The Light Shines
It’s hard to juggle. When I was in high school I began to learn how to juggle. They start you out with one ball. And you throw it up in the air again and again. Then you add two. Then finally you can add a third and begin juggling. But it’s not easy because you have to have your focus on many objects at once. And I never really learned how to do it. In the words we look at this morning, on Christmas Day, that’s what the Holy Spirit is asking us to do. Through the words of John he is asking us to juggle one weighty and important truth in the bible after another. First we learn that there was this Word—this divine expression and communication of thought. This word was face to face with God.1 But this Word is also himself God. But then, as soon as he drops this massive and amazing truth on us, what does he do? He makes us juggle. He makes us focus on another truth. In John 1, we read: “1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:1–5 NIV11-GKE)
So this word wasn’t just God. This word was also light. And this light shines out to all people, into the entire world. But what’s the problem? It shines out into the darkness. But what happens? The darkness does not understand this light.2 And, to make matters worse, it pushes back against this light. This is John’s beautiful, poetic way of speaking about the sinful world that we live in and that we are a part of. Every person who is born does not know who God is. And yet, the very little that we do know about God, we hate and push back against.
And so, the light keeps shining.3 But the problem is that that darkness of unbelief tries so hard to drown it out. So then, what is the solution to this problem? “6 There was a man sent from God whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. 9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” (John 1:6–13 NIV11-GKE)
How do you deal with the darkness of unbelief? You send out a preacher. You send out someone to testify to the truth. That man’s name was John the baptizer. Through his preaching the Holy Spirit performed a miracle. Through water and word he put his name, the name of the Triune God, on them. He gave them new birth. He made them children of God. And notice in these words how detailed John is. They were born again. But none of this was their work. They were not born “from bloods.”4 We would just simply say, “bloodlines.” Being from a Christian family doesn’t make you a Christian and give you a new birth. They also were not born “through human will”5 Here John is speaking about the fact that we cannot choose to give ourselves a new birth and be born again. No, instead, God is the one who makes us his children and gives us faith in him through those waters of baptism where he puts the name of the Triune God on us and adopts us into his family.
So the light shines. It shines in the darkness. And through God’s word he gives us the gift of faith so that we are God’s children. But in this final verse we discover more about this light, Jesus who shines: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14 NIV11-GKE)
And now you can see why these words are the gospel for every Christmas Day. This divine word that is also the divine light takes on human flesh.6 And then he dwells with us. The light dwells in the darkness. That’s the fact of Christmas that we rejoice in. But what follows after that is the gift of Christmas: grace and truth. Grace is this amazing truth that, if we ask the question, “why should God love us so much as to adopt us into his family and give us faith in him,” what is the answer? We would like the answer to be, “because I…” But John has gone out of his way to say the words “not you” so many times already, that we know that cannot be the meaning of this word. If we ask the question, “why would God adopt us into his family,” the answer is: “Because God adopted us into his family.” Out of such deep and undeserved love, he reached out to the darkness in our souls and gave us light. He gave us faith in him and made us his children.
That is a gift that he gives to us every day. But there is another gift he gives to us everyday. He gives us the truth. On the one hand, he gives us the truth about our sin. There’s the old proverb: “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.” (Proverbs 27:6 NIV11-GKE) Friends tell us the truth because they love us. But how do they know what the truth actually is? The real, perfect and absolute truth his found here in God’s word. And that gift that corrects our errors is here for us every day.
But the other part of truth is the truth of forgiveness. Such sins we pile up throughout our lives. We sin when we think we can do God’s work for him, as if we are the ones who made ourselves Christians and give ourselves birth. We sin when we neglect the very tool that God used to create faith in us—God’s word. We sin when we commit this most Minnesotan sin of all, that we are insulted when someone, out of love for us, would actually correct us and tell us when we mess up. All these sins we pile up. And out of love for us Jesus shines out with the truth, showing us what our sins actually are. But he does so much more than that. He also shines out with the truth of forgiveness. On its best day, the world we live in might forget our sins—as long as we don’t do them again. But look how amazing the light of Christ is. His light and love shines out so much and so brightly that he doesn’t just forget, he actually forgives..
And so, my dear friends in Christ, know this Christmas Day that it’s ok to not juggle. Next Christmas we can circle back and talk about what Jesus the Divine Word is. Next Christmas we can talk about the ministry of John the Baptizer in more detail. But today focus in on the fact that Jesus, the light shines. He shines in the darkness of our own hearts and gives faith in him as we sing in our hymn this morning: unasked, unforced, unearned.7 And he gives us Christmas gifts we carry with us every day: grace and truth. Amen.
1 “ⲡⲣⲟⲥⲧⲟⲛⲑ̅ⲛ̅·” (John 1:1 GNT-ALEX)
2 “ⲁⲩⲧⲟⲟⲩⲕⲁⲧⲉⲗⲁⲃⲉⲛ·” (John 1:5 GNT-ALEX)
3 “ⲫⲁⲓⲛⲉⲓ” (John 1:5 GNT-ALEX)
4 “ⲟⲓⲟⲩⲕⲉⲝⲁⲓⲙⲁⲧⲱⲛ·” (John 1:13 GNT-ALEX)
5 “ⲟⲩⲇⲉⲉⲕⲑⲉⲗⲏⲙⲁⲧⲟⲥⲥⲁⲣⲕⲟⲥ·” (John 1:13 GNT-ALEX)
6 “ⲕⲁⲓⲟⲗⲟⲅⲟⲥ Ⲥⲁⲣⲝⲉⲅⲉⲛⲉⲧⲟ” (John 1:14 GNT-ALEX)
7 CW 54:4