For the last several weeks wrapped gifts have been under the tree. I watched some young children find the gift with their name on it, shake it and try with great excitement to guess what was in the package. They were to receive a gift and they didn’t know what was in it and they really wanted to know. Today the mystery has been revealed. The gifts have been opened and we know what is inside.
Well there are two more gifts under the tree for us today. They say, To: REMC from God. Shall we open these gifts? The note says, “In order to receive these gifts, please read John 1:1-14, so I would like to invite you to turn to P. 635 in your hymnal and we will read it together. I will read the light print and ask you to read the dark print.
In this Christmas story the gift is unwrapped for us. We discover that Jesus has always existed and that He came down to earth. In fact, in this story we discover that since Jesus was God, it was really God who came into this world. The message of Jesus’ coming is found throughout this passage. In verse 9 we read that “the true light…was coming into the world.” In verse 11 we read that “He came…” In verse 14, we read that “The Word became flesh and lived among us…”
I. We Have Seen Light
So let us open the first of these two gifts. This one is the gift of Jesus, who is the light of the world. We come across the concept of Jesus as the light in John 1:4, where it says, “In him was life and the life was the light of men.” That makes me think of the song we sing at camp, “Jesus is the light, he’s the light of the world boom, boom, boom…” Each time we sing it, we sing louder and higher. It is a fun song, but what does it mean?
A. Jesus Is the Light
The first thing we learn about Jesus as the light, in John 1:5, is that the light shines in the darkness. Darkness can be difficult. My father was a photographer and the camera he used in the early days had sheet film. We had photographic plates and on each side of this plate was a film. You put the plate in the camera and pulled the slide and then you could take a picture. When each film was exposed, we had to take the exposed film out of the plate and put a new one in. This had to be done in complete darkness and we had a room in our basement where we did this. On summer days we took pictures at weddings and it was my job to take out the exposed film and replace it with new film. It wasn’t easy to do it in the dark. You had to remember where you left everything, how many steps from one counter to another and so on. That is what darkness is like.
Other images of darkness are even starker. Darkness implies evil and chaos. The description of the world before creation is one of chaos and darkness into which God spoke light. That physical darkness was overcome when God spoke light into being. But the spiritual darkness remained until God spoke light into the world with the coming of Jesus.
When Jesus came into the world, God’s truth was revealed. Jesus came into this world and helped us understand what sin is all about. Jesus revealed sin by his sinless life. The contrast between Jesus sinlessness and our sinfulness helps us understand the evil of the darkness of sin. We also have a better understanding of what it means to obey God and to walk in righteousness. Jesus obeyed God completely. We have no concept of what it means to fully and completely obey God because we have never seen anyone do it. Jesus is the light of the world in the sense that he showed us for the first time that it is possible to live in this world without sin.
One of the tools which we used to have in our photo studio was a magnifying light. It had a large magnifying glass and around the glass was a light. Sometimes when I do woodworking, I get a sliver. When I do, I wish I had that tool. I find now that I am always looking for the best light in the house and an old pair of glasses to magnify my finger. It just isn’t the same. When you have good lighting, you can see everything much better. Light reveals what something is like. Jesus is the light of the world in the sense that he reveals what God is like. Barclay says, “To the pagan, God either dwelt in the shadows that no man can penetrate or in the light that no man can approach. But when Jesus came men saw full-displayed what God is like.”
No one has ever seen God, but when Jesus came into this world, we finally came to see what God is like. In our College & Career Sunday School class, we have been studying Jesus from the gospel of Mark. We have asked the question, “What is Jesus like?” What a wonderful vision of God when we begin to understand what Jesus is like. When we watch Jesus interact with the Jewish leaders, we see the wisdom which God has. When we see Jesus interact with sinners, we see compassion. One of the my favorite passages is when Jesus was tired and wanted to get away from the crowds with his disciples, but when the crowds came with all their needs, the Bible says “he had compassion on them.” That is what God is like. If we allow the images of Sodom and Gomorrah or the flood of Noah’s time or the details of the law to form our entire image of who God is, we get a vision of God as one who judges and destroys. God does hate evil and we see that in Jesus, but we also see what great compassion and caring he has for the lost. Jesus is the light of the world in that he reveals to us what God is like. William Barclay says, “What Jesus did was to open a window in time that we might see the eternal and unchanging love of God.”
