Monday, 26 December 2016

Life, Light, Love

A Sermon based on John 1:1-14 preached on Christmas Eve at Easton Methodist Church, Portland, Dorset, on 24th December 2016.

One might look at this world and say “What a mess”.  Of course to do so might ignore the many good things around us and in our lives.  But there might be some justification in saying “What a Mess”.  Think of the news of terrorist attacks, ongoing conflicts, the inequality on the world, the homeless on our doorsteps, the way people can treat each other.

The Bible would tell us this is a result of sin, when people decide they know better than God and when they turn from God’s ways.

Billy Graham the well-known evangelist shared this in a sermon in 2006.
“Once I was walking near my home, and I looked down and saw an anthill that had just been crushed. I saw that the carefully planned home was ruined and that several ants had been killed and many injured. I wished for a moment that I were an ant. I wanted to be one of them so I could explain that I wanted to help them. But I had no way of communicating with them, so I went on my way. But when God looked down and saw the world devastated by sin, He did not go away! “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). That is what the incarnation means. God did something about our plight.”
Some will know that this year I am Chaplain to the Portland Town Mayor who has a Navel background within her family.  She has therefore had a badge made for me which tells people I am her “Sin Bosun”.  It’s another word for a Navel Chaplain.  The interesting thing about a Navel Chaplain is that whoever they talk to in the Navy they assume the same rank, coming down to the lowest rating and yet able to converse on equal terms with the Captain of a ship.   – How like that is the Incarnation?  Jesus coming to us on our terms,, relating at our level.  Yet we should not forget that he has the ear of God also as an equal member of the Trinity.

This is all encapsulated in the first verse of John 1
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 

The Word = Jesus.

Both Jews and Greeks would have understood that the Word meant something of divine power and authority – not just to do with speech but to do with action as well.

Charles Wesley put it like this in one hymn
Let earth and Heaven combine,
Angels and men agree,
To praise in songs divine
The incarnate Deity,
Our God contracted to a span,
Incomprehensibly made Man.

I wonder what you want for Christmas  What do you wish for?

A man walks into bar with an ostrich.  He sits.  Bartender asks for order.  “I’ll have a beer”.  Turns to ostrich “What’s yours?”  “I’ll have a beer too” says ostrich. (I have to say at this point that the Man and Ostrich were not good Methodists.) Bartender pours beers .  “£6.20 please”. Man reaches into pocket pulls out exact money.

Next day man and ostrich come into bar again.  Same thing.  Beer – ostrich too.  Man pulls out exact money from pocket again.
This becomes a routine until one evening quite late the two come in again.  “Usual?” says bartender.
“Well it’s close to Closing time so I’ll have a large Scotch” says the Man.     “Same for me” says the ostrich.
“That will be £7.40” says the bartender.  Once again man pulls out exact money from pocket and places on bar.

Bartender can’t hold back curiosity any longer.
“Excuse me Sir.  How do you manage to come up with the exact change out of your pocket every single time?”

“Well”, says Man “Several years ago found old lamp up in attic.  When I rubbed it a genie appeared and offered me two wishes. First wish was that if I ever have to pay for anything I just put my hand in my pocket and the right amount of money will always be there.”
“Brilliant” says Bartender.  “Most people would ask for a Million pounds or something  but you’ll always be rich for as long as you live”
“That’s right” said the man. “Whether it’s a pint of milk or a Rolls Royce the exact money is always there.

The bartender asks, “One other thing Sir….What’s with the ostrich?”
The man replies “My second wish was for a chick with long legs”.

I wonder what you want for Christmas?  What do you wish for?

Well I don’t know what you do wish for, but I’ll tell you what you can have as a result of God coming among us in Jesus as John explains in the first chapter of his gospel.

The benefits of this Incarnation -

Life v4
 In him was life, and that life was the light of all people. 

12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God – 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

John 10:10 (when Jesus is talking about being a gate for the sheep that enables protection and provides good pasture) I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

I don’t know whether you feel fulfilled.  Or whether you ache to be doing something, or involved with something that makes you feel fulfilled as a person.  As if the person you are was made for just such a thing.  Maybe that is a career, maybe some contribution to others, maybe a place to live.

This is not about money, or status, or power, but about being the person you were always meant to be.
Maybe it is a Care Worker (offering compassion and support); Teacher (who understands it is about vocation not a job); feeding the hungry on Westham Bridge; working with a charity and supporting it; seeing your skills and gifts blossom.

