Text: John 1:1-14
This year we have read the story of Christmas from Matthew’s gospel—a telling through the eyes of Joseph. Last night on Christmas Eve we journeyed through Luke’s more familiar narration. And today, on Christmas morning, we consider John’s Christmas story. It is hard to know where to begin with John’s Christmas narrative. There are so many wonderful themes; and so many of them speak to our day. We could begin with John’s audacious act of writing a new creation story—“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Who among us doesn’t feel that we could use a new beginning–for our world, maybe even for our own lives? There is indeed so much promise in beginnings—beginnings allow us to dream and imagine what could be—peace on earth, a world without hate and violence, every one respecting all people’s dignity.
But John also gives us this wonderful theme of light. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” In all of scripture, this one verse may hold the most hope for us today. It is a declaration of fact: light is stronger than darkness. And it is also another promise even when it seems otherwise—and all we have to do is glance at the news headlines for it to seem otherwise. But the light, John tells us, shines and the darkness can neither overcome nor understand it. For every story of darkness in our world there are many other stories of light. No, the news doesn’t so much focus on the light—not as much as it does on the darkness in our world. But even the despairing news of today can’t overcome the light of God and of God’s people. The light is constant, it builds over generations and it keeps shining in the most unexpected places through the most ordinary people. The Christian faith as we understand it through the birth of Jesus reminds us of this promise—the promise that light is stronger than darkness, that love is stronger than hate, and that life is stronger than death. Maybe a worthwhile Christmas practice would be to tell only stories of light for this one day.
I love how John builds on this image of light shining in the darkness. He brings it home to us when he says: “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light…” I absolutely love this part of John’s story. It is so freeing, so liberating, so hopeful. We, you and me, are partners to this light that cannot be put out by darkness. Our lives, our very lives, give witness to the light; and while we might not be the light, we are a part of the light. Have you ever been driving down the highway and look up and see beautiful rays coming from the sun or even from behind the clouds? We are those rays, and it is our light that shines in darkness. It is our light rays that brighten the way when others are overcome with darkness. It is our light rays that irritate and agitate when we see injustice being done to the most vulnerable in our communities and nation. It is our light rays that give witness to the Divine Light of justice love and mercy. And oh how our world needs our light. Christmas is about being light bearers and our world needs as many light bearers as possible right now. Maybe another Christmas practice would be to tell our own stories of being light and light bearers.
(Here I told the story of Phillip, my dog, nearly choking to death on Christmas Eve and how Karla, Nora and I had spent all night at the NCSU Vet School ER. I talked about the staff and volunteers who sat with us all night and were light bearers to us in our darkest hours when we thought Phillip might not make it. Light bearers don’t always do heroic acts. Most often light bearers—witnesses to the light—are the ordinary people who show up in the most ordinary places to be with people who need comforting.)
John’s Christmas story is so full of hope and promise. But it doesn’t stop with new beginnings and light shining in the darkness and us being witnesses to the light. No, John takes this Christmas narrative even deeper into the meaning of Jesus’ birth. He says, “And the Word became flesh and lived among us…” If you really think about this concept, it is a staggering thought. That God chose humanity—as perfectly imperfect as we are—to embody God’s self in our world is divine love in its highest form. The work of God in the world isn’t done from on high. The work of God, of justice-love, is not done through mysterious acts that cannot be explained—although God often acts through us in mysterious ways. No, the work of God in the world happens because God made a choice to become flesh and live among us. I can only imagine all the other ways God considered when thinking about how to engage in the world. The options must have been numerous. But God chose one specific way—one risky but beautiful way—the way of becoming flesh, living among us, within us, and through us. God chose to dignify humanity by becoming one of us to do God’s work in the world.
And so I leave you, as I have done before on Christmas, with Howard Thurman’s wonderful poem “The Work of Christmas.” I offer it as a companion to John’s Christmas story and as an invitation to embody the Christmas light 365 days a year.
When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with their flocks,
the work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost,
to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry,
to release the prisoner,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among the people,
to make music in the heart.
“And the Word became flesh and lived among us!” Merry Christmas!