CHRISTMAS - "The Triumphant Light"
November 13, 2009
Text: John 1:1-5
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
The Christian purpose of the Advent season is to focus our attention on the great reality described in verses 1 and 14. At the end of verse 1 John says, "The Word was God." And at the beginning of verse 14 he says, "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us." Everything we are and believe as Christians depends upon this: That Jesus Christ is God and Jesus Christ is man. Fully God, fully human. Everything depends on this. So even though Christmas as a Christian festival may not be taught in the Bible, the Christian meaning given to Christmas is the very foundation of the Bible.
And the goal of the Bible and the goal of God in becoming human and the goal of this Gospel of John are all the same. John 20:31, "These things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name." So if my message is going to be faithful to John's purpose in this gospel my goal must be to help you believe in the Son of God and have eternal life. That is the direction you should pray for me.
Our text today is with verses 1-5 and I think I can make the point of these verses clearest by treating them in reverse order. Here's what I see. In verse 5 John says, "The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it." (Some translations say "have not understood it." But the one other place John uses this Greek word, not counting 8:3,4, is in John 12:35 which says, "Walk while you have the light, lest the darkness overtake you.") This is what I would call the "invincibility of light" .It is not overcome. So you could label verse 5: "Light is triumphant over darkness."
But why is this the case? Why does darkness not overcome the light? How can we be sure that light will go on and completely overcome the darkness? This is what verses 1-4 are written to answer. They give three reasons why the light will triumph over the darkness. So let's focus for a moment on the conflict of light and dark in verse 5 and then look at the three reasons in verses 1-4 why light will win.
When John says in verse 5 that "the Light shines in the darkness," he means that the Word has become flesh. Jesus has come into a dark world and is the light of the world. In John 8:12 Jesus says, "I am the light of the world." Then here in verse 9 it says, "The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not. He came to his own home, and his own people received him not." So it's plain that Jesus is the one spoken of. He is the light in verse 5. He is the one who shines in the darkness.
The darkness is the world of evil and unbelief and death and judgment. John 3:19 says, "This is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil." So darkness is the power of evil and unbelief.
So what verse 5 is saying is that Jesus Christ, the light of the world has entered into the darkness of evil and unbelief and lustiness and death, and this darkness does not overcome Jesus. Now that makes a tremendous difference to those of us who believe in Jesus. In John 12:46 Jesus says, "I have come as light into the world that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness." So believers have passed from darkness to light. John 12:36 says, "While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of the light." When you believe in Jesus not only do you leave the darkness and enter the light; you actually join the family of the light - you become children of the light. Paul said, "Once you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of light" (Ephesians 5:8).
So it makes a tremendous difference to us if the light triumphs, or the darkness overcomes it. And that's what verse 5 makes clear: "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it." The light will triumph and that means Jesus will triumph and all those who believe in him, the children of the light, will triumph. We need to hear this today in the world, because darkness is gaining ground on numerous fronts in our countries.
More and more often we read stories or listen or watch the news, that ten years ago would have been unthinkable. Two weeks ago TIME magazine reported that a pair of lesbians, Ruth Frost and Phyllis Zillhart (ministers who were trained at Luther Northwestern Seminary in the Twin Cities- USA) were called as co-assistant pastors of St. Francis Lutheran Church in San Francisco. Michael Hiller, another pastor at the church said, "This is not an issue of morals . . . it's an issue of justice." This week in Ireland another pair of lesbians and gay couple were shown celebrating their legality as wedded couples and another gay couple a notable singer Sir Elton John publicised his wedding to another man - a vile publicity of Sodom-ism.
Study such sentences carefully. They embody the spirit of our age. When justice is divorced from morality, when rights of individuals are separated from right and wrong, the only definition you have left for justice is the right for every individual to do as he or she pleases. And the end of that road is anarchy and barbarism.
We are moving fast in that direction as a culture. But I will stake my life on the truth of John 1:5. The light shines in the darkness - Jesus shines, the gospel shines, the church shines - and the darkness will not overcome it. How can we be sure?
