Amy and I have never been in a position where we could take our time in looking to buy a house in an area that already we knew. Each time – in the Dallas area, the Chicago area, and then in Marion – we had a very small window in which we could find a home. Each time it was in an area that we did not know at all.
Under these conditions, you are not going to recognize all the factors about the house and area. In the rush of looking for a house, then finding it, going through the buying process and the house inspection, you have only scratched the surface. It is only once you actually buy the house, move in and begin to live there that you are going recognize the quirky features – like why is that light switch behind the door when you open it?
I had one of these realizations the first night when I went outside. We had – of course – looked at the house in the day time. We had the house inspection in the day time. Something I never realized until the first night when we were in the home and I went outside is that our neighborhood doesn’t have any streetlights. There are none. And so at night, things are really dark.
What is more, Marion is not a large urban area. After living in the St. Louis, the Washington, D.C., the Dallas, and the Chicago areas, I had gotten used to the general glow that is present in an urban area at night. But Marion is not urban, and when you live anywhere near the edge of town you really live right next to a rural area that is very dark.
The Gospel lesson for Christmas Day is the Gospel of John’s classic discussion of the incarnation of the Son of God. John explains who Jesus Christ is and what he means for us. He says that Jesus is the light of life that has come into a world of darkness.
The Gospel of John is quite different in character from Matthew, Mark and Luke. John assumes that the reader already knows details about Jesus’ life and ministry. So for example, in the Gospel John the Baptist says that the descent of the Spirit on Jesus has identified him as the coming One – and yet the Gospel never actually narrates Jesus’ baptism. Factors like this have caused scholar to believe that John was the last Gospel to be written.
John begins his Gospel with some of the most remarkable and important statements in Scripture. He writes, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” John begins with the words of Genesis 1:1 – “in the beginning.” He says that when all things began there was the Word; the Word was with God; the Word was God.
The Word is the second person of the Trinity – the Son of God. The Word is distinguished from God, but also confessed as God. We have here the mystery of the Holy Trinity: for the Father is not the Son, and the Son is not the Father; and yet the Father is God, and the Son is God. We learn that the Word – the Son of God – was active in making all of creation.
In the last verse of our reading we find the clearest explanation of what we are celebrating today. John says, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” The Word is really God. And yet the Word really became flesh. With these words, John tells us that the baby in the manger on Christmas is true God and true man. He is God in the flesh.
Jesus Christ is God. That’s what John is saying. This text reveals how silly it is to say that Christians and Muslims have the same God. Jesus fulfills a prophetic role, but he is far more than a prophet. He is God in the flesh. John’s Gospel leaves no doubt about this. The risen Lord invites Thomas to touch his flesh, and Thomas confesses: “My Lord and my God!”
Jesus is God, the source of all life. And so John says in our text, “In him was life, and the life was the light of men.” Jesus brings life, and so John describes him as the light of men. As he goes on to say in our text, “The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.”
The Son of God entered into our world in the incarnation. He entered into a world of darkness. He entered into a world of sin and death, a world where Satan – a murderer and the father of lies – held sway. Jesus Christ came to bring life. He came to overcome sin and death by dying on the cross and rising from the dead. He came to give life to all who believe in him. Jesus said of his death, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” He declared: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.”
This is the good news that we celebrate on Christmas. Now almost everyone celebrates Christmas – I mean, my Hindu neighbors put up better Christmas lights on their house than I do! But not everyone celebrates Christmas because the Word became flesh and dwelt among us – because of the incarnation of the Son of God.
John addresses this reality in our text. He says, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John likes to use language that means two things that are true at the same time. The verb translated here as “overcome” also means “receive.” Jesus the light came into the darkness of this sinful world. The darkness has not overcome Jesus who conquered through his death and resurrection.
But at the same time, the darkness has also not received Jesus. As John goes on to say in our text, “The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.”
The world of darkness rejects Jesus – it does not believe in him. Later in the Gospel Jesus explains why. Our Lord declared that God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Jesus said: “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.”
Jesus is rejected because people want to hang on to their ways of doing things. They want to be in charge. They do not want to let God be God. And while you do believe in Jesus Christ, until you die or our Lord returns, the same inclination continues to dwell in you as well. You face the continuing temptation to do things your way and to make something else into god. In fact, this does happen. And so our life of faith in Jesus is also a life in which we continue to confess that we are sinners who need Jesus each day. We struggle against the darkness, and so in faith we cling to Jesus because we know he has said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
In his Gospel, John is the apostolic messenger who has shared the good news about Jesus the light of life. At the end of the Gospel, John says, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” This Spirit inspired word continues to bring the Word become flesh to us. The baby in the manger, now comes to us as the risen, ascended and glorified Lord through his Word and his Sacraments. He sustains us in faith. He gives us forgiveness. He gives us life – life that extends beyond death and will culminate in resurrection life.
This is a life that we want others to have too. We want our family and our friends to share in this life. Christmas – both the amazing truth of the incarnation and the way people celebrate Christmas without the incarnate One – puts this right before us.
And so Christmas leads us to reflect upon those who need to hear about Jesus the light of life. Remember, Jesus’ word is always doing something. It is a word that calls people to faith. And it is a word that has power, even when it is rejected. Jesus said, “I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day.”
When you speak about Jesus, it is Jesus who speaks. If Jesus is rejected, it’s not you who is being rejected. There is something far bigger happening. In his first epistle, John said, “Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son. And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.”
On this Christmas day we give thanks for the Word become flesh through whom we have received life. Jesus Christ is God in the flesh – true God and true man. In him is life, and that life is the light of men. Because of his death and resurrection you do not walk in darkness but have the light of life – eternal life already now.