So, once again, a cheap rip-off title that has nothing to do with a novel by Gabriel Garcia-Marquez (which is worth reading, btw), but is the text of something I said earlier in the week… this one is a Midnight Communion service on Christmas Eve, and I was slightly avoiding a couple of my favourite verses as I’ll be speaking on the same passage again in a few weeks time… anyway, here’s some thoughts on John 1, verses 1-14, also known as the prologue:
In the beginning was the word… that phrase rolls off the tongue, but then it all gets quite complicated, and we yearn for something simple… the best we can do for those first few verses is simply hold on, stay with it, in the hope that somewhere we will ‘get’ it… and in verse 6 we get our first chance for a breather… there came a man who was sent from God, and his name was John- that makes sense, we know what a man is, we recognise the name John… but then its off again- he came as a witness to testify to the light so that all men might believe…
What does it mean to talk about ‘the word’ and ‘the light’ in this way? As our passage concludes- the word became flesh and made his dwelling among us… the word of God ‘Logos’ in the original greek, a word that also means power, it was understood to be the means by which God acted- God’s word of creation, God’s word of transformation, and of salvation… God’s word became flesh… took on human form and lived with us. God’s word, becoming a person. John is clear here- God’s word became flesh, and his name was Jesus.
And light? The light that gives light to every man was coming into the world… Later in John’s Gospel Jesus says to his followers ‘I am the light of the world, whoever follows me will never walk in darkness’. The point of a light is that it illuminates when darkness is around us- it helps us find our way when we might otherwise stumble. We don’t need a light when we walk in daylight; but this idea, this reference to Jesus as the light of the world tells us several things-
Firstly, that we are in darkness. As I look around here, as I cycle through the village or into town I pass house after house where I know people have lost someone, suffered illness, faced redundancy, are struggling with depression or loneliness or just running without hope of rest just to keep up… and that is what it is to live in darkness. We don’t have to switch on the TV or read the papers, but if we do we’ll see that this isn’t something unique to us or to North Devon… the world is not sweetness and light.
Secondly, it tells us that Jesus can help. Just as a torch lights up the night and enables us to see, so Jesus, the light of the world, helps us to navigate the darkness that there is in life. A light in the darkness doesn’t light the path from here to your destination, but for a few steps at a time… you keep on trusting the light, and you will make your way home.
Third of all, it tells us that God, and the Christian understanding of the world, is realistic- it doesn’t pretend that everything is bright and lovely. It doesn’t suggest that by following Jesus the darkness turns to light- that somehow the whole world is changed because you have put your faith in him. No, but it does say that you will be able to make your way through things… that the light overcomes the darkness, that we do not have to fear for this life or the next.
But how can we trust this? In the same way that we trust anything that anyone says- little by little. We read a little, we hear a little, we pray a little, we believe a little, and we grow in faith a little at a time… we walk a little in the light of Jesus, and often its only when we look back that we can see our path has been well lit- at the time it still often feels like stumbling forward. And at some point we come to recognise that faith we have built up points towards the words of John in this introduction to his Gospel, the words of Jesus about himself, the words of others who met him, it points towards those words being true… and being trustworthy.
Even though we will not fully understand what it means for the power of God to take on a human body, we will find that we can trust our life to those claims, those promises, and we will be able to live in them. We will be able to believe in him, and receive him into our hearts, and so to become, however old we are, children of God- not slaves, not workers, not creations nor anything else, but loved and cherished children.
I wasn’t attempting to be dark or depressing, and it didn’t come across that way, but as I look a the text, its not my most upbeat stuff. I guess the point is that Christmas isn’t always happy for everyone, life isn’t always rosy, but with Jesus as the compass of our lives, even the worst times are better than they would otherwise be (I know, that’s a non-disprovable statement as you cannot re-experience the same things with a different worldview), but more importantly, we are not alone as we face them, and they do not define our identity. And we can celebrate that. So Merry Christmas, everyone.