“Coming Home for Christmas ~ John’s House” (4 of 4)
Zephaniah 3:14-20 & John 1: 1-5 ~ December 12, 2021 ~ Northwood United ~ Rev. G. Scott Turnbrook
Recall with me…the beginning of your day. Remember…when you awoke this morning: be it the sound of the rain falling, birds chirping, the alarm beeping, children calling: somehow you awoke from your slumber. And you opened your eyes to allow light to enter. Light! There is something about our humanity that draws us to the light. We love to watch the light change colour as it paints the sky; we love watching the sun rise and set; we are drawn around a candle’s flickering light; we are warmed by the dancing light in a fireplace…even if it is just that fireplace video we all enjoy at this time of year. Like a moth to a flame, we are inextricably drawn to light…we are captivated by it…we love the light.
So, it is not any surprise that we come across a Christmas story that is about the birthing and power of light. Coming home to John’s for Christmas is a Christmas where we are cascaded by the light. There is something profoundly theological about adorning one’s home with Christmas light: lights on our trees, lights hanging from balconies and rooves…for that is the essence of John’s Christmas story: the birth of light.
Hear John’s Christmas story of the arrival of the light again: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. What arrived in him was life, and the life was the light of all the people.
It is not a surprise that one of the gospels views the arrival of Jesus as light because light had been viewed as evidence of the Holy for millennia. Used almost 250 times through scripture, light was a place where people saw the fullness of God. What passage of light comes to mind for you? You might think of Isaiah’s prophecy telling of the light that would, one day, come: “The people who have walked in darkness have seen a great light…” Or the Psalmist singing: “your word is a lamp for my feet, a light for my path…” Or Micah prophesying: “though I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my light…” And if we were to move through the many other texts, we would see this consistent thread of God’s presence arriving as light: light guiding through darkness, enlightening through shadow, light peeking through uncertainty. God’s presence as light.
And so, John the gospel writer gives us this, almost philosophical, Christmas story of Jesus’ birth being the fulfillment of light. Like the others, John’s Christmas is unique: there is no manger setting ~ like Luke; there is no genealogy ~ like Matthew; there is no curious beginning in the wilderness ~ like Mark. John wants us to ponder the meaning of Christmas as being light’s birth amidst darkness. He invites us to sit with him by the fire, as he strokes his beard like a wise old philosopher, telling the story of God’s full arrival as light through Jesus. It might be helpful to remind ourselves that this John is not Jesus’ cousin. He is not the locust-eating prophet emerging from the wilderness. This John, the gospel writer, is another John. Possibly someone with the name of “John” (it was a common name in those days). Or someone who wrote this gospel to honour John the Baptist or John the Apostle. John’s gospel was the latest of the four gospels to be written ~ likely towards the end of the 1st Century…at least half a century after Jesus’ death. And to read through John’s gospel is to sit at the feet of a wise scholar: steeped in Greek ethics and Hebrew prophesy. We talked last week about bumper stickers. John would have a favourite bumper sticker too. It would read: “Jesus is the Reason for the Season”. Christmas at John’s house would be about pondering the reason for the season. Pondering the meaning of Jesus’ life. What does Jesus birth mean? What does his arrival bring into the world? How is the world forever changed? And John would answer that….sitting beside the light of the fire…speaking over candlelight….And he would tell you that Christmas is all about the fulfillment of God’s light, birthed into the darkness of the world, arriving in the Christ for all. Of all the many passages of light that John had in mind, it is obvious that John favoured the first reference to light in scripture. The creation story in Genesis. John’s passage echoes the ancient story of creation, so well-known in the first few verses of Genesis: “In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “let there be light”, and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. This passage is the first entry of light in all scripture. God’s first action was to create light…separating it from the darkness…calling it “good”….allowing the presence of the Holy to be found in all the varied manifestations light’s presence.
All of a sudden, this wise philosopher has broadened the Christmas story from a manger birth in Bethlehem, broadened it beyond Matthew’s family tree that take us back to Abraham, to now linking light’s arrival with the cosmic Big Bang and the very creation of all existence. God is word; God is speech; God is life; God is light. And as the generations proceed from that beginning….as they saw guidance in light; as they saw hope in light; as they saw the very presence of the Holy in light…John saw the culmination of this all: guidance, hope, God’s full-presence birthed in Christmas: What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. The full presence of God’s light in Christ is the fullest expression of Christmas for John.
500 years ago, the great Christian Reformer, Martin Luther left us with a stunning hymn, which many know: ‘A Mighty Fortress in our God’. It provides us with the basis for so much hope. There is a line in there that is truly a beacon of hope for those who battle with the darkness in life: The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him; His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure, One little word shall fell him. One little word…one little word…what is that magical word providing a beacon of hope when we find ourselves in dark places? That little word that Luther lifts up, of course, is Christ. The light that is birthed in Christ will, as John poetically says, shine through the darkness and light our way. That is why John views the entire Christmas story as the culmination of eternity’s light. God created light in the very beginning…the people yearned for that light to be with them throughout times of trouble…the people celebrated light’s presence when it guided them…and when the fullest presence of light arrived…in the fullness of time when it was birthed…we call it Christmas!
When I was a teenager, I became fascinated by photography. This, of course, was long before today’s digital photography when we can see the results of our pictures immediately. Back then, I had a tiny little darkroom where every speck of light was sealed out. Having taken a day’s worth of pictures, I would go to the darkroom and see what had been captured. Using a variety of chemicals, I would develop the film, and begin to print the day’s pictures taken. Printing the pictures required shining just the right amount of light through the film and onto the photo paper. Not too much…or the photo would be over-exposed and the picture would be too harsh. But, also, the light could not be too dim or the picture would be unrecognizable. But when the light was just right, shining through, then you created this work of art! A picture worthy of framing. The light of Christ is that moment when the fullness of time reveals the nature of God. Christmas is God’s birth for us to see!
Christ’s arrival at John’s house is the fullness of time, when the light perfectly arrives. When it shines through the expectant generations yearning for peace; when it shines in the darkness and brings hope; when it shines in the world kindling love. The thing that scientists tell us is that light continues to shine out into the cosmos. That light that once was birthed “in the beginning”… that was awaited and embraced through the ages…that has arrived fully…continues to shine…in each of us. For we, as followers of the Christ, have been gifted with the Christ light. And that light resides in each of our souls. And our task now is to let that Christmas light shine with the living of our lives.