This sermon is from the evening service. The text for the sermon is John 1: 1-14.
Christmas Eve, 2015 – Evening Service
The opening of John’s gospel which we heard read tonight is one of my favourite passages in scripture. On one hand I enjoy the poetic way John opens his gospel. We get swept up in the grandeur of the divine plan as John reveals it to us. The words roll off of our tongue and we are reminded of the opening words of Genesis, “In the beginning…” John seeks to remind us that Christ was there, in the beginning when everything was created. That Christ who is the living Word was there, that everything came into being through Christ. That Jesus is our light. On Christmas Eve when we follow a star to a manger, we are reminded that Christ is the light which shines in the darkness.
The other reason why I enjoy the opening of John’s gospel is its focus on Jesus Christ as the Word. As a minister that has special significance to me. A friend recently asked me what my official title as a minister was. I can answer that question numerous ways. In some ways I am a pastor, others prefer to call me Reverend which is the honourific or formal title that comes with my position. Let me tell you it takes some time getting used to being addressed as Rev. Ellis. However, the formal title or position which I hold is Minister of Word and Sacraments. Which is quiet a mouthful and why people just normally refer to me as the Minister.
However, in that title of Minister of Word and Sacrament is a direct link to John’s gospel. A gospel where we hear that the Word was there at the beginning, that the Word was with God, and that the Word was God. That the Word became flesh and lived among us. The Living Word is Jesus Christ, God’s son and our saviour. Born this night to be our light and our salvation. For me this passage highlights the enormity of the task before me. To share the Living Word with God’s people.
So here we are on Christmas Eve. Once again we hear of the Living Word made flesh. We remember that Jesus is the light of all people. The light which shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it. This passage tells us two things, first and most importantly Jesus is the light. As Jesus himself tells us he is the truth, the light and the way. Jesus comes to bring us God’s literal word. Jesus’ very life is a testimony of God’s love for creation and everything in it. Jesus’ life is a light to all people. All people.
The second thing to realize with this passage is the existence of the darkness. We acknowledge that the darkness does exist, that the darkness is real. The darkness that is sin, which keeps us from living in proper relationship with God and with one another. The darkness which is violence which plagues our world. Physical and emotional violence which damages lives and destroys communities.
The darkness that is intolerance, which keeps us from understanding our neighbours. Which drives a wedge between us. Once upon a time we could disagree with someone and still be friends. We could hold extremely divergent opinions about issues, argue about them in a heated manner and still be friends. We used to recognize that though we disagreed on one issue we might agree on another. But now we allow intolerance and fear to drive us apart. It becomes ‘a with me or against me mentality.’
The darkness is real, it is a part of our lives and we are constantly negotiating it. And we negotiate the darkness best when we do so in the light of Christ’s love. The light which shines in the darkness, a light which is not overcome by the darkness. A light which allows us to ask questions about the darkness and which provides refuge from the darkness.
The darkness is always present and often it is of our own creation. Born out of fear and jealousy, inadequacy and guilt. Yet, the light of Christ is always there reminding us not to give in to the darkness, but instead to turn to the light. To embrace hope, peace, joy and love into our lives.
This is the message of Christmas. That we can choose to turn towards the light. And we are reminding in John’s gospel that though Jesus came to be with us, that humanity did not know him and humanity did not accept him. It seems that often we prefer the darkness.
That through our anger, fear, jealousy and guilt we find comfortable positions. We discover half-truths which support the comfort of our world view. We find that the status quo is often easier to maintain than to question. When we set aside our fear and guilt we expose ourselves and become vulnerable to a world which deals with its own anxiety by looking down upon others. As if they hold less value.
We have these two realities present in our reading tonight. That the darkness does exist and that at times we choose not to receive Jesus. This is part of what it means to be human, to wrestle with darkness and to turn away from the light. Our passage implies that there is a choice about what we do in this life. That we can choose to turn away from the light or we can embrace it.
John reminds us that when we receive Jesus, when we embrace the light, we have the power to become children of God. That the darkness will not overcome the light. There is an active component to this statement. It implies action, that the light is a living, breathing force. Yet there is also a tension present, a recognition that light and darkness are at odds. But we rest assured that the light is not overcome.
Tonight we have come into this sanctuary. We have come in from the dark and we now stand in the light of Christ’s love. We are here, all of us, in the presence of the Living Word. Of the Word which was present at the beginning of all things and which will endure through all things until the end.
We are here in the light of Christ, having heard the call of his Word. We know that the light triumphs over the darkness. This is what Christ’s life and witness is all about. At Christmas we witness the birth of Christ, we witness the light and the Word coming into the world. Jesus’ entire life is a testimony to light overcoming darkness. His death and resurrection speak to the triumph of God in showing a way forward which is not shadowed by darkness.
At Christmas we are reminded of why Jesus came. Yes, to be amazed that God would enter into the world in such a vulnerable state. Yes, we hold the Christ-child in awe and marvel at the circumstances of his birth. But we also recognize that now in our own time, just as it was when Jesus was born, that Jesus was not recognized and he was not accepted.
We look to the message of his life and we find what Christmas is all about. That though Christmas is an event, an occasion it is also something more. Christmas is something which endures, the birth of Jesus has life altering consequences. The gift of Jesus Christ at Christmas time requires a response. Howard Thurman’s poem “The Work of Christmas” explains best how we should respond to the gift of God’s son.
When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with their flocks,
the work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost,
to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry,
to release the prisoner,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among the people,
to make music in the heart.
When we find the lost, when we heal the broken, when we release the shackles which imprison us, when we rebuild nations and when we make peace, when we do these things we become one with the light. When we do these things we tell the darkness that it has lost. Because when we become the light we extinguish the darkness and we usher in God’s reign.
At this time of year we often ask what is the true meaning of Christmas? That answer is found in Jesus Christ. It is simple and yet it is profound. That God decided to do something new in the birth of Jesus, to interact with us in a fresh way.
We join with all of creation and we praise God for the true Word which is Jesus Christ. As the angels declared it to the shepherds, we too declare it to the world. Christ is born, let the light of his love shine in your hearts. Amen.