Sermon Christmas 1 B
Merry Christmas! (Reply)
Yes, that’s right! We are now celebrating in the season of Christmas and we will continue until January 6. The timer on the 12 Days of Christmas began on Thursday, Christmas Day, and will continue on past New Years to that Tuesday, January 6, when we will celebrate Epiphany with a special service you can read more about in the bulletin. Today, for our Gospel reading we have the words that begin the Gospel of John, called the Prologue to this Gospel. It is both an introduction to this Gospel and a Hymn of Praise, a celebration of God coming in flesh to be among us. Now these words sound like a lofty, abstract treatise on God and Light and Truth, and they are! But more than that, they are also a description of the assertions we make of who Jesus is: the Son of God and the key to understanding so much of life in it’s fullness, its truth. It is a much header text than the familiar description of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem we hear on Christmas Eve, but this text from John is at the heart of so many of the claims we make about Jesus. And one of the strongest of the truths of the writer John, this school of John, was that Jesus became a living, breathing person, in the flesh, like us. These words also relate so much of what we are doing here today in Boden’s baptism; claiming in the midst of those assembled in Christ’s name, that he and we are, like Jesus, because of Jesus, are children of God. Let us walk through this Gospel text from John together:
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
So hear, from the very beginning of this Gospel, the writer is claiming that this key to everything, called the Word, was with God and that everything that came into being did so with this Word of God, this Light present. But notice this Word, was more than light, but was also ‘life’. Jesus is not just an abstract idea, but a life, a person, even as things were being created, at the beginning. This life was special, and is also described as ‘light’; a light for all people. And Darkness is acknowledged as present, too; there is good and bad, light and darkness, but the darkness will not overcome this light.
6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
Now we go from these big, abstract thoughts to naming someone very tangible, who the author of this Gospel assumed everyone knew about. We can fill in the blank’s here, because we are inside a church named for this John: John the Baptist or John the Baptizer. That’s right, when we talk about this John’s testimony, his witness to the light, we are talking about what he said, but also what he did: baptize people! That was a huge part of his pointing to the light and preparing people for the coming of that light: Jesus of Nazareth, in whose name we worship and assemble every Sunday and whose birth we just celebrated! Even though his name has not come up yet; (it will be made clear later in this Gospel we are talking about Jesus!). By baptizing people, John was preparing people for Jesus!
10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.
Now we hear and understand through this Prologue that this story that is unfolding in this Gospel will not be an easy one. This Light at the beginning of all things, this Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, helped shape and mold our world, HIS world, but when he comes as one of us, as a child, as a person, he will not be accepted. This account about Jesus will have conflict, confusion, pain and even death. This light will come up against a strong darkness. But what was said earlier: “The darkness did not overcome it.”
12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
So here we are pointed again to the work of the Baptizer. To the work of baptism in our midst and one of the reasons we are here today. “To all who received him, who believe in his name, he gave power to become children of God.” This is the very baptismal promise we are claiming for Boden today and for ourselves; that through this act of baptism, we are made children of God, just like the claim we put on Jesus as the Son of God. Other writers of scripture, like Paul, will articulate this even more clearly, but the claim is this: just as Jesus was baptized by John, so must we be; through his life, we become like him, children of God and heirs of all that this means. We claim the same life, death and promise of life with Jesus as children of God.
Notice this careful detail, however. Jesus, like us, was baptized by someone else, John the Baptist, into a community of others. Even though this life, this Word, Jesus, was at the beginning of all things, he could not bring about his own baptism! He had to have someone else bring him into this act of rebirth and claiming. We read in the other Gospels that when Jesus comes to John the Baptist, John objects, saying “You should be baptizing me, not I you.” But Jesus counters that he must have John do this for and to him to ‘fulfill scripture’ or ‘do what is required’, but you see, even for Jesus, this in not something he can do for himself. He must come to others to be washed in this water of claiming and rebirth! He did this as an example, a pattern for the rest of us, to follow in his footsteps, to do what he did, so that we can also claim to be children of the most high, as he is. An we must come to others, to a community like this, to claim this gift. It is not something we can just do for ourselves, but must come from outside of ourselves. That acceptance, that claiming, can only come from others; as we will see and do in just a few minutes.
14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. 15 (John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’”)
16 From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.
So now we have it spelled out for us finally, who we are talking about and what we are talking about: “grace and truth through Jesus Christ” And this is something new, not “The Law indeed given through Moses”, but something different. A new witness, a new way to God’s grace and truth. We hear from John the Baptist what I talked about earlier, that John is pointing not to himself, but to Jesus, who he knew was greater, to fulfill his mission on this earth. John was to prepare for Jesus to come, to preach a message of repentance and, yes, to baptize Jesus, as an example to us all.
Here the writer of the Gospel talks about grace and truth, come to us through Jesus. But here is something else that we all know about, that Boden will remind us all of today: being close to a Father or a Mother, to a parents heart. For you see, when we talk about Jesus as the Son of God, a Light at the beginning of all things, we are also talking about the relationship of parent to child and at the core of that is love. The love that creates such a child and that brings us to seek after the best we can want or offer for our children, our grandchildren or those we nourish and love, who are children to us. When we claim to be children of God, we are also talking about a special kind of selfless love that is best displayed in the healthy, giving relationship of parent and child. More than all the pageantry of the nativity scene, Christmas is also a concrete demonstration of God’s love for all of humanity — a concrete expression of his love for you and me. As much as the Gospel of John talks about Light in the Darkness, Grace and Truth, it is also the Gospel that talks so much about love and gives us this verse many have memorized: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” Love abounds in the Gospel of John and we will hear about it over and over. From a loving mother named Mary who asks her son, Jesus, to save the joy of a wedding feast by changing water into wine to “I give you a new commandment, that you should love one another. Just as I have loved you.” For you see, that is part of this claim from our text: “It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.” Children close to the Father’s heart, the mother’s heart, the parent’s heart. It is now and will be all be about love, giving it, claiming it; for ourselves, when given to us by God, our Father or claiming it for a young one like Boden, who we bring to this moment of love. Amen.