There are certain words of our text that leap off the page to get your attention: “In the beginning, the Word, God, life, light.” As you begin to delve deep in John’s writings, you feel you have entered a new level of God’s truth in Jesus Christ. John’s Gospel is unlike Matthew, Mark or Luke’s Gospels. He trumpets the Christ and the glory of God in Him. He switches on the floodlights and opens the drama of God’s work of salvation.
The drama starts “in the beginning,” before anything existed. We are reminded of the opening words of Scripture: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” This speaks of the same period when only God existed and all creation was but a page in His eternal plan. But now, we have a new reference point: “In the beginning was the Word….” At first glance, “the Word” is abstract, with no definition of what John means by it. Within a few words of this opening verse of his Gospel, John identifies what he means by “the Word:” “…and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” “The Word” is the Lord Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity. This is a title for Jesus and tells us important things about Him: it tells us that Jesus is God. Even before John says “the Word was God,” we know Jesus was because He was “in the beginning” when only God existed. Not only was the Word God, He was “with God.”
Today we gather in excitement and joy. After all the waiting, Christmas is finally at hand. After spending weeks in preparation, we wonder if we have done everything or if everything we had done was really worth the effort.
That is precisely why we need a word such as this today. It declares a “no” to the empty routine and darkness of the made-upness that Christmas tends to turn into and return the focus to what this day is all about: the birth of Christ.
Christmas is all about God coming to seek and to save us. He does this through the Child that is born today. This is not just any child that is born, but it is the very Son of God, the Word made flesh. John tells us much in our text today, but a key phrase that he returns to is “light.” He calls Jesus the “light of men” and “the true light.”
God, compassionately viewing His creation, saw humanity cowering in the gloom of sin. He saw us tumbling to our deaths in the moral and spiritual darkness that engulfed us. He who once said, “Let there be light” as the universe was created, echoed that command anew to bring to this planet a Light more powerful than the sun. It was to be His Son, in whom indeed there would be life—life that He would live; life meant for now, and a life that would go on forever. “I am the way, and the truth, and the life,” He said. “No one comes to the Father except through Me.” Because of Him, we need not stumble in the darkness any longer, for Jesus lights the way.
Thus we focus on Bethlehem and that tiny infant who illumined the whole world with a love that never pales. We see the Virgin tenderly holding her child, and Joseph keeping a watchful eye in that cramped stable, filled as it must have been with barnyard animals. The shepherds arrive with the excitement of children to marvel at what the angels had said and to tell their wondrous story of hearing the heavenly hosts praising God and revealing the birth of the Messiah. Through Bethlehem’s dark fields they stumbled toward the one glowing light, that baby called Jesus, whom Isaiah named Immanuel, “God with us.”
There in that manger, the battle between light and dark was joined, the war between life and death encountered. Isaiah foretold centuries before, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.” But Jesus Himself put it more simply, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows Me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
And so the light is shining in the darkness. The Savior is born this day, revealing to all His purpose: for the world to receive Him in order to become children of God. However, John doesn’t record that everything worked out that simple. He says, “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.” Did the world rejoice that its creator came for a visit? Was there dancing in the streets? Was there a proper welcome for the Lord? Sadly, no! In fact, this very Gospel account will go on to tell us that God’s creation reacted to God’s arrival by resolving to kill Him.
In spite of the fact that creation rejected its creator there are some who receive Him by faith. Although the world rejects the Eternal Word who is the light of life, the Holy Spirit does produce faith in some. This faith is a new birth that gives believers the right to call themselves children of God.
How does the Eternal Word do all this? Today’s Gospel has the answer. “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.” Here is Immanuel. Here is salvation.
Here is the glory of God. Here is where grace and truth are found: in the lowly One who is born of Mary, who identifies with sinners, who blesses ordinary things, who calls us to be His servants. Not to see that glory of God is to miss out on Christmas, no matter what we do on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. To see, with John and all God’s people through the centuries, the true glory of Christmas is to recognize that God is among us in the person of Jesus, now and forever.
May the light of Jesus bring life to you this Christmas. May His sparkle gleam within your soul, and may the devilish darkness that threatens us be banished by the true light that never fades. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.