Nine Lessons of Christmas Meditations: 10. God who talks
Reading 9: John 1:1-14
John 1:,1,14 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God ….. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us
Context: So, as we come to the last of the nine readings, that has a header, “St. John unfolds the great mystery of the Incarnation”, we move very much back to the big picture to summarise, we might say, the activities of Advent described by those who established this service of carols and readings we have been following this past week, as “the development of the loving purposes of God.” The use of John’s Gospel for this last reading lifts us away from the specific details of the Nativity story, to describe the whole in more philosophical terms that the wider world might understand and appreciate.
The Reading: To fully appreciate the meanings of John’s Prologue covered by these verses, you really need to read the verses in their completeness, so may I suggest on this Christmas morning you take your Bible and read them out loud as a reminder of what this day is really all about. I will simply take the first five verses and then the end verse: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (Jn 1:1-5) Then, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (v.14) Having done that, let’s move directly into the lessons we may learn from these verses on this very special day.
Lessons – Statement of Truth: John, as a writer, writes more profoundly than the other three Gospel writers who wrote decades earlier than him, simply laying out the basic facts of what had happened. John, who remembers so vividly and has had many more years to reflect on it all, presents a ‘Gospel of understanding’, a Gospel that brings to light many of the things that Jesus said that so emphasised who he was. John writes, and we need to recognise it as such, a Gospel that is more a declaration of the truth – this IS what happened, and why! These verses in this reading provide meaning and context to the whole Advent and Nativity story, and as such they also provide a foundation of belief for our Faith.
A God who communicates: The Bible above all, I believe, reveals a God who communicates and Jesus is His ultimate communication. As the writer to the Hebrews put it so clearly, “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.” (Heb 1:1,2) John describes Jesus as a word, a means of communication, an expression of God, who was with God, (and) was God. …with God in the beginning…. (so) Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” Even in these opening words, John puts Jesus on a par with God. With the Father, yet distinct from the Father. (Various creeds speak of him as not being ‘born’ but ‘begotten’ and that word simply means ‘comes out of’, i.e. came out of God, of the same essence s God the Father.)
A Need to Listen: Surely if God speaks then our duty is to listen. If Jesus is the expression of God, one who was sent from heaven to reveal the Father (see Col 1:15, 2 Cor 4:4, Heb 1:3), when John says, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us,” (Jn 1:14) it is a foolish and complacent person who ignores the wonders of what we find in the four Gospels of the New Testament. If Jesus reveals the Father, perhaps the biggest challenge to the whole world is to see what the Gospels say, to see the sort of God that exists and is there in the background of every mind on earth. As much as I am aware of its inadequacies, I would recommend if you haven’t read them yet, you work through the recent series, ‘Focus on Christ’. I am in the process of improving the content by turning it into book form but the basics are there.
Perhaps a good New Year’s resolution would be to learn more of Jesus and learn more to be aware of his presence. I like what Pete Greig, who was involved in founding the worldwide 24-7 prayer movement wrote: “The vision is Jesus. Not Christianity. Not prayer, mission and justice. Not worship-leading or church-planting or evangelism. If you love Jesus you’ll do that stuff; you’ll pray and worship and go to church and preach the gospel – but in doing all those things, don’t lose the why.” This is what today is about, about Jesus arriving on the earth in human form, visible to his parents, to shepherds, to wise men, to aged saints and years later to great crowds who saw the loving expression of God in their midst bringing health, life, freedom, goodness and love in abundance.
Sometimes we may stop someone, or be stopped by someone – I remember as a child, a policeman stopping a friend and I who, in childish, thoughtless, irresponsibility, living on a hillside had taken up a new game, pulling up the farmers turnips and rolling them down a path on the hillside – and the voice comes, “I want a word with you.” At that time you know it’s not just a single word; there is going to come more than a few words.
It takes far more than just a single word to describe Jesus, which is why we have the whole New Testament which tells about him and his role in the activity of the Godhead, that speaks of “the development of the loving purposes of God.” Unlike the words of the policeman, these words are to be welcomed and rejoiced over. In the midst of all the other activities of today, may we not fail to do that.
Now that completes the ‘nine readings’ but we will add one more study to morrow to round it off. But before we finish, a bonus.
Bonus Story 1: Overview or ‘A Potted Advent’
I sometimes like to try to capture what went on in story form. There is a bit of poetic or rather literary license in this story, but I hope it conveys something that lifts faith. It seeks to put together all the things we’ve seen in the Gospels, in this series.
Hullo. My name is Simeon. I have this feeling that I may be writing for those of you in the future and it is just possible you know more of how this story works out than I do at this moment. I also have this sense that I may not be here much longer, so I had better get on and tell you what I know.
I live near Jerusalem and am now in old age. The things I want to tell you about have only happened in this past year, although I think my story goes back a lot further than that. I have always sought to be a servant of Yahweh and in my years of retirement from my business, I have spent much time examining the scrolls in the local synagogue, courtesy of my rabbi. I consulted the teachers of the Law in Jerusalem and they, somewhat condescendingly I felt, guided me into the prophets. Oh, I should explain, I was searching for the Messiah that I had heard about since my youth.