Driving at night can be a challenge. It is especially difficult when you don’t know where you are going. You can’t see the house numbers, you can’t into the distance to see changes in the road. If a deer or some other wildlife jumps onto the road in front of you, you can’t see it until it is there. In the daytime, things are much better. Light is great to reveal the path. Jesus is the light because He reveals the light of God’s path. It is in Jesus that we find that God wants a relationship with us and that we can have that relationship through Jesus. Jesus has revealed that the way to God is the way of trust in Him. Jesus has cleared the path, built the road and in Jesus we see what that path is all about. In Jesus we have a clear understanding of God’s path.
In verse 4 it says, “…the life was the light of men.” But verse 5 says, “The light shines…” Jesus wasn’t only the light of the world when he first came. He is the light of the world today.
These days it is still dark I get up? Here is my pattern. I get up, go to the bathroom and turn on the light and then turn away from that light and gather up some clothes and make the bed. By that time, my eyes have adjusted to the light and I can go into the bathroom to shower without squinting my eyes to protect them from the brightness.
One of the themes of this passage is that the world has not accepted Jesus. They couldn’t handle the light which Jesus brought. Some translations of John 1:5 say “the darkness has not understood it.” This is certainly true and the theme is expanded in vs. 10 where it says “He was in the world and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.”
But that does not mean that the light is overcome by the darkness of the refusal of people to accept the light. Some remain in the darkness because the light is too bright for them. Some remain in the darkness because they close their eyes and do not want to see the light. But this passage also says that Jesus is the “true light that gives light to every man…” Jesus is the light for all people. If we want to see God and know what God is like and understand the path of God, there is only one way for us to do that and that is through Jesus. He is the light of the world. Do we walk in the light?
I mentioned earlier the quote by Barclay that at one time God was perceived as either being in the shadows, and so unapproachable or in the light that was too bright and so unapproachable. Jesus is the light of God who has come with a gentle light. We see God, but we are not blinded. Let us not shun the light because it isn’t bright enough. Let us not fear the light because it is too bright. In Jesus we have one who invites us to come and see and is patient and gentle with us as we rub our eyes, adjust our vision and grow to walk in the light. May we continue to seek the light and walk in the light.
What a wonder that Jesus is the light of the world!
II. We Have Seen Glory
As we open the other gift, we are reminded of the Christmas story as it is written in John 1:14 where it says, “The Word became flesh and lived for a while 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.”
The one phrase I would like to think about in this verse today as we unwrap this gift is “We have seen his glory.” What is this glory? What does glory mean? When have you ever used the word “glory” in a sentence? One definition of glory in Merriam Webster’s dictionary is, “…something that secures praise or renown b : a distinguished quality or asset.” If that is the definition, then the glory of Jesus is that in Jesus which is a distinguished quality, that which is worthy of renown and is praiseworthy.
Extolling the glory of various human figures is a fairly common event. Wayne Gretzky was called “the great one.” There is a show put out by CBC called Life and Times, which declares why different important Canadian figures are who they are any why they are great. When people have a birthday we often let them know why we appreciate them. I can’t think of a better use of time on Jesus’ birthday than to think of the greatness of Jesus Christ, whose birth we celebrate. The answer to understanding the glory of Jesus is provided for us in the text.
A. The Glory of His Uniqueness
Some things have glory because they are unique. People like to do things so that they get their name in the Guinness book of world records. They find glory in being the best or the most unique at something. We all know about Mount Everest because it is the world’s tallest mountain.
By the measure of uniqueness, Jesus has more glory than anyone else. There is no one else like Him. The text speaks of Him as “the one and only…” There is no one else in all history, in all creation who being God became a human being. There is no one else in all of human history who has succeeded in living on this earth without sinning. There is no one else in all of human history who has died for the sins of all humanity. There is no one else in all of human history who has conquered death. There is no one else who reigns, not because he has powered his way to the top, but because he took the path of suffering and death and gained a victory so spectacular that he continues to reign by the power of the resurrection. Jesus is truly the one and only. He is glorious in His uniqueness.