John gives three reasons. First, consider verse 4: "In him was life, and the life was the light of men." This means that the light that shines in the darkness is the light of LIFE (John 8:12). The life of the Son IS the light of the world. The first reason the light will triumph over the darkness is that it is life. It is living light. What does that mean?
Well, if the Life of the Son of God IS the light that shines in the darkness (which is what verse 4 says) then there are at least four things we can say about this light.
First, the light of life has energy and power because the life of the Son has energy and power.
Second, the light of life has purpose and motion. It is not static like a lamppost or a lighthouse on the shore. It plans and moves. It shines now here now there. It is alive with the life of the Son.
Third, the light of life grows and expands. That is the way the Life of the Son of God is. His life is a fountain of life (Psalm 36:9). Once the rays start coming out of this light they extend farther and farther and farther.
Fourth, the Light of life begets offspring. John 12:36, "Believe in the light, that you may become sons of the light."
So the first reason the light shines in the darkness and the darkness does not overcome it is that this light is living - it has energy and purposefulness and growth and reproduction. It is not a static thing like a stop light that might be ignored. The light that shines in the world today is the very life of the Son of God.
To which someone might say, "So what? Maybe the powers of darkness are just as strong as his life?" That leads us to the second reason we can be sure the darkness will not overcome the light.
It's given in verse 3: "All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made." Now the "him" in this verse is the same him as in verse 4: "In him was life and the life was the light of men." So the point is this: the energetic, purposeful, growing reproductive life that shines in the darkness is the life of none other than the One through whom all things were made. The life that shines in the light is the life of the Creator.
So we know that the powers of darkness are not as strong as this life because this life created the powers of darkness. "Without him was not anything made that was made." And no created thing is more powerful than its creator.
And the powers of darkness know this, because when Jesus came to the Gadarene demoniacs in Matthew 8:29 they cried out, "What have you to do with us, O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?" "Before the time!" They know a TIME is set for their destruction and for their everlasting consignment to hell. (See Luke 22:53.) They know the light will triumph.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it, first, because the light is the light of energetic, purposeful, growing, reproducing life, and, second, because that life is the life through Whom everything was made - including the angelic powers that fell into darkness.
That leaves one last reason for why we can be sure that the light will not be overcome by the darkness. Not only is the light a living light, and not only is the life of this light the life of God's Word through whom He created all things, but this Word, this life, this light, IS GOD! And God Almighty cannot be overcome.
Verse 1: "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God." "The Word was with God" means that they are distinct Persons and can fellowship with one another. But "the Word was God" means that they are one God, not two. We hold fast to the Biblical mystery: God the Father and God the Son have such a unity that they are one God not two, and such a distinction that they are two Persons not one.
The practical point is this: the light cannot be overcome by the darkness because 1) the light is alive - it's the light of life; and 2) through this life - this living Word - all things were made; and 3) this living Word IS God.
* In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.
* All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.
* In him was life, and that life was the light of men.
** The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
So be of good cheer. (John 16:33). Christ has overcome the world of darkness. (John 12:36). "Believe in the light that you may become sons of the light" So, take the offensive this season. Raid the darkness. It cannot overcome the children of light.
The greatest story of the universe became a love story.
"And they went with haste, and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in the manger" (Luke 2:15).
Christmas is a time for peace and quiet -- a time for quiet assurance, quiet trust. That sounds good. After all, the world is filled with noise and confusion and uncertainty. It's about time we took a break from all the turmoil and trouble. It's about time we demonstrated some quiet assurance that things aren't really as bad off as the screaming newspaper headlines and the late night TV news would have us believe.
