Christmas Eve, 2012
“To all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave the power to become children of God.” Those are lofty words! They come from this passage that has been called the prologue to John’s Gospel. And they have also been called some of the greatest words ever written! But I’m not so sure about the prologue part. The more I think about it, the more this is simply the way John chose to tell about the beginning of Jesus’ life. Think about it. We have birth stories of Jesus in Matthew and Luke. Those are the beginnings of his life, and we don’t call them prologues.
Well, this is the beginning of the story in John. And yes, it is different. There are no angels here. There are no shepherds, no stable or star. But I think we’ll agree this is no less a powerful message! There are none of those things here that we associate with the Christmas story. And the only child spoken of in this passage is us! “To all who believed he gave power to become children of God.”
I for one am grateful to John for his telling of the story. I hope you are, too. Because I think John has given us the most powerful message of what Christmas is about. In reading about his birth, some would relegate Christmas to being a birthday. In reading about his family, some would make this purely a family event. In hearing the angels announcement, some would think of this solely as an event that emphasizes peace and goodwill. And it is all those things. But ultimately its about Jesus giving us “the power to become children of God.”
And I know people will say that, in a certain sense, “everybody is a child of God.” I think we can agree on that. People all over the world, whether they know it or not, are children of God. We humans are the pinnacle of God’s creation. We are all made in his image! Wouldn’t it be a different world if we remembered that about everybody we dealt with in our lives? But this means more. Here, children of God doesn’t just mean children or offspring by birth. John says that here. That’s what he means when he says, “…who were born, not by blood or by will of the flesh.”
Sometimes in earthly families thats the case, isn’t it. Some people are children, but there is no connection with parents. They are children by birth only. John is talking about much more here. He is talking about children of God in terms of a true relationship with God in the purest sense! That’s “the power to become” that Jesus came to give us! That’s the reason “the word became flesh.”
The other thing I want you to see here is that John frames this whole passage in terms of light and darkness. Even before he gets into the relationship part of this, he first gives the bigger picture, the picture of creation. So I guess in that sense this is a prologue. But he gives the creation in terms of “The Word.” He says, “The word was with God and the word was God in the beginning.” And not only that, but “All things were created through him.” And then he tells of that creative power coming to a darkened world. And here I believe he’s echoing the words of the prophet Isaiah, who said, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. Those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.” (Isaiah 9:2) That’s how the light has come into the world.
I think we can also agree that there was darkness. And in many ways, there still is darkness. John tells us that. Whether we like to think of it or not, the light does shine in a world of darkness. And sometimes, as Isaiah described it, it is deep darkness. Somewhere, the perfection of creation was marred. It is still good, as God declared it, but darkness has entered the world. And the darkness is still around.
A couple of weeks ago, I spoke about how Advent was A Season of Promise. There are still a few copies of that in the back. I talked then about this being a season of promise, even though at that time we were on the heels of a powerful hurricane, in which many people’s lives were devastated. Now as we approach Christmas day itself, only hours away now, there is more darkness. Our minds are still filled with thoughts of the children of Newtown Connecticut. This is a sad Christmas for so many families! And we are deeply saddened for them! The darkness seems all too real for them, and in some way, to us. Because we are all part of this world. We are all part of the same human family!
When his teenage daughter died in 1623, and he himself nearly died later that year, the English poet and preacher John Donne, penned these words. which still ring true today.
“No man is an island, Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent, A part of the main
Each man’s death diminishes me, For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know, For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.”
Bells tolled this week. 26 of them. And we who heard it felt it, didn’t we? We are all part of the human family. And our world is darkened that much more this Christmas season. But John declared to his darkened world, and to ours, “The light shines” present tense “in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it!” “No matter what!” he said. Some versions say the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never conquered it!
It is two thousand years later, and there have been many such times of darkness, times I daresay that dwarf even the current darkness. And still, the darkness has not overcome the light. And I think Christmas tells us that we can believe it never will!
And John tells us that because the darkness has not overcome the light that we have the power to become children of God. And children born, not of blood, in other words not children by virtue of human birth, but children in the truest sense of relationship with God. And when we are such children, nothing can overcome the light that has come to us!
That is a birthday we celebrate. But it is far more than that. This is the true light that enlightens all that has come into this world. If we receive and believe this baby, he can be that true light for us. And we can have “the power to become…”
Eternal Father, you chose to enter our world because of your great love for us. Be our light in a darkened world. Help us know your light in our lives this Christmas. Help us to spread that light, and the Good News of your Great Joy to all people. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.