3Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. 5He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, 6to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. 7In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace 8that he lavished on us.
With all wisdom and insight 9he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 10as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, 12so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. 13In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; 14this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God's own people, to the praise of his glory.
John 1:(1-9) 10-18
1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
6There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
10He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
14And 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. 15(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.'") 16From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father's heart, who has made him known.
This magnificent passage is known as John’s prologue. These familiar words set the stage for the rest of John’s Gospel. John’s writing holds a unique place among the Gospels. A woman in my last church, a powerful and well-seasoned believer, once told me that she liked Matthew for its clarity, but she felt John’s Gospel was the one most likely to make you a Christian.
John’s language is beautiful and poetic from start to finish. His Gospel boasts some of the most powerful theological language about Jesus anywhere in the Bible. That language has shaped church doctrine powerfully, but it can be difficult to penetrate. But John’s Gospel also holds some of the freshest stories about Jesus; stories you can picture in your mind’s eye as you read. Stories that just jump off the page like the man born blind whom Jesus heals or the woman caught in adultery. It is a powerful Gospel and so it begins with this prologue, a powerful introduction.
John uses his prologue to introduce some themes that will run throughout the Gospel, preparing us to pay attention to them as the story unfolds. Themes like light and darkness, the world that rejects Christ and the believers who become God’s children by the Spirit, Christ the Son who lets us know the Father: these ideas appear first in the prologue and then shape the rest of the book.
All the Gospels tell Jesus’ story, but only John starts at the beginning. It’s fitting that we begin a new year with the start of John’s Gospel, which goes all the way back to the beginning of creation: a fresh start for a new year. For John this isn’t a story about a special man chosen by God for a mission. Instead it is about the living Word of God before the creation of the world. God’s Word is God, with God from the start and active in creating everything. John is retelling the creation story from Genesis to show that God created everything through Christ, his Word.
In Genesis God says a word and things are created: “God said let there be light and there was light;” “God said and it was so.” For John, God’s creating word isn’t just the words God speaks. The capital W Word it is a creative power alive in its own right. “The Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God, everything was made through him and without him nothing was made.”
But that creating Word doesn’t just take part in making rocks and seas and forests. The Word creates life, the life that fills everyone, that makes each of us alive and vibrant and whole. That power of life comes into being through God’s living Word and that life is the light of all people.
Here’s the amazing thing: the Word of God, the living, divine, creating Word that made everything in the beginning and fills the world with light and life, became flesh and lived with us. God’s creative power, God’s light and life became a flesh and blood person, became a tiny baby in a stable. God became one of us so we could see his grace and glory up close. That’s the amazing love of God in the Christmas story: God loved us so much that he became one of us.
The tragedy of the story is that God’s Word came into the world, and even though he made the world, the world didn’t recognize him. Even though he came to God’s chosen people as one of them, the leaders of the people rejected him. Even though the light of the world came for everyone to see, people refused to let that light into their hearts and the world’s darkness stayed dark.
We see that dark story unfold as Jesus heals and teaches but the authorities don’t listen. We see that story unfold as the leaders start plotting how to trap Jesus in his words and as they even use the power of the Roman state against him. We see it as Jesus comes into Jerusalem welcomed by the crowd but leaves Jerusalem carrying his cross. And we see that story unfold as Christians oppress others in the name of Jesus and as religious violence threatens people around the world today. We see it in our own life when we choose to do what is comfortable instead of what’s right or when we hear the world’s call to consumption instead of God’s call to compassion.
Make no mistake about it: the story John tells about Jesus has a tragic element to it. We love the Christmas story of a babe lying in a manger, but we know that babe is destined for a hard life with a painful end, and we know the miracle of Christmas doesn’t fix a world still full of violence and hatred, still full of heartbreak and disappointment.
But John’s story is not a tragedy. John tells us, “the light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.” He tells us that while Jesus’ own people didn’t accept him, to everyone who did receive him he gave power to become children of God. When God’s Word became flesh and came to live with us, he invited everyone to be part of God’s family. Jesus keeps on inviting us to be part of the family, part of the adventure. Jesus calls us to live in the light of his love and to share that love with everyone.
Even though there is hardship and tragedy in this story, it is not a tragedy because it ends with eternal life, not death. The cross isn’t the end of Jesus’ story and our failures don’t short circuit God’s plan to, “Gather all things together in Christ.” We have a calling in Jesus. We have received God’s Word made flesh, we’ve set our hope on Christ, and so we are God’s children. We’re God’s children and we’re called be light in the darkness like Jesus.
Light in the darkness: like Cameron can be for kids who need help and hope after school. Light in the darkness: like a visit to someone who feels cooped up and alone much of the time. Light in the darkness: like a community of faith facing police dogs and fire hoses in the name of love and freedom. Light in the darkness: like kind and persistent encouragement to a kid struggling to learn math. Our calling is to see the light of Christ and to be that light in the world.
Fortunately, we aren’t alone in that calling. Paul reminds us that as Christians we are sealed in the Holy Spirit. Paul calls that the pledge of our inheritance, which is a fancy way of saying it’s a sign of better things to come. The Spirit shows that we are God’s children and that when God brings the story of redemption to a close we will be perfected in love.
The Spirit is also power to do God’s will in the world. The Spirit gives us strength beyond our strength, wisdom beyond our wisdom, love beyond our petty preferences. When we listen to the Spirit we find ourselves tuned in to what God is up to and able to do more than we ever thought possible.
God’s Spirit joins us with Christ, the eternal Word of God and it joins us with believers around the world and across history. By the Spirit we join the powerful story of God’s family healing the sick, feeding the hungry, bringing love to the lost and lonely and changing the world. The Spirit helps us receive Christ ever deeper into our hearts and remodels our lives to fit his purposes.
That same Spirit joins us at this table as we remember God’s Word made flesh, as we remember his death and resurrection, as we break bread together as one family around the world. The Spirit makes this bread and juice Christ body and blood for us. The Spirit changes us slowly to become Christ’s body together in this place and scattered to bring that light to the world around us when we leave. By the Spirit we are one; by faith and love we are God’s family as light in the darkness. “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.”
Thanks be to God.