John 1:14: "And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us ... and they went in haste and found the Babe lying in the manger." It's Christmas! May the peace of Christ be yours on this day! The Biblical word for peace is "wholeness." Shalom! There is a kind of peace we can achieve by staying out of conflicts or by deceiving ourselves about world conditions and our own personal condition. Such a peace is an achievement. The peace of Christ is a gift. Such a peace is precarious. The peace of Christ is everlastingly triumphant. Such a peace is the peace of a fragmented person who has separated himself or herself from the unpleasant. The peace of Christ is the peace of the whole person, the together person, the person who is reconciled to God, to himself or herself, and to the world.
Peace-loving Christians seek not the Kingdom of their own security but the Kingdom of God. Their quiet assurance is not in their own rightness but in God's faithfulness. Not my positions and programmes but God's sure promise is the basis of my confidence -- if the peace of Christ reigns in my heart.
For the peace-loving Christian, all in life is conformed to the rule of God. It is often good that we have strong opinions and engage in urgent actions, but in all of this we must be possessed by only one intense desire: to seek the rule of God in all things. Everything is submitted to Him for final arbitration and, in His time, His judgments will be made clear.
Jesus was born into the world not to be used one day each year as an escape from reality. Jesus was born into the world to give us the quiet assurance we need to set our sights on the Kingdom of Love -- every day of our lives. Live with a life of faith, hope, light, respect and Love. Story time at Christmas.
In a book called "The Rabbi's Gift" (by Scott Peck), there is the story of a once great monastery that had fallen on hard times. Once it had been filled to capacity with hundreds of dedicated monks. But, for various reasons, the monastery's population had dwindled to the extent that only the abbot and four monks remained. And all five were in their seventies. Clearly, it looked like a great order would soon no longer exist. In the woods nearby, there was a small hut which a wise old rabbi used as a hermitage. The abbot decided to visit the rabbi to see what advice he could offer that might restore the monastery to its former glory. After the rabbi had listened to the abbot's presentation, he said, "I know how it is. The spirit has gone out of the people. Almost no one comes to the synagogue any more." After much conversation, the abbot prepared to leave. "It has been wonderful being with you," he said, "but I have failed in my purpose for coming. Have you no piece of advice that might save the monastery?" "No, I am sorry," the rabbi said. "I have no advice to give. The only thing I can tell you is that the Messiah is one of you." When the abbot returned to the monastery and told the others what the rabbi had said, they were filled with wonder: "The Messiah is one of us? One of us, here, at the monastery? Do you suppose he meant the abbot? Of course -- it must be the abbot, the one who has been our leader for so long. On the other hand, he might have meant Brother Thomas, who certainly is a holy man. Certainly he could not have meant Brother Elrod, who is so crotchety, but then Elrod is virtually always right, often very right. Surely he could not have meant Brother Philip -- he's too passive. Then, magically, he's always there when you need him. Of course he didn't mean me -- yet supposing he did? O God, not me!"
With their thoughts concentrated in this way on what the rabbi had said, they began to treat each other with greater and greater respect. After all, any one of them might be the Messiah! And when the townspeople, as was their custom, walked along the ancient monastery paths or picnicked on the edge of the woods, they began to sense a whole new spirit permeating the area. They could literally feel the aura of extraordinary respect with which the five monks treated one another. Consequently, the people began to come more frequently! They began bringing friends. And their friends brought others. Young men from the town began to talk more and more with the old monks. And soon many of the young men began to enrol in the order as novices. And within a few years, the monastery had once again come alive as a community of faith and light and hope and love for all to see.
On this Christmas day, when there is so much division in the world, this is a wonderful little story to think about and let us live our lives with faith, hope, light, respect and love for all to see.
At the first Christmas, in a little town just down the hill from Jerusalem, God became man. The very center of all that is, all that was, and all that will be, became one with human history, with your history and mine. At the first Christmas, the great story of the universe became a Love Story.
On this Christmas Day, may that same Love Story fill our hearts with peace and joy. And when the day is over and you're ready for bed, you can rest assured that the Love Story has a happy ending. You can rest assured that God keeps His promises!
May the Love and Peace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the true light, abide with you and your family this season and all throughout the coming year. Let there be Joy to the world! Have a blessed Christmas - AMEN