look at the words of the Gospel of John about this event, as written by the beloved disciple of Jesus.
While the Gospels of Matthew and Luke focus more on the earthly events surrounding Jesus’ birth (as miraculous as those are), John focuses more on the spiritual and eternal significance of Jesus’ birth. He starts his account of Jesus not with genealogies and the birth, as Matthew and Luke do, but at creation. Naming Jesus as the Word, he echoes the beginning of Genesis with “In the beginning.” But instead of “In the beginning God created” he writes, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1) He goes on to place Jesus the Word at creation, involved with and as God in the very creation itself.
He then goes on to use words like “Life” and “Light” to describe Jesus, writing, “In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness…” (John 1:4-5a) From verse 9 to 14, John restates the opening of his letter, but with a little more detail. And He reverses the order of Jesus as Word, Life, and Light to take us back through and end with the Word. We’ll pick up John’s telling of the Jesus story there, at verse 9.
LIGHT of the World (vv. 9-12)
Picking back up on Jesus as the LIGHT that shines in the darkness, John names Jesus in verse 9 as “the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every person.” Two things to note here: this is not any old ‘enlightenment’ – as in greater understanding or a philosophical category. This is the truth and the presence of a God who is described as ‘glorious.’ And that relates to the second thing to note: this is personal. Of the “true Light” John goes on to say, “HE was in the world.” This Light which enlightens us is a person who has entered into our world. And indeed, as verse 14 will tell us, he came to show us the very glory of God.
Every two years when we have Confirmation class, we talk through these verses in John 1. How do we understand Jesus as Light? We talk about what light does. It helps us see, especially when it is dark. It can light our way and show us where we need to go. In doing so, light can also protect us by showing us dangers that might be otherwise hidden. Light also helps living things grow and thrive. And it is such a useful metaphor, we have brought it over into the realm of understanding things and use words like “illuminating” and “enlightening” to describe the effect of shining a light on our mind or understanding. Again, what has been murky or hidden to us becomes visible and understandable. All those little ‘lights’ help us to understand what Jesus, yet a person and not a concept, might be as Light with a capital ‘L’. Jesus helps us see, shows the way, protects us, helps us understand, and gives life.
John goes on to talk about “receiving the Light” in negative and positive terms. He tells us that many did not recognize Jesus as the Light of the World, including many of his own people. Even though He was involved in the very making of the world and humanity, many do not recognize Him or receive him. But some do, and John spells out what that means. First, note that John defines what ‘receiving Jesus’ means – it’s there at the end of verse 12: “those who believe in His name.” That’s another way of saying believe he is who he claims to be. His name – his names – are claims. He is Jesus, which literally means ‘savior’ or ‘rescuer.’ He is Emmanuel, God with us. He is the Light of the World and the Word who was in the beginning and who was with God and who was God. And, in fact, the whole Gospel of John goes on to highlight Jesus naming himself in different ways, all various claims to be God and to be from God: Bread of Life, Living Water, the Way, the Shepherd, the Resurrection and the Life, and so on. But in short, to believe in His name is to believe Jesus is who he claimed to be. That’s what it means to “receive the Light.” Next John turns to what it means for those who do.
LIFE as Children of God (vv. 12-13)
In verses 12-13, John says what happens to those who do receive Jesus as Light of the World. He writes, “But as many as received him, to them he gave the right to become children of God.” This is huge! Prior to this, the “children of God” were understood to be the descendants of Abraham. But that’s exactly what John goes on to explain. Those who become children of God in this way are “born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” In other words, Jesus becomes the entry point into the family of God, the means of being “born anew.” Jesus will explore this with Nicodemus as recorded in John 3. Later in the New Testament, Paul and Peter will wrestle with the implications of this for Jewish and Gentile believers. (see Galatians)
Just as Jesus is the Light of the World, John points out that he gives LIFE. In John 3, Jesus will explain how that life is like being born again. We are new creations. In John 11, at the scene of the death of Lazarus, Jesus will say, “I am the Resurrection and the Life” before he gives new life to Lazarus. And here, in the introduction of John, Jesus gives life by granting those who believe in and receive him the right to be adopted into God’s family as children of God. As part of God’s family, we experience a new relationship with God, perhaps demonstrated no more explicitly than when Jesus teaches his followers to call God ‘Abba’ or ‘Papa’ – the Creator God now known in the intimate relationship of Parent to child.
The WORD among Us (v. 14)
Finally, in verse 14, John moves back to the name he used to introduce Jesus and his Gospel. He speaks again of Jesus as the WORD. And this Word that was introduced as present at Creation, with God and as God, he now tells us has become flesh and dwelt among us. That eternal Word has come among us as one of us, to be born, grow, live, suffer, and die as one of us. And those this one verse will just touch on a portion of why, we read that in doing so, Jesus showed us the glory of God as only God-in-the-flesh could. And he was full of grace and truth.
What is the glory of God? It is the magnificence of the Being who is so powerful and great and other that we can’t fully comprehend or even look at or come into the presence of. It is not unlike the sun overhead. It is so hot and bright and powerful that it would consume us. We can’t even look at it directly from 25 million miles away without soon blinding ourselves. If we got any closer we’d burn up. Yet Jesus has brought the very glory of God down among us in a way that we can not only look and understand, but come near… very near.
And what are grace and truth? They are so important that we put them on a permanent banner in our sanctuary. God’s truth sees us for exactly who we are, in all our humanity – both the shortcomings of that and the dignity we bear as God’s image-bearers. And God’s grace comes to us offering restoration, healing, and lifting up from the depths into the dignity. Jesus held both together and embodies the character of God through grace and truth even as he embodies the presence of God through his glory.
This is the news of Christmas, of the Incarnation of the Son of God: the eternal Word has entered into our humanity to show us what it means to live in relationship with God. His invitation, “Come, believe, and follow me” is spoken to all. If you receive him, believing he was and is who he claims to be, you are children of God. Come, see, and believe! Amen.