Christmas Talk 2020

John 1: 1-14

Christmas Reflection

 

When I first started to seriously get to know Jesus, I would read or listen to this passage and be quite confused by it. It’s a piece of Scripture used every Christmas at carol services and midnight communions, and then again during the weeks after Christmas. We let the words wash over us as they feed into the sense that Christmas is here. The weeks of anticipation are over and the day has finally arrived. This passage introduces the Gospel of John which is unlike any of the other Gospels. It’s an extraordinary opening and deeply theological. We need to look at it in the context of when it was written to fully understand what John means when he speaks of the Word.

Christianity was born into the Jewish world. The very early church was made up entirely of Jews. Obviously, Jesus was a Jew. Although Christianity spread rapidly into the Greek world it roots are firmly planted in Judaism. The coming of the Messiah was at the centre of Jewish expectation but completely alien in Greek thought. It was into this cultural mix that John wrote his Gospel with the challenge of introducing the Messiah to Greek understanding.

To Jews, a word was far more than just a sound. It was something that had an independent existence, was alive and actually did things. We see that in our own culture. Words call us to take action, they stir us up, motivate us or bring us low. Spoken words have consequences. People of my generation grew up with the old adage, ‘sticks and stones may break my bones, but [name] calling never hurt me’. We all know that to be a lie!

The Old Testament is full of the general idea of the power of words. For example, once Isaac had been deceived into blessing Jacob instead of Esau, nothing he could do could take that word of blessing back again (Genesis 27). The word had gone out and had begun to act, and nothing could stop it. We see the word of God powerfully in action in the creation story. At every stage of it we read, “And God said ….” The word of God is the creating power. Everywhere in the Old Testament we find examples of this idea of the powerful, creative, dynamic word of God.

But what about the Greek world? The word for ‘word’ in Greek is logos. However, it means more than that. Logos is also the word for ‘reason’. For John, these two meanings were always closely intertwined. Whenever he used logos, the twin ideas of the ‘word of God’ and the ‘reason of God’ were in his mind. Greek thought came to see the Logos as the creating, guiding, and directing power of God which made and maintained the universe. Into this context came John saying Jesus is this Logos, the Word made flesh. The beginning of John’s Gospel is hugely important. It is John’s assertion that Jesus is none other than God’s creative life and light giving Word. That Jesus is the power of God that created the world, and the reason of God which sustains the world come to earth in human and bodily form.

So, when John speaks of the Word, he speaks of Jesus – the Christ, the Messiah. The first 4 verses set out a summary of the whole of the Gospel of Christ. “In the beginning was the Word” – Christ has been present since the beginning of time. “The Word was with God” – God and Jesus have existed together from before the beginning of time. “The Word was God” – Jesus and God are one, inseparable. Jesus is God. “He was with God in the beginning” – God and Jesus have always been one. “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made” – Jesus was present and active when the world was created. Without him the world would not exist.

So, where does that leave us and our Christmas celebrations? We celebrate the birth of Jesus, drawn in by the Christmas narrative. By the images on our Christmas cards, by the crib services and school nativity plays, by the familiar words of carols sung by candlelight. We can be lured into thinking that Christmas is the start of Christ’s existence, and we can limit our thinking to ‘gentle Jesus meek and mild’ but that is to misunderstand the true meaning of Christmas.

I’m going to jump ahead to the end of the passage – “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth”. To celebrate Christmas means to celebrate the fact that Jesus, who has always existed took on human form and came to live among us. Christmas is about celebrating the fact that God himself made his home with us, here on earth. He was born as we are born, grew up in an ordinary household, learnt a trade, worked for a living, cared for his mother and siblings – and then began his ministry of teaching the world about God, working on restoring humanity’s relationship with God until it led to that crunch moment of the cross where that relationship was finally restored through the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. The single most important reason to celebrate Christmas is that without it, there would be no Easter and humanity would be completely lost and without hope.

Let’s jump back a bit to verse 4 and 5 – “In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it”. In coming to live among us Jesus has brought light into a world that can be dominated by darkness. We light the white candle on Christmas morning to represent the light of Christ shining in the world. Jesus reminds us that darkness can never extinguish light, that one small flickering, vulnerable flame can and does chase darkness away. Jesus is that light. He is the light of the world.

The true meaning of Christmas, the real reason for the celebration is that Jesus, who is God and who has always existed chose to live a human life. Because of his choice we know that he understands what it is to be us. He knew joy and laughter, pain and heartache, suffering and loss. Because of that, we know he stands with us through all the ups and downs of our own lives, and this year we have had more ups and downs, disappointments and heart break than at any other time since the second world war. The real reason for the celebration is that he took all the sin and guilt and sorrow of the world on his own shoulders to the cross. We celebrate Christmas because it’s the reason that we have hope. Through faith in Jesus, we know that a better world awaits us. That is the other focus of the season of Advent – looking forward to Christ’s birth – yes, but also looking forward to his return when the world and everything in it will be restored to how God intended it to be. “In him was life”, and that life is eternal.

Jesus existed from the very beginning, he lived on earth as flesh and blood for 33 years, he has lived among us in spirit ever since and will continue to do so. The opening words of the communion prayer start with acknowledging that fact – “The Lord is here; his spirit is with us”.

So, it is great to enjoy the Christmas story, to celebrate the fact that Jesus was born in a stable in Bethlehem, that the sky was full of angels singing and that the shepherds were blown away by the whole experience. But we also need to remember that we celebrate his birth because in the end his death and resurrection bring light and hope into a dark world.

 

Return to the Service

Download a pdf of the Christmas Talk