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TEXT: John 1:9-14
SUBJECT: Advent 2013 #4: The Word At Home
Today is the Fourth Sunday of Advent, with Christians from all over the world gathering to celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. The story of His birth is well known to people who read their Bibles, and to a great many of them who don't. The Christmas Story has worked its way into our culture, and for all their efforts, the PC Police have not yet erased it from our memory.
The main points of the Story are these: (1) an angel appeared to a young virgin, saying she would soon have a Son and that Son would be the Son of God; (2) her fiance, assuming she was pregnant by some other man, planned to divorce her, but was let in on the secret by the same angel, and the two were wed; (3) a few months later,, Caesar Augustus issued a decree that all the world would be taxed, and had to pay it in their hometown; (4) the young couple traveled from their present home in Nazareth to Bethlehem, where all the hotels were booked, and so (5) she gave birth to her Son in a stable or barn where a manger was used for the baby's first crib; (6) that night, a Heavenly Host celebrated His birth and (7) told the shepherds to go into town and pay tribute to the newborn king...
(8) which they did, and went back to work full of joy, praising God, and telling the Good News to all.
This is the Christmas Story as told in the Bible and re-told every year by millions of people for two thousand years. While I would never confuse 'Christian culture' with Christianity itself, I'm thankful that the Christmas Story is (almost) as well known outside the Church as it is inside.
Except for one thing: familiarity breeds contempt. Most of us have heard the story of Christ's birth so many times, we're no longer shocked by it. Unless the preacher is an exceptionally gifted man, we listen to the Christmas sermon with a polite yawn instead of the gasp of surprise.
John does not want us to be this way, and so he writes a Gospel that is full of twists and turns, a surprise ending, and here in his Prologue, a surprise beginning. After many years of thinking and talking about it, the birth of Jesus still shocked His dearest friend.
Why? He gives us three reasons in today's text, John 1:9-14--
WHO WAS BORN
In v.14, he tells us who was born, and that is the Word of God. When a First Century Jew used the term, Word of God, he meant one of two things, or perhaps both.
First, there was an Unspoken Word of God, that is what God is or wants whether He tells anyone about it or not. We might call it God's Thought. More likely, he meant God's Spoken Word, either spoken publicly as at Mount Sinai, or more often, the Word He spoke to the prophets who then repeated them in Israel's hearing or wrote them in the Books that became the Old Testament.
This Word of God was so closely connected to God Himself that devout Jews, when reading the Bible, would often say Word when the Bible itself used God's proper name, Yahweh. They saw 'the Word of God' and 'God Himself' as all but one and the same.
John picks up on this idea and tells us in v.1 that the Word of God is as old as God, which means 'eternal', that it was with God which means, unlike anything else, it stood face to face with God--and lived! And that the Word had a full share in the Divine nature. In short--
The Word was God.
Having said the Word of God is God, it's no wonder that John adds, He is--
The True Light that gives light to every man coming into the world.
God Himself is light--the Bible says--in Him is no darkness at all. On the first day of the Creation week, He created light and He called it good. A few days later, the light illuminated the whole creation thus allowing Adam and Eve--and everything with eyes--to see its beauty and majesty and within their capacities, to glorify the One who made it all.
The Light John refers to does not exclude visible light, but chiefly it means moral and spiritual light, the power to tell truth from error, goodness from evil, beauty from ugliness. This Light--John tells us--is shining in the darkness, showing us how we ought to live and that we're not doing it!
Other lights have appeared in the world, false prophets preaching false gods and false ways of living, but John is at pains to tell us that, unlike others lights, this is--
The True Light.
Not that every person sees the light--as our English Bibles seem to say--but that everyone who has seen the true light has seen it in the same place, as Paul says elsewhere--
But God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness has now shone in our hearts to give us the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ!
Jesus is the One True Light: you see God in Him, or you don't see Him at all. This is John's point, one he's already made and will make again in his Gospel.
Then, coming to v.10, he repeats himself again. Jesus is not only the True Light, He is also the Creator--
The world was made through Him.
You might say 'Jesus is God's Executive Officer'. Everything God wants to do, He assigns to Jesus, who sees that it is done.
Taking a swipe at the Gnostics of his time, John makes it clear that all created things--past, present, and future--come from Christ and depend on Christ. He is the Creator and Sustainer of all things, as the Creed says--
Visible and invisible.
Who was born the first Christmas Day is John's first great surprise. He wasn't an ordinary man, a great man, not even the greatest of men! It was God who was laid in a manger! When the Wise Men came some time later, they thought they were paying tribute to The King of the Jews--and they were doing that. But that's not all He was! The King of the Jews is also The King of Glory. And who's that? I'm not the first man to ask the question. The writer of Psalm 2 beat me to it--
Who is the King of Glory?
The Lord of Hosts, He is the King of Glory!
Has the Christmas Story become so familiar to you that you can no longer feel the weight of its majesty? But that's what we ought to do, and what we will do, when we separate it from all the legends and commercialism, and remember what really happened that day--
The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.
HOW THE WORD WAS RECEIVED
If John's first surprise was, well, surprising, the second is even more that way: How the Word of God was received.
