John 1 talk
When I was growing up, Christmas always seemed to take such a long time to come. Now it seems to come round more quickly every year. But still we only have to wait one year. England have been waiting to win the football World Cup for more than forty years now. But it's only forty years. In recent months, regardless of your political views, we have seen a quite remarkable historical event – the election of Barack Obama as President of the USA. In his acceptance speech he referred to Ann Nixon Cooper, 106 years old, who had not voted before in her life until this election. Imagine the emotions she felt after such a long wait, after the struggles that black people had experienced in America for so long. But she only had to wait for a century. The background to our passage tonight is the wait of the people of Israel for God to fulfil his promises to them. They had been waiting for at least four hundred years, which was when the last of the prophets had spoken. In fact, when we read this opening chapter of John's gospel, we see that he does not start at the end of the OT, but at the beginning of time. The world had been waiting for this moment ever since it was created.
So let's begin at creation. What exactly happened? John tells us that “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” He is stating simple facts. And we know from the account in Genesis that God created everything by speaking - “God said, let there be...”. If we stop at this first verse, we are perhaps left with the idea of God that most people had – the creator, but in a slightly abstract way. But then John makes things complicated - “He [the Word] was with God in the beginning.” Suddenly the Word is not so abstract – it's a he! This term we have been told every now and again that we will receive a bill for some college fees. While the bill remained simply an idea, I was quite happy, but the other day I received a paper copy in my pigeon hole and suddenly it became a different issue! We now know that the Word is personal, and that begins to change things.
Even so, we still seem to be dealing with abstract ideas – look at verse 5: “In him was life and that life was the light of all people.” Again, we can understand these concepts of life and light. We know that everything on earth requires light for life. But then John seems to suggest there is more than we first see, because we are suddenly confronted with the presence of darkness: “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” But if the Word made everything and in him was life and that life was the light of all people, where does the darkness come from? And the second odd thing is that in verse 7, John the Baptist is described a being a “witness to the light”. Why does light need a witness? I know that when my alarm goes off in the morning, I find it much easier to navigate across my room to turn it off if I turn my light on first. But I don't need anyone to tell me the light is on. Why then does the light here need John the Baptist as a witness?Perhaps there is more to this than we first thought. Everything was created by the light-filled Word, yet there is darkness in the world. He is the light to all people, and yet he requires a witness so that those people know when he has come. Maybe John is not simply talking about physical things.
But then as we are puzzling about some of these things, John builds the excitement once more - “The true light that gives light to all people was coming into the world.” So maybe it doesn't matter about the darkness, because the light is coming! But then again, if the light is coming, it must mean the world is much darker than we thought. When I was at university in Bristol, our house started on the first floor and so we had a staircase up to our door. The front door of the house had a small window above it. One morning I had to be up early and as I left our part of the house, the light through that small window seemed strong. But then I turned on the electric light at the top of the stairs, and it seemed like the light outside had disappeared completely. The presence of the stronger light made me realise how dark it actually was outside. And the following verses begin to show just how dark it was in the world. “...though the world was made through him, the world did not recognise him.” “...his own did not receive him.” But then, perhaps this is unfair. I mean, light is such an abstract concept. We don't really see light do we? Light helps us see other things. So maybe we shouldn't be so hard on these people, because it's not exactly easy to understand in the first place, right?
But then John writes these words: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory...” And there are no more objections to be brought. The creator God? Well, maybe he's too far away for us to know. The light and life of all people? But how can we see those things? They're too abstract. But here, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” No more abstract ideas. God was now human, while still being God. And the reading we had from Max Lucado shows just how remarkable this is. God had legs and arms and eyes and hands. God got hungry and tired and thirsty. God got scorned and argued with and rejected. God was visible in Jesus Christ. People saw Jesus Christ. People touched Jesus Christ. People listened to and talked to Jesus Christ. Do you see the significance of what John is saying? That at a definite point in history, in a definite place on earth, there was a definite person, Jesus Christ, who was both God and human.
But then we have to go back to verse 11: “He came to that which was his own, yet his own did not receive him.” Over the course of centuries God had spoken to the people of Israel – he was God of the universe, but also he was specially their God. Of all the people in the world at this time, they were the ones who were best qualified to recognise God in Jesus Christ. But they did not recognise him, nor receive him. He was visible; but they did not see him. We are back to the question of why the light needed the witness of John the Baptist. They did not see him because they could not see. Have you ever looked for your watch and then discovered you were wearing it the whole time? Because we assume it is not on our wrist, we look everywhere else for it. These people saw Jesus, but their assumptions meant that they completely missed him. Are we in the same danger? What assumptions do we have? We celebrate Christmas every year; we may even hear this reading every year. But do we see Jesus Christ?
But you might think, “He's not here any more though – we can't see him now. He may have been visible then, but how does that help us?” Look at verse 15. “John testifies concerning him...” Not testified, but testifies. And also verse 14: “We have seen his glory...” Not everyone recognised Jesus, but some did. Not everyone saw God in Jesus, but some did. And not only did they witness to him then, but they continue to witness to him now. How important is it that God became visible in Jesus Christ? Vitally important. But we also see that even seeing Jesus was not enough, because so many saw him and did not believe. So the question we are left with is this: “When we look at Jesus Christ, as witnessed to by John in his gospel, who do we see?” “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us and we have seen his glory....” Have you?