‘The God up there, became the God down here’, Christmas Message, John 1:1-14. December 2021.
How would you describe Christmas? What words would you use? Or memories? Or feelings. It is true that this time of year evokes many. During the year, we may have said goodbye to a loved one – who has died – or a child, or friend, who has moved to another country. This time makes us think of loss. With the sudden dramatic changes of regulations at least here in the Netherlands, there can be a feeling of this Christmas not being all we hoped it would be. And the thoughts that it has been two years since, a ‘normal’ Christmas, can begin to weigh upon us. For others, despite Corona, this time brings joys – a new child or a first child or grandchild in the house – we remember their first Christmas. Maybe we moved house, changed job and it is all working out well. Maybe we have fallen in love…
John writes his famous opening words. They are sent to churches in western turkey and probably near to Ephesus. Some of what I just said would have been familiar to them too, and top of that, they were believing in who Jesus was, when the majority around them probably didn’t. And the government, local, national and even Imperial – as these are the days of Rome – certainly did not place Christ at the centre.
Into this, John writes. ‘In the beginning’ is how he begins. Those words, we know, would have taken, those listening who knew the Hebrew Bible, all the way back to the first words of Genesis.
‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.’ God acted. He created life. Against all odds he did it. He took the initiative.
John is reminding the Christians listening, with those very first words. God acted. Against all odds he did. He took the initiative. Christmas is about God taking action.
John does not tell about the creation of the world, but he says ‘in the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.’ Now, if you had never read John’s Gospel before, it must have been a shock to reach firstly v14 – the Word became flesh – and then v18 – ‘’Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God but God the One and Only who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.’ Jesus is the Word.
Jesus the Word. The one who pre-existed. He just didn’t pop into being on Christmas Day … he pre-existed. In the Beginning.
‘The word was with God.’ Now we get into mystery – the Word – was with God – equality and distinction of identity.
And then ‘the Word was God’. His deity. The Word’s pre-existence, his distinctiveness, and deity.
Now. I love this. A gospel is a story of and about Jesus, who he is, what he did and taught and why the whole world needs to know. We are reminded… Christmas is about Jesus, and Jesus is God among us. He is God. And also he is the Word. This mystery we begin to see, of God – three persons yet one being.
The God up there, became the God down here, as an old tutor of mine enjoyed saying. Yet the mere magnitude of that is incredible, yet John simply says: ‘The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.’
Often the Message translation is quoted here : ‘’The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighbourhood.’ John later, when he wrote to one of the churches in Ephesus – what we call 1 John – said: ‘’That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our own eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched – this we proclaim concerning the Word of Life.’’
God moved into the neighbourhood. Our world. God walked among us.
There was a song which includes the lyrics:
If God had a name what would it be? And would you call it to his face?
If you were faced with Him, in all His glory
What would you ask, if you had just one question?
What if God was one of us?
Just a slob like one of us
Just a stranger on the bus
Tryin’ to make his way home?
That is the first striking point to meditate upon at Christmas. People were faced with him. They asked him questions. He was like one of us, walking along our streets. We so take it for granted.
Last month, Feyenoord were playing in Prague, and it was discovered that the co-pilot on that flight taking supporters to that game, was our King, King Wilhelm Alexander. He is a trained pilot, he has had his airline transport licence since 2001. A supporter who took a photo of the King flying, and added ‘Isn’t this beautiful?’ For me, the idea of a King flying a plane, a King being a co-pilot on a regular KLM flight, it all says – what? Really? Kings don’t do that? God, God who runs the universe, to become flesh? Really…
John gets us further thinking: ‘through him all things were made. Without him nothing was made that has been made.’’ That word ‘in the beginning’, we think of how through God, out of chaos came beauty, out of disharmony came something wonderful.
The God up there, became the God down here, he came down not for a stroll or a nice wander. He came down, came among us, to bring beauty out of chaos, order out of chaos. It is about life.
Life is such an amazing word. You see it is helpful to think again at Christmas, what is God about? Is it like Bruce Nolan in Bruce Almighty – God why do you hate me, he cries out. We may not say, ‘hate’ but what is God about? Yet John is saying God, Jesus, is about life. The word ‘life’ is quite common in John – it pops up all over the place – 36 times in fact, in 21 chapters – and Jesus you can say embodied life. He himself said in John 14: I am the way, the truth and the life.’ He later said ‘’Now this is eternal life: that they may know you the only true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.’’ And it was Jesus who said in John 10, ‘’The thief comes to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.’’
As Joseph and Mary saw a new life born you could say, in those unlikely circumstances, of Bethelhem, Jesus is about bringing life into lives. It is Satan – the thief – who is about stealing, killing, destroying. Often what a person may be calling God, is actually something which is attributed to the enemy.
