Dec. 25, 2011
John 1:1-5, 9-14
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcomeit.
The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. 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.
We don’t think of these words from John’s Gospel as the Christmas story. Read them closely. Actually, these words are John’s description of the Christmas story. Rather than it beginning inBethlehem, the author of John’s Gospel reminds us that Jesus didn’t just show up in a manger inBethlehem. He was around since the beginning of time with God. In place of the word, “Word,” insert the word, “Jesus.” Then, we see how powerful these words are.
The author reminds us of how necessary it was for Jesus to come into this world. Jesus’ light needed to combat the ugly darkness of the world. Unfortunately, too many folks didn’t recognize him. Nonetheless, Jesus became flesh and dwelt among us.
These aren’t light words. They are heavy, dense and strong. Probably too strong for most folks on Christmas Day, when we want to keep things light and fun. But this is the reality we really need to begin to get our heads around.
One of my favorite theologians was a man named Dietrich Bonhoeffer. A German pastor, Bonhoeffer was involved in a plot to try and assassinate Hitler. Of course, these attempts failed. When it became known that he was involved, he was arrested and spent the last years of his life in prison and then a concentration camp. He was killed just a few days before the German’s surrendered at the end of World War II.
Bonhoeffer was a prolific writer. In God Is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas, Bonhoeffer provides daily devotions for this time of the year. I share with you a few quotes from his book.
“No priest, no theologian stood at the cradle of Bethlehem. And yet, all Christian theology finds its beginnings in the miracle of miracles, that God became human.”
The New Testament Gospels are really biographies of Jesus’ life. Biographies are fun and important to read because through them, we see how people dealt with life. We see how they withstood adversity and came out on the other side. We hear the stories of how faith made a difference.
I love the beginning of John’s biography about Jesus because it doesn’t sidestep that in Jesus, God became human. As a pastor, whoa be it to me to fully understand what this means. But I’m thinking it made a huge difference in mine and many others lives.
“There are only two places where the powerful and great in this world lose their courage, tremble in the depths of their souls, and become truly afraid. These are the manger and the cross of Jesus Christ.”
Who looses their courage at the manger and the cross? Certainly not Jesus Christ. He’s the one who overcomes them. As powerful and great as you may think you are, who really is in control of your life?
“It is not a light thing to God that every year we celebrate Christmas and do not take it seriously.”
This one hits home for me. I’ve had a hard time putting together the message for the Christmas Day service. I don’t want it to be like the Christmas Eve service. I don’t want it to be like a message that I would give the other 51 Sundays of the year. How can I impart upon folks how serious these events really are?
This is at least partially the reason why I have written this Advent Devotional this year. I wanted to embody a discipline throughout Advent and Christmas that would force me to ponder the events around Christmas and not just slide through another Christmas season. Any benefit they may have been for someone else is a bonus. I’ve written these words to ground myself and make sure I take seriously in my own life the message of Christmas.
What is the Christmas message? I know it’s different for various people. It maybe different for you this year than it has been in previous or future years. For me this year, the message of Christmas has been to make sure I celebrate Jesus’ birthday in a way that Jesus would prefer his birthday to be celebrated. It’s not my birthday, it’s not your birthday; its Jesus birthday. If giving $100 to a couple that I don’t know from Adam is a way that I can honor Jesus’ birthday, then this is what I need to do. If sharing a few words on a blog can begin to encourage other folks to take Jesus’ birthday seriously, then I pray God will allow others to be blessed through this.
These words from the beginning of John’s Gospel are the first of many words that describe John’s biography of Jesus’ life. As well as we know the basic words of Luke’s and Matthew’s accounts of the Christmas story, personally, I believe these words remind me how I must take the Christmas story seriously. The implications go way beyond a manger and a stable and Bethlehem. They go all the way to my heart if I allow them to. I pray that you’ll let them take some serious nature in your heart this day.
Let us pray: How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given. So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of his heaven. No ear may hear his coming, but in this world of sin. Where meek souls will receive him, still the dear Christ enters in. Amen.
PS – I started this as an Advent Devotional … and Advent has ended. While commercially Christmas has been happening since Thanksgiving, in the church, the Christmas season begins today and goes for 12 days. I’m going to try and continue this devotion for another 12 days. I hope you’ll stay tuned for a few more reflections on Christmas and Jesus’ birthday.