“Word, Light, Life.”
John 1:1-14 (15-18)
Christmas Eve 2015
In the beginning...
John begins his Gospel of Jesus Christ with the same words that start the creation account of Genesis. “In the beginning”. It's no accident, of course. The same Son of God who was there in the beginning is the one who comes in the flesh to save us. His origins are from of old, even, from the beginning.
Quantum physicists have tried to plumb the secrets of the universe, examining how the smallest particles that make up our world might fit together. And using their admittedly extensive intellect they've come to the conclusion that everything had a beginning – at the Big Bang. There and then, they believe, everything started with an explosion – and all matter spread out from a single point. Of course, this is extrapolation. No one was there to see it. And when pressed, even they admit their best theories break down into absurdity when pushed to the limit. Time itself becomes meaningless. Thus far modern physics on “the beginning” (or at least, my brief summary of it).
But we Christians have another word about the beginning, and that word is Christ. He was with God in the beginning, for he is God. All things, therefore, begin with him. By him all things were made. Nothing exists that wasn't created through him. Not even smarty-pants physicists. Not even you or me.
That this Child born in Bethlehem is the Creator of all things is not something to lightly pass over. It's impossible to comprehend, really, that the ultimate being, the ground of all reality, God of Gods, Lord of Lords, Supernal, Eternal, All-knowing and all-powerful – would come down... (and down, fails to entail the fullness of this thing), that he would come down, to be one of us, to be conceived and born, born in the most everyday way we humans are. That he would empty himself of such glory and majesty that even to look on him was surely death, but now he's a baby and everything that it means – crying, needing his mother, making dirty diapers and all. God of the universe, here in time, for you. The one from before the beginning, now makes his beginning as one of us. Wonder for a moment at that.
Was the word...
And this agent of Creation is described by John as the “Word”, the “Logos” (in the Greek). And how can a word be alive? How can a word be eternal? How can all things depend on this word?
In our everyday experience, words can mean little. You say something, but you don't mean it. You hear words, words, words... advertisements. The latest political debate analysis. The store checker trying to sign you up for their credit card. None of these words mean all that much. None of them are likely to last, to be remembered. None of them will change your life, in most cases. They're background noise. But they are the words of man.
Furthermore, our words are tainted by sin. We say things that aren't true, or aren't very nice. We make pie-crust promises – easily made, and easily broken. We curse, swear, lie and deceive. We talk of ourselves, when we should be listening to others. We tear others down under the pretense of concern. We repeat the lies of Satan that make us feel good about ourselves, and sometimes give only lipservice to things that we know should be said. Our words are so often poisonous, bubbling out of the polluted heart and doing nothing but tearing down and spreading the chaos of sin and death. We must confess with our lips, our unclean lips, that we are ruined if not for the saving Word of Christ, the very living Word of God.
The Word of God is in a class by itself. This word is creative. It made all things. It is powerful, holding all the authority of the one who speaks it. The Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two edged sword. It cuts both ways, piercing us with the law's accusations, but also severing us from guilt and shame by the Good News of Jesus Christ. The Word of God is eternal – it is the first word spoken, and none of his words will pass away – even though the heavens and the earth will. This Word stands alone.
And Jesus Christ is that living Word. This is John's Christmas account – a more theological word about the meaning of the incarnation. That in Jesus Christ, God became flesh. And this is how it began. Here in the manger, the silent Word is pleading for us. Here in the manger, the Word that one day will be pierced by nails and spear, but still has come to speak a word of comfort. A word of Gospel.
In him was life and that life was the light of men...
Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, is both Life and Light.
He is the source of all Life, since by him all things were made. He is the Light of Lights, from whom even light itself has its existence.
Life mystifies the scientists and philosophers. It's hard to define, and far harder to explain. The search for life on other planets continues to be a quest that preoccupies many. And the explanations of life's origin continue to elude even those most steeped in Darwin's theories. How is it so complex? Where did this information come from? DNA, RNA, microscopic systems that exceed the most cutting edge technology we can design. Wetware that far exceeds our hardware creations. Life, which overcomes obstacles and seems adapted for every challenge to its existence. Life in all of its wonderful variety yet miraculous order. Let alone human life, in a category of its own. A PhD in biology won't even scratch the surface of the mysteries of life. But we Christians know from whence life comes. It is from him. The life was in him, from the beginning. The life that is the light of men. And it is found in him, even today.
But life is not where we “live”, in our sinful nature. The First Adam brought death. And the Old Adam is a dead man walking. We sinners know little of life, but we are well acquainted with death. We see it all around us. We see its effects creeping in on us. We hear of this shooting and that cancer. He dies, she is dying. Though we often speak of it in whispers, or hide it in hospitals, or try to sanitize it with euphemisms. We know well the wages of our sin. It's like a dark cloud that follows us everywhere and eventually swallows us up.
But Christ is the life. In him is life. And he brings that life to us. Through, of all things, his death. But he is so much life, that death cannot hold him. And risen from the dead, he gives life to all who believe on his name. He gives them the same life, he makes us children of God. We're in the family. We're blood. Not born of flesh and blood, but born of God. Because he was born of flesh and blood, for us.
And light. Another thing of mystery to the scientists. It's nature, still not fully understood. It's speed is constant, and nothing can go faster. Yet it can bend and warp. It's a wave and a particle, depending on when and how you're looking. And yet, though one of the simplest and basic elements of creation, still its true nature eludes our brightest and best minds. So common, so integral to our experience as humans, and yet a mystery.
Who can see anything without light? And who can see anything without Christ? Especially for us who sit in darkness. Oh, like death, we know the darkness well. Our sin loves the darkness, for there it thinks it can hide. It skulks and snivels in fear of exposure. And woe to anyone who tries to cast the light upon it! Who are you to judge me!? You've got your own sin, too! So your darkness is worse than my darkness, I tell myself, and the darkness further obscures things for both of us.
But the light of Christ casts out all darkness. It shines through and not only exposes sin, but chases it away. Purifies, vaporizes the darkness with the light of his truth. The true light, the ultimate light, who gives light to all now comes into the world.
John came, baptizing, calling broods of vipers broods of vipers. Preparing the way and making straight the path for the greater one to come. The one John didn't even deserve to touch his sandals. Who ranks far before John. The one whose origins are from of old, even from before the beginning. John wasn't the light, but he testified to it, pointed to him, Jesus Christ the light of the world. The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. The Glory of God now revealed in human flesh.
Some will see him, with eyes enlightened by faith. Others will remain in the darkness. He came to his own, the people who should have known him, but they did not. And so many others who you wouldn't think would, would come to the light. Some will prefer the shadows of sin and death. But others will believe in him and live. So for you: grace upon grace. Life. Light. And an eternal word.
In the love and hope and joy and peace that God gives this Christmas, we see a child, born to die, a perfect little one innocent in every way, who is much more than meets the eye. The Word made Flesh. The Light of the World. The Life of all mankind, wrapped up in this little bundle of Bethlehem joy. Thanks be to God for this one, this Jesus, the Christ, who brings us grace and truth, even today. In the beginning, at the manger, from the cross, and always. In Jesus' Name. Amen.