Now may the God who brightened the night skies over Bethlehem, filled the shepherd's hearts with mysteries, and transformed a stable into a thing of immortal beauty, brighten our skies, fill our hearts with mystery and transform our lives forever. Amen.
I know that many of you have been able to get together with family and friends over Christmas and often when families gather, they reminisce about people and events that took place in the past. And even as different members of the family share the same story, some of the details are a bit different, even though both people were there when the event happened. That's because each person witnessing the same event has a different point of view. They see things or remember things just a bit differently.
That is what is happening in our gospel lesson from John this morning. John is retelling the Christmas story but from a different point of view. The most familiar story for most of us is from the gospel of Luke. That is what we read on Christmas Eve. Luke was more of an historian than the other gospel writers. He liked to get the facts straight such as who was ruling when. His gospel story centers around Mary, the mother of Jesus. Since Luke was a Gentile, an outsider, he is interested in the shepherds, who were very low on the social ladder, and he focuses on the perspective of Mary, the mother of Jesus - a radical move since women were even lower on the social ladder than shepherds.
Matthew's telling of the Christmas story is more traditional. He was a Jew and perhaps a scribe. It's important for him to show that Jesus fulfilled Old Testament prophesies and that he was the Messiah that Israel had waited for for so long. The royal wise men interested Matthew more than the shepherds and his story is from the perspective of Joseph.
Today we hear John's Christmas story. There are no angels, no shepherds, no journey to Bethlehem, no star to follow. That's because John is more of a theologian. He is not so interested in the specific facts as to what the birth of Jesus means. He starts from the very beginning of creation when God was the Word, the logos, God in action, making and creating, and breathing life into all creation. Everything came into being through God. God created the heavens and the earth, the animals, the sea creatures and all living things. And God created us, each and every one of us, in the image of God.
John basically tells the Christmas story in nine words. "And the Word became flesh and lived among us." God is revealing Godself to the world in the person of his Son Jesus Christ. God reveals who God is in the life and death of Jesus Christ - fully human and fully divine - "not a good person that God rewarded, or God in a people disguise." 1
The one thing that the three gospel writers of Matthew, Luke and John have in common is their focus on the light - the light that shone around the shepherds, the light of the star, Jesus coming to testify to the light, the light shining in the darkness and the darkness not being able to overcome it. Jesus was the true light coming into the world.
I think the most powerful line in John's version is "The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it." There was a lot of darkness in the world that Jesus was born into, just as there is a lot of darkness now. But the light of Jesus, from the moment of his miraculous birth, began to shine with such power that it could not be subdued by the darkness. And for more than 2000 years, the light of Christ continues to shine and cannot be extinguished. Many forces of evil throughout history have tried to put out the light and the hope of Christ, but none have been able to do it. Countless religious wars have been fought, some to extinguish the light, others to insist that their way of believing is the only right way. But the light of Christ remains, even thriving in what one might think are the least likely places, like Haiti, one of the poorest countries in the world. I have heard from people who have gone on mission trips there, that people will walk for hours to sit in an outdoor chapel in the scorching heat for many more hours to praise God and sing hymns of thanksgiving to their God who has blessed them greatly. They have very few material possessions but the light of Christ is strong as is their reliance on their faith to help them through their periods of darkness.
The light of Christ shines in each and every one of us. At our baptism, many of us received a candle signifying that Jesus is the light of the world. Jesus is the light that shines through us for others to see in our words and actions and attitudes. At times, we may be the light that others are holding onto in their times of darkness and despair. At other times, when our faith may seem weak, we may be the ones holding onto others. That's why this community of faith is so important, so we can help each other along this spiritual journey.
The Rev. James Liggett writes this: "The light of Christ, the Word made flesh, comes among us at Christmas, and we celebrate its coming into the world. God revealed himself and his love to us in Christ. The first Christmas, the stable smelled but the light shone, and it continues to shine. It continues to allow us to see, and to show a world living in darkness what we have seen. For by that light we have been given power to become children of God, and to take our places with the light. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not (and will not) overcome it." (2) Amen.
1 and 2 - these two quotes as well as some ideas in this sermon are from "Sermons that Work", Christmas 1 A, by The Rev. James Liggett.
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