John 1:1-18; Galatians 3:23-25,4:4-7
Well, it’s a week after Christmas Eve, a week since the miracle of Love coming down to us. That miracle is just the start, of course; in the Gospel stories about Jesus, we hear about lots of miracles. In fact, we hear about miracles so often that they almost seem commonplace. “Blah, blah, blah; the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the dead are raised; blah, blah, blah….”
But what we don’t hear is what the formerly blind man or the healed woman is doing a week later. My guess is that, after those miracles, the people involved were still trying to process it all, trying to make sense of some incredible thing that had happened. They probably looked back to the stories of their tradition to help them understand why and how God had healed them. And they probably asked the question, “OK, God – now what am I supposed to do?”
That’s what we’re doing here this morning, too. Last Sunday and Monday, we heard about astounding things. A virgin gave birth to a king, “and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:33). Angels appeared to a bunch of frightened shepherds, singing God’s praises and telling them God’s anointed king was lying in a feed box in a dirty stable. Just as amazing, the shepherds went to Bethlehem and found the baby just as the angels said. The Son of God has come into our world to save us.
So, last Sunday was the time for praise and awe; today is the day for theological reflection. And to help us with that, we’re given the prologue to the Gospel of John. Though it may not have sounded like it, the Gospel reading this morning is John’s version of the Christmas story. John never mentions the baby or the shepherds or the kings or a virgin giving birth. Instead, John begins his story long before that: “In the beginning” – back to the Book of Genesis, the book of beginnings.
“In the beginning was the Word,” John says. Not the written word, not the books of Scripture that we read, but the Word, the Logos, the power through which God created the universe and holds it in order. All things came into being through this Word of God; and without it, life simply would not be. When God said, “Let there be light,” (Genesis 1:3), it was the Word of God that brought the light of life to the universe. Without the Word, darkness would overcome the light every time.
And this divine Word through which God creates and recreates everything “became flesh and lived among us,” John says (1:14). It’s like imagining all the power and light and heat of our sun being bottled up in a single light bulb. In that one baby in the manger, in that one man teaching and healing in the villages of Galilee, John says we have seen the glory of God’s creative Word, “the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth” (1:14). “No one has ever seen God,” John admits. But this human being, who seems so normal at first glance, this human being “is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart [and] who has made [God] known” to us (1:18).
So, in the clear light of the week after Christmas, we can see a little better just who this miracle baby really is. But that’s not all. John takes it one step further and answers the question that has to come eventually for anyone who considers actually believing the Christmas story. And that question is this: So what? OK, maybe the Word of God has come to take flesh and dwell in the world. Maybe this baby is exactly who John says he is. But what difference does that make? What’s in it for me?
In a nutshell, here’s the difference it makes: It means salvation. And that means complete healing. It means a second chance to be who we were created to be in the first place, when God made us in God’s own image. We turn away from that and reject the identity God has in mind for us. We turn to ourselves and our own desires, even to the extent that when this true light of God came into the world in Jesus, “the world did not know him. He came to what was his own,” John says, “and his own people did not accept him.” (1:10-11)
And so it is with us. We see the light of God breaking into the darkness around us, and we hear the Word of God calling out to us; but too often we choose emptiness of our own making. We seek the happiness of the moment. We measure our value by how we look or how perfect our lives seem. We grow up damaged by our childhoods, having watched the people we love hurt themselves and each other, and we swear we’ll never be like them. But then we live out the pathologies we’ve learned anyway, and we add to them a new one – the pathology of shame as we see the ways we fall short, too.
But because of that baby in the manger, because the Word of God became flesh and dwelled among us, saying “no” to God doesn’t have to be our final answer. Every year at this season, we get another chance to open ourselves up and let the Word of God take flesh in us. To all who receive him, John says, to all who believe in his name, Jesus gives power to become children of God, to be reborn not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of people, but reborn of God (1:12-13). The Word became flesh and dwelt among us so that we could see what we were missing – and choose that instead.
Years ago, I saw a church sign at Christmastime that read, “Remember: It’s Jesus’ birthday, not yours.” In a sense, of course, that sign was dead on. We need to hear the call to get over ourselves and remember that Christmas isn’t about how many presents we get. But in another sense, that sign missed something important, because Christmas actually is about us. This celebration of Jesus’ birth is also a celebration of our rebirth as the creatures God intended us to be: God’s children and heirs of eternal life. Here’s how Paul puts it in the reading from Galatians this morning: “When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, … so that we might receive adoption as [God’s] children [and receive] the Spirit of his Son into our hearts…” (Galatians 4:4-6). When we bring Jesus into our hearts and into our lives, when let the Lord actually govern us, then God breathes new life into us, filling us with the Spirit we were made to enflesh.
And as we stand here at the threshold of a new year, we have the perfect opportunity to put that new life into action. It’s resolution time. Now, I know resolutions are notoriously hard to keep, and I am just as guilty as anyone else of resolving to work out or lose weight and then losing my resolve after a couple of weeks (or less) – and then feeling worse about myself than I did before. But this year, I’m taking a different approach. I’m committing to ride an exercise bike. That doesn’t sound much different than most resolutions, but here’s where I think the difference lies. I’m not just doing this because I think I “should.” I’m doing it as a thank-you gift to God for the new life of love I’ve been given, for being God’s child redeemed by Love itself.
So, here’s my New Year’s wish for you: that your resolutions might not hang over you with the weight of unfulfilled promises, but that they might serve as offerings to God in thanksgiving for who you are – a beloved child giving a gift of gratitude to the parent who loves you more than you can imagine. In this new year, may you live boldly as God’s new creation, and may the true light that enlightens the world flash like fire from your eyes.