The God up there, became the God down here and he came to bring life. You know it may help us to consider, what does life look like. Jesus says ‘life to the full’. Again, to meditate upon Genesis 1 – Jesus – the Word – through whom all was created – brought life. What does life look like, we look to Genesis 1.
Life does not look boring. Interesting life looks different in each setting doesn’t it. Life for plants looks like one thing, life for birds another, life for humans. I think I am saying – the life that God can create in a person – what it means for a person to receive and experience the life of Jesus – will look, to same extent, different from person to person.
The God up there, became the God down here and he came to bring life and it was all promised. The first human name mentioned in the gospel is John the Baptist. His role is always remembered in Advent. He one who prepares the way, who points people to Jesus. He was the one who came as promised in prophecy – in Isaiah. John reminds us about prophecy being fulfilled. Jesus was born at Bethlehem. Yet Joseph and Mary lived 65 miles, around 105km, a journey of 4-5 days. Now Mary is heavily pregnant. Joseph and Mary had no plans to do that journey. I mean, we assume they had a donkey – but the bible does not say that does it… I mean when I knew we were close – actually Callum and Thirza were both a week plus late, I was not planning to go anywhere far! But what happens. But Micah 5 says that out of Bethlehem a ruler will come, the Messiah, God’s promised King will come. The baby in the womb is in Nazareth, the parents are in Nazareth. How does God manage that one?
We know. ‘Caesar Augustus issued a degree that a census should be taken of the whole Roman Empire.’ Why did he do that – for money, perhaps to know how many citizens could be forced into being soldiers. It may have been for his power, maybe he had some form of good reason in his head. But it says ‘everyone went to his own home town to register.’ Joseph had to return to Bethlehem and Mary went with him. God moves the mind, the hand of the worlds’ most powerful ruler at the time… and Jesus is born at Bethlehem.
I feel deeply encouraged by this. It is possible that some people feel frustrated with government decisions over Corona especially at this time. It is possible they may wonder why decisions are or are not made. Maybe Joseph and Mary were less than happy as they travelled those 4-5 days and Joseph wondering whether they would make it or not… Yet God was at work. God brought an incredible good out of it. Can you imagine months, years later, Mary and Joseph talking, remembering as they held Jesus or watched him walk and talking – how that was a nightmare but didn’t it become magical? Miraculous? Out of the most unlikely circumstances God brought good and he was at work, when perhaps people wondered if he was?
Finally. ‘he was in the world and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. … Yet to all who recognized him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. – children born not of natural descent, nor of a human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.’ Jesus was a child born of God, of God’s decision as Mary was told by the angel Gabriel. Children of God are no ones through descent – I am not a child of God because my parents were – it is not purely a human decision – nor can we make someone a child of God. As Jesus will share later with Nicodemus, he talks about the role of the Spirit within a person to be born again, to make that life long commitment to trust and follow, to receive Jesus into their lives.
The God up there, became the God down here, he came to bring life, it was all promised and it is about you and me. You see Christmas is about you and me. ‘To all who received him.’ You matter. You matter so much that the God of the universe came and became flesh – as you look at the Christmas cards, that is happening because you matter. The God of the Universe became flesh to bring life – God does not hate you or want to steal, kill or destroy – he is love incarnate, love divine – as the Christmas song goes. This was a plan for centuries for all humankind. So this event is not about an interesting event. This is about something for the whole universe and for each person down through history. And this is about you – it was done for you – ‘to all who received him, he gave the right to become children of God.’
I don’t know the situations John was writing into. But I can imagine some of those Christian ancestors faced was similar to what we face. He shares, who Jesus is. As he invites them, be refreshed in who Jesus is – the God of the Universe, the One who was up there, was down there walking among us, born among us; be refreshed in who Jesus is, his parents saw new life being born, he comes to bring life to all, as he brought life to this universe and world; be refreshed in who Jesus is, it was God’s plan – yes it took time to happen, but God’s plan was worked out, in the most unlikely circumstances, even involving the apparent random decisions for a government for his purposes; and be refreshed, this is about you and me, that baby in the manger is for you and me, and as he became Joseph and Mary’s child, as we welcome Jesus into our lives, we become children of God…
Shall we pray…
in the stillness of night
you sent your almighty Word
to pierce the world’s darkness with the light of salvation:
give to the earth the peace that we long for;
Refresh us with the wonder that you were God among us;
Give us afresh the life you desire us to have;
Renew us that in all things you can work for good;
And this Christmas, we thank you for your invitation to be or to become your children…
We receive that gift…
We ask you once again, fill our hearts with the joy of heaven. Amen.