B. The Glory of God’s Son
Harry and William are so well known that I don’t even have to tell you their last names or where they are from for you to know who they are. If you Google “Harry & William” the first site that comes up is a site which talks about their life. There is a glory in being the son of a royal person.
By the measure of being the son of a royal person, Jesus has more glory than anyone else. He is the one and only Son of God. Although we are all called children of God, Jesus is the Son of God in a unique sense. Often in Scripture that uniqueness is declared by calling Him “only” as also in John 3:16. Jesus is the only Son of God who has shared with His Father the wonder of being creator. Jesus is the only Son of God, who has such an intimacy with the Father that he knows exactly what is in His mind and has a completely clear knowledge of the will of the Father. Jesus is the only Son of God who has so completely obeyed the Father that He offered to give His life to die on the cross for the sins of the world.
Jesus is God’s Son and glorious in that relationship.
C. The Glory of the Father
The glory of Jesus is also seen in the fact that He came from the Father, as the next line indicates. Coming from the Father means that Jesus shares the glory which the Father has. The glory of God is revealed in many passages of Scripture.
One of the words for glory refers to the wonder of the power and presence of God as it is revealed to human beings. God has displayed His glory in many ways. He has displayed His glory in His creation. Psalm 19:1 says, “The heaven’s display the glory of God.” All of creation is glorious in itself, but it is simply a creation, which means that the one who created it is so much greater! Do we really realize the wonder of the one who created the world? If our praise stops at admiration of that which is created, we have stopped far short of understanding the glory displayed in the heavens. The glory displayed in the heavens reveals that God has amazing wisdom, great power, tremendous creativity and incredible artistry in all that He has made. Jesus shares in that glory.
The glory of God has been displayed when God bent down to earth to reveal Himself to His people. God’s glory was seen by Isaiah and Ezekiel and the apostle John. God’s glory was displayed when God came down and showed His glory to the people of Israel at Mt. Sinai and they saw His power and were shaken to the core of their being by the wonder and glory of all that they saw. The glory of God was revealed when God came to the temple which Solomon built and the temple which was built after the Babylonian exile, but no glory was as great as that which was demonstrated not in creation, not in God’s presence in the temple, but in the presence of God in the person of Jesus Christ. Never before had anyone seen more clearly what God was truly like. Never before was the power and presence of God so intimately available to people on this earth. All of the glory of the Father was revealed to humankind in the person of Jesus and He alone has displayed the glory of the Father on earth.
D. The Glory of Grace and Truth
We have watched a number of Christmas movies over the last few weeks. One thing I have noted about a number of them is the recognition that grace and goodness are glorious things. The story “feels good” when the right things happen and when evil is rejected and when kind and gracious things are done.
If the measure of glory is grace, then once again we see in Jesus the greatest display of grace we have ever seen. John 1:14 in The Message brings this out when it says, “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, Generous inside and out, true from start to finish.”
The glory of the grace of Jesus was seen in the miracles he performed – raising the dead, allowing lepers to be cleansed, the blind to see, the deaf to hear. The glory of His grace was seen in the way he dealt with those who were sinners. He was not closed to those who were identified as sinners. He offered them life instead of judgment. He invited them into relationship instead of pushing them to the outside. The full extent of the glory of His grace is seen most clearly in His offer to give His life as a ransom for many. When He died, He took our place. Never before, never anywhere else has there been such a display of the glory of His grace!
In Isaiah 60:1, 2 the promise is given, “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you.” This verse speaks about both of the things we have talked about today. It speaks of light and it speaks of glory. When Jesus came to earth, He fulfilled this prophecy. The coming of Jesus has shined the light of God into the darkness of this world. The coming of Jesus has revealed His glory. What a gift! What a blessing. On this day when we celebrate the birthday of Jesus, how wonderful just to speak about Jesus and think about how great He is. I have had only one goal this morning and that is to lift up Jesus. I invite you to take a good look at Him. As we look at Him, we come to love Him. Friends, God has given us a gift. The gift is Jesus and it means that light and glory have come. Let us lift Him up! Let us love Him!