Without doubt there are things there, that are a mystery, in the scrolls. As I have gone where they said, I read of how a child would be born to a young girl, probably in nearby Bethlehem, a child who would come as a great light to the land of the north, our Galilee. I have never been there, but it is often considered a land of darkness and misery, having been the first part of our land that has suffered at the hands of invaders from the north many times in the past. Yet Yahweh is going to bring great light to it, I know not how.
But there are contradictory prophecies about this coming one. For instance, on one hand he is said to be a great ruler, and on the other a servant. On one hand he is spoken of as a mighty ruler while on the other, one who is beaten and despised and rejected. I am not sure how these things can all be tru,e but I have the utmost faith in our prophets that they heard from God.
And then, one day, as I was searching the scrolls, I had this intense feeling that the Coming One was on his way, he would appear soon. I assumed he would appear in Jerusalem, probably at the Temple, that would make sense, so I increasingly spent more time there, watching and waiting.
And then they came, this little family and immediately something in me said, “This is them!” But who? The baby. The baby is the coming one. I felt words of thanks, words of prophecy welling up inside. I had never known anything quite like it. And then Anna, an old prophetess I had come to know, who also spent most of her time there, came up and carried on where I had finished. Crowds came and looked and then went, and when the fuss had died down, I spoke to this couple and they told me their story, a strange story at that.
The mother was but a young girl really, and yet she had seemed to have aged beyond her years. She told me how, about a year back an angel had come to her and spoke with her. I marveled at the wonder of it. He had said she would bear a son to be the mighty one we were expecting. She confessed she had not known what to think as she and her man were only betrothed and had not come together, but the angel reassured her that this was something Yahweh would bring about. A few weeks later she started feeling sick and then became aware of her body enlarging.
As she recounted those days she looked at her husband, a strong looking young man obviously a little older than she, who stood there in the background remaining silent. I looked at him and eventually he said, “It is true, and I trust my Mary implicitly, although not at first.” I smiled with understanding, and so he continued. “You must understand, I am a good Jew and her story seemed so far-fetched to me, that I felt the only course open to me was to break off our engagement. I was about to do it when I had the most amazing dream that was so real I had no other course but to believe it. In it I think I saw the same angel that Mary saw, and he told me that what I had been told was true and that she was carrying our Messiah.
It was clear by their accents that they came from the north, so I asked them how they came to be here. They said it was because of Caesar’s census that required Joseph to return to the home of his ancestors, Bethlehem. It had not been an easy experience because when they arrived it was clear that Mary was only days or maybe even hours from delivering her baby, and because there were so many others who had come there to be counted, there was nowhere for them to stay and they ended up in a stable behind an Inn.
Please don’t think me insensitive, but when they told me how the bay was born, my eyes filled with tears of gratefulness to God. They said it had been a strange experience because not much later, when they were still trying to cope with the experience – I think they said the Innkeeper’s wife had come to help with the delivery – suddenly a whole bunch of rough and scruffy shepherds had turned up outside, and you know what they’re like, they are virtually outcasts in our society but they came bursting in, loud with laughter, quite inappropriate for the quiet scene, but telling of how an angel – yes, yet another angel – had come and told them of the baby and then they said it been like heaven opened up and they saw thousands of angels singing and praising Yahweh for the arrival of His son. It was the most strange story but I could not doubt their sincerity and anyway, that quiet inner voice I have heard before, assured me it was right.
After a little while they left, but a few days later I felt I must see them again, so I travelled on my donkey to Bethlehem and sought them out, and found Joseph had been doing jobbing work around the village. To cut a long story short I visited them on a weekly basis; I felt a little like a guardian angel watching over them, but I think they actually had the real things; they needn’t need me, but I went as an aged friend.
And then one time about a month or so later, now a couple of weeks back, when I visited, they told me excitedly how a camel train with very strange men from the east had come and bowed down before their child. They hadn’t known what to say, but then, as the men and their camel train were about to leave, they took out most expensive gifts of gold and most precious ointments and gave them to them. They had been overwhelmed with such riches which would provide for them for years and couldn’t understand why such a thing should happen.
Now this is where it gets strange. I visited just yesterday, but they were gone. I enquired of their neighbour, in the house next door to where they had been staying, and fortunately he recognised me as a friend, and told me an angel in a dream had told them to leave straight away for Egypt. So, they have gone, and I feel a great gap in my life. I don’t know what will become of them but with all the wonderful directions they have received from our God, I am sure they will be back one day in the not too distant future.
By the time you read this, you may know the outcome. I have been privileged to meet this little family for a short while and something in me tells me that this is just the start for them. I am sure I will not be around to see it, but you may, and when we meet in the heavenly throne room one day we can share the wonders we have been permitted to see. I believe I will go there shortly, and I go in peace and with great joy. May you know the same that comes with knowing this wonderful story.