God came to bring life to those who did not know him
Sermon preached at St. Peter & St. Paul, Marietta, GA
by The Rev. Tom Pumphrey, December 27, 2020
First Sunday of Christmas: John 1:1-18
John 1:1-18 (NRSV): In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.'”) From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.
Earlier this week, astronomers marked an unusual sight in the night sky. Jupiter and Saturn appeared close together in the sky, almost close enough to seem like one object to the naked eye. People have described this as the Christmas Star, in part because some think that this may have been what the wise men saw that led them to Jesus—some new sight in the sky as a sign of a new miraculous king. This conjunction happens every 20 years, but this year the two planets came closer together than they have been in nearly 800 years, and visible in our night sky.
In a year in which we’ve been preoccupied with our homes, this Christmas Star draws our attention to the heavens. In our brightly lit homes and brightly lit streets and cities, we have forgotten to look at the stars. When I went kayaking in the Grand Canyon this year, one of the breathtaking views each night was the brilliant sight of the milky way and all the night stars we so seldom see in the city.
Perhaps looking at the night sky draws us to ponder those things that are eternal, drawing us away from the temporal things that shift and change each day. I spoke this Christmas of how God is active in our lives, grounding us in eternity. In today’s Gospel reading, we hear of how eternity broke into our temporal human history.
John uses the language of Greek philosophy to describe the reality of what happened when Jesus was born. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of [all people]… and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” (KJV)
In Greek thought influenced by Plato, the Word is the link between the eternal God and the temporal world. They thought that the eternal God who made the world could not touch the world—the eternal could not contact the temporal. So, God made the world through his Word. In Greek, the word here that means “Word” is Logos. This is the word from which we get the word “logic.” This is the mind of God, the logic of God, the rational order of the universe.
John says “and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” There is the miracle! The eternal God, God the Word, God the Son, became flesh and lived with us! The eternal touches the temporal, eternity came to us in our messy, temporal lives.
One of the things that strikes me about this passage is where John writes that the world did not know him. “He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him.” Did you notice that? On the one hand, John is telling us about how Jesus was rejected because the world did not know him. However, think about it the other way around. To whom did Jesus come? For whom did God take on flesh to live with and to die for? He came for those who did not know him.
On the one hand, this is kind of sad. Here God so loves the world that he comes to live and die for the world, and yet the world isn’t paying attention. I remember in college I first began to notice a culture that was not so much opposed to God as it was indifferent to God. More and more in recent decades it seems that life goes on without much reference to God. God seems relegated to superficial greeting card status at the holidays, but not really welcomed as part of what truly matters. And of course, what truly matters seems to be money and things and experiences that please us as individuals. The world, it seems, does not know God, and often doesn’t seem interested in God.
Someone once noticed how this way of thinking invades even the church. We start to think of worship and prayer as window dressing to the real work of the church—work done by us, of course. So, we rely on our own hands instead of looking for God’s guidance and strength. We default to what is popular instead of what is true—what God has revealed to us. Someone once called this “functional atheism.” So much of the world around us, and sometimes in us, doesn’t know God.
And yet—God came to those who did not know him. God came in human flesh, God came in Jesus, the Word was made flesh and lived among us to bring light to our darkness, to reveal himself to a world that didn’t know him, to help us to know him and to receive his love, to receive the power to become his children.
This is the good news of what we call the incarnation. The incarnation is where God became a human being in Jesus. God came to us. We celebrate the incarnation with this big holiday we call Christmas because this is such good news! We stumble on our own, and we often forget God, and by our actions distort what little we know of God. And yet God loves us so much that he comes to us anyway! God wants us to be free of the darkness, to be enlightened by his truth, and to be freed from our sins, and welcomed to new life in him.
“In him was life and the life was the light of all people.”
I remember a friend of mine in college. He was raised without much religious teaching. When someone invited him to visit a Bible study, he thought that might be interesting to learn more about Christianity. So, he went and learned a little more information. But then someone asked him “Max, who is Jesus for you?” It startled him a bit. Instead of considering this new intellectual set of ideas, he had to consider what if it were all true? What if God is revealing himself to the world in Jesus? What if God was seeking him personally?
This began a journey for Max, a journey in which he realized that the God of the universe, the God for whom Jupiter and Saturn are playthings, the everlasting God of eternity, broke into human history to seek him—to seek Max! God came to one who did not know him, and brought him life and light and new joy that would last.
This Christmas season, open yourself to the eternal God who seeks you. Respond to those opportunities and seek God and be found by God. Find that connection to the eternal God, and remember that you always have room to learn and grow from God the Word, the one who brings light to you. And as you discover more of God’s grace in your life, share that light with others! Welcome them into the joy of being found by God.
“And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”