Message Manuscript for “Jesus in a Word” John 1:1-18
Delivered to Church for the Highlands
Sunday, January 5, 2014
Have you ever played the game in school or in one of those awkward work retreats where you are assigned to describe someone sitting next to you with one word? I remember having to do this one year on a church staff retreat. We were given construction paper and high-inducing markers to use to write a word to describe the person sitting next to us. Once written, we were instructed to tape it to the back of the person, which would be read by the person next to them as we stood there in a circle. I cannot tell you with honesty that all of the names on that church staff read aloud were positive, but it was a good exercise. If nothing else, we concluded that it is extremely difficult to summarize a person’s entire personality and identity with one word.
How would this game work with Jesus? Is there one word we could use to describe him? John gives us one here in our text today, one that does a very good job of clarifying who Jesus was—and is—in the world: Light. This first chapter of John could actually be seen as a history of light. Just as the author of Genesis began the account of creation with the presence of light, so John began his letter about the account of new creation with the presence of Jesus, who was the light entering the world. As John stated it, in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. It was important to John that everyone hearing or reading this letter of his would know not only who Jesus was and is, but to know what he was made of; that he consisted of life and light.
Such life and light would bring enlightenment to the world. The presence, words, and actions of Jesus were rays of light, revealing with intense particularity what God was like. For people who had a vague understanding of God, Jesus would bring clarity. For the person who thought God was uncaring and basically nonexistent, Jesus would bring compassion and proximity. For the folks who thought God belonged just to them, Jesus would bring boundless and borderless illumination. What the world needed to know about God was shining brightly before their eyes, shining brightly in the darkness of a stable and world.
So, this light shined in the darkness of the world, shining for all people to see. John described some of what happened to the light once it entered the world, how it was overcoming darkness with its power of illumination. It was seen and received by many people, like John the Baptist, who understood his role as one who was to point it out to others, that they may see and receive it. As John the Baptist and John the author of this Gospel found, not everyone received the light. Not everyone had any interest in stepping out of the darkness. But, to those who did receive the light, they would become children of God, be enlightened by the glory of God, and experience the fullness of God’s grace.
This new year has come with a lot of changes, especially within healthcare and medical insurance, with education, and, one you may have missed, the lightbulb. Yes, that’s right. As of 12:00am on January 1, incandescent light bulbs, used since electricity entered homes, can no longer be manufactured. Stores are allowed to sell whatever they have in stock, but the new energy-efficient light bulb is now the standard. Our nation—and world—has a brand new source of light.
As we continue to consider the meaning of Christmas, we recognize that the world has already been given a great Light. Isn’t that what all of the light at Christmas is about? We put lights in our yards, lights on our houses, and lights on our trees. We hear about a light for prophets to share with exiles, light from angels for shepherds, and a light from a star guiding wise men to Bethlehem. This coming week, with Epiphany, we, as Christians, will enter a time of focusing on what that light reveals; on what is illuminated as it shines.
If we take some time in the coming weeks to put our focus on the nature of Jesus, we can come to a deeper understanding of God. As we take a look at Jesus, we too can see that in him is life, and a light for all people. We see that God came to be with us—all of us on this earth– in a very specific and concrete kind of way, not wanting us to stumble around in the darkness, aimlessly wondering around trying to find our purpose and meaning. God doesn’t want us to have a vague or a general understanding about who he is. God wants us, here in our world of today, to experience him through the life and light of Jesus.
Such an experience happens when we approach the light of Jesus. We find what true enlightenment is all about. What we thought we knew about God, ourselves, our world is just poor lighting. We are lighting our lives with poor substitutes of the eternal light Jesus shines upon us. It doesn’t take much time being in his light to understand what we have been missing all along. We see that our image of God is insufficient. We see that what knowledge we have survived with in the dark is overwhelmed by the brilliance of what we find in the light. We discover that the ways we thought we were moving about wisely in the dark were foolish. With the light of Jesus, our eyes are opened to the reality that what have imagined and feared in the dark look impotent and silly now in the radiance of the Light.
The light is shining brightly in our world today. It is glimmering here for you today as we gather and it will be breaking through whatever clouds may blow into your day tomorrow. It can’t be rained out, covered up, overshadowed, underrated, overwhelmed, or eclipsed. There is just nothing that has been able to stop this light, this Jesus. No power or energy can block the light of Jesus that enables you to be born again into this world. Nothing can prevent it from showing you what it means to be a child of God. Nothing can outshine this light so full of grace and truth. Nothing can substitute for the constant and comforting warmth of this Light who glows with the inhabiting presence of God in our lives and in our world. We find that nothing at all will ever come along that can out dazzle the beam Jesus directs into our lives.
Well, maybe that is not entirely accurate. There is something that can stop it and that thing is you. You can stop the light of Jesus from shining on and in you by not receiving it; by not believing in it; by not allowing Jesus to illumine and enlighten your life in this world. As John said about his world, not everyone believed in him; not everyone accepted him as God’s light of the world. It is not that his light quits shining for you to see, but that you have not allowed it to light up your world, to change you.
Henri Nouwen told the story of a Christmas scene he once saw,
The Christmas scene that Anthony arranged under the altar [was] probably the most meaningful “crib” I have ever seen. Three small wood-carved figures made in India: a poor woman, a poor man, and a small child between them. The carving is simple, nearly primitive. No eyes, no ears, no mouths, just the contours of the faces. The figures are smaller than a human hand–nearly too small to attract attention at all.
But then–a beam of light shines on the three figures and projects large shadows on the wall of the sanctuary. That says it all. The light thrown on the smallness of Mary, Joseph, and the Child projects them as large, hopeful shadows against the walls of our life and our world. While looking at the intimate scene we already see the first outlines of the majesty and glory they represent. … Without the radiant beam of light shining into the darkness there is little to be seen. … But everything changes with the light.
That’s what we have heard from John today, isn’t it? There is darkness, but everything changes with the light.
[Audio version is here]