Jesus speaks of fulfilled life such as this.  John 14:6
Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

John 4:14 (During an encounter with a Samaritan woman at a well) 14 …whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.’

John 1:4 - In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.
Light is another benefit of the Incarnation.
The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 

The World can be dark:
Terrorist atrocities.
War and Conflict – Aleppo is not the only place.
Floods and Famines.

Our communities can have dark places:
Domestic Violence
Child Abuse
People crippled by debt
The need for Foodbanks

Our lives can be dark:
The painfulness of loss
The challenge of ill health – mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually
The scars of the past
The absence of esteem or love.

Into these dark places Jesus wants to be born – to shine light on that which is wrong, that which needs help, that which needs dealing with, to shine the way ahead.

To light what may be one small candle in the world, our communities or our lives – but that one dark candle even on its own is a powerful start.  For darkness cannot even overcome one candle.

Where is there a need for light in our world, community, lives?  Maybe we have been struggling in dark places for too long.

Choose light!
I read about a photograph on the wall of the museum of the concentration camp at Dachau is a large and moving photograph of a mother and her little girl standing in line of a gas chamber. The child, who is walking in front of her mother, does not know where she is going. The mother, who walks behind, does know, but is helpless to stop the tragedy. In her helplessness she performs the only act of love left to her. She places her hands over her child's eyes so she will at least not see the horror to come. When people come into the museum they do not whisk by this photo hurriedly. They pause. They almost feel the pain. And deep inside I think that they are all saying: "O God, don't let that be all that there is."

In ways that might be only intellectual curiosity or in ways where we acknowledge the awfulness that we can find in the world it may be we have let run through our minds Don’t let that be all that there is”

Such darkness can exist in the world and in lives!  But we can choose light!
John 3 says 19 This is the verdict: light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.

Do you remember that poster that has appeared in countless offices and many other places.
“Due to budget cuts the light at the end of the tunnel has been turned off”.

We may feel like that sometimes but the light of Jesus can never be extinguished.  The Jewish Leaders and the Roman authorities thought they could do that.  But you can’t do that to Jesus – oh you can try, and sometimes it seems such a weak light – but you can never, never totally extinguish it.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome[a] it.

Even when you bury it the light of Christ has this uncomfortable habit of bursting out of the tomb.

Another benefit if the Incarnation is
Channel 4 has a programme called “The Undateables”
It is a documentary series following people with challenging conditions who are looking for love. Sometimes people feel unlovable.  Jesus is the one who reaches out to touch, to love the undateables, the untouchables, the unlovables.

I do not know whether you feel unloved.  Maybe at this moment – or maybe for a long time.  The love that Jesus brings into our life is immense – there is nothing like it.

It is the nature of Jesus to love.  Remember the opening verse of John 1 told us of the nature of Jesus being God with us. 
1 John 4:16
God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. 

Just before that the writer of the epistle of John says

1 John 4:9
 This is how God showed his love among us: he sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.

God is full of love.  When he created the world and us within it he created out of love. He takes the first step in love.  He reaches out on love.

John 15
9 ‘As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: love each other as I have loved you.13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

In our lives we can know life, light, love in a way that is impossible without Jesus.  For he brings into our lives the touch of the divine.  It’s like he lights the blue touch paper of life.  And this is not the end of the story – for all that is promised in the birth of Jesus is found to be so in the death and resurrection of Jesus as life conquers death, light conquers darkness, love conquers evil.

In a short while many people will be opening Christmas gifts. 
I wonder what you want for Christmas?  What do you wish for?

The best gift we could ever, ever, hope for and indeed receive is the gift of life, light, love that we can receive through Jesus.  A gift that helps deal with the mess of the world and our lives and which benefits us in so many ways.  And we receive it simply, by inviting the Christ Child that was born 2000 years ago in Bethlehem to be born in our hearts and lives today.

“If our greatest need had been information, God would have sent us an educator.
If your greatest need had been technology, God would have sent us a scientist.
If our greatest need had been money, God would have sent us an economist.
If our greatest need had been pleasure, God would have sent us an entertainer.
But our greatest need was forgiveness, so God sent us a Saviour.”

John 1:1-14
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.
There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.
The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognise him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive 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 human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

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.