Before we get to how He was welcomed, let's remember where He was went. Matthew and Luke tells us that He was born in Bethlehem to a devout Jewish family. Of course this is true, and being the adopted son of the Virgin Mary, nobody knows this better than John. But he says nothing about our Lord's ethnicity or birthplace. What he says in v.11 is this--
He came to His own.
Had He come to the Greeks or Romans or Germans, He might expect a cool reception. After all, they had no reason to look forward to His coming or way to recognize who He is.
But He didn't come to such people--not then at least. He came to His own people, to people who for generations had read of and prayed for the coming of God into the world. The 1st Century AD was an exciting time to be an Israelite. Except for the Sadduccees--who loved the status quo--everyone hated the way things were and were expecting God to do something about it any day now. Israel was shot full of Messiahs at the time, and religious fervor was bubbling in the people's soul.
The other Messiahs made their cases and some of them gathered quite a following, Judas and Theudas, for example. But the Man who performed seven undeniable signs and wonders died rejected by the many and welcomed by only a few.
I don't know what to compare this to except Vietnam veterans coming home from the war. The way those men were treated was nothing less than disgraceful! Young men fighting for their country, sleeping in the mud, seeing buddies die, coming home wounded in body and soul should be given a hero's welcome--whether you agree with the war or not!
The wrong done to them was nothing compared to the wrong done to Christ. As the hymn says, He was--
The long expected Jesus,
born to set His people free.
That's what He did His whole public career--freed people from the pain of rejection, from the suffering of disease, from the pangs of hunger, even from the hopelessness of death! But instead of giving Him a hero's welcome--
His own received Him not.
This means they gave Him no welcome; He knocked on Israel's door, but the door was not opened, and more than 'not opened', it was locked tightly against Him. Put yourself in His place: You come home from work one night, knock on the door and nobody answers. You see your wife and kids peeking through the window, but they want no part of you. You're not welcome in your own home!
This is how the Word of God was received by most of His people. For the most part, He was--
Despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with guilt, and we hid, as it were, our faces from Him.
I'll never forget a touching moment I had with my sons when they were little. I always put them to bed with Bible stories, and one night, I told them the one about--
Birds have nests, foxes have holes, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.
One of the boys said, 'Daddy, I'll give Him my pillow!' You'd expect any decent person to do this, but when Jesus needed a pillow, He had to do without.
Was there no sense of family in Israel? No tradition of hospitality? There certainly was! Family meant far more to them than it does to most people today, and a man's character was largely judged by how often he took people in and how well he treated them.
But when the Son came home at last, most people did not recognize Him--or want Him! Was their no Bible in Israel? Had the Romans, like the Communists, forbidden its printing and burned every copy they could find? No, Roman was relatively liberal in its religious policy. The Bible was read every Sabbath in the Synagogue, and many people knew it well.
But even though they knew their Bibles--and claimed to love it--when the One it prophesied of came to them, they did not recognize Him or want any part of Him!
He came to His own and His own did not receive Him.
This is the second surprise in John's Prologue.
THE WORD'S RESPONSE
The third is How the Word responded to His rejection. John says nothing about our Lord's anger or longing for revenge; nor does he tell us that, being rejected, Jesus withdrew from His people to nurse His very real hurt. No sulking, no pouting, no feeling sorry for Himself.
Instead of rejecting the people who rejected Him, He stayed with them, and in time, some of them came to receive Him, says v.12--or as we would say--'Welcome Him'.
Could they ever be too thankful for the tenacity of His love? For His superhuman patience? Love suffers long Paul says in I Corinthians 13, and in no one does it suffer longer or more deeply than in Jesus Christ!
How stupid and self-centered we are to brood, longing for the justice of God to come quickly to the world and despising His goodness to people who don't deserve it--as though we deserve it any more than they do! If we have come to repentance at all, it is only because God is--
Slow to wrath and great in mercy!
What does it mean to receive Him? We don't have to guess, John tells us in the same verse--
Those who believe in His name.
Receiving Christ means believing in Him, believing in who He is, believing in what He's done, and believing He's done it for you. What has He done? John gets to that later, but for a summary, we turn again to Paul who says--
Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, was buried, and rose again on the third day according to the Scriptures.
What this means is Jesus took the sin of the world onto Himself when He went to the cross and He bore the punishment it so richly deserves. Having satisfied the justice of God, He now offers forgiveness, reconciliation, and Eternal Life to everyone who believes in Jesus.
But how do you take the leap of faith? There are rational reasons for believing in Jesus, but as compelling as they are, no one has ever done it because of them. We believe because God gives us the gift of faith, which is a result of a New Birth. Unbelievers are born again of Almighty Grace, and now having the life of God in their souls, the Gospel story seems true to them and they put their trust in Jesus as Savior and Lord.
In a Gospel full of surprises, these are the biggest of them all: God became a Man, Man rejected God, and God turned rejecting Man into receiving Man, and with it, gave us--
The right to become the children of God, even those who believe in His name.
This is the Glory of Christmas and also its challenge. God has joined us by the Incarnation, and now He urges us to join Him by faith in His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.
Amen. Praise the Lord.
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