What, can we communicate this Christmas, of value? That Jesus is a great gift to the world! We would need to appreciate this fact ourselves first, so that we can convincingly share this with others. Part of this entails being able to tell the stories of what Jesus has done for us.
Prologue to the Gospel of John
The beginning of John’s Gospel tells how God makes himself known to the world through Jesus. We may never have seen God, but it is Jesus who makes God known. Want to know what God is like … then look to Jesus; want to introduce someone to God … then point them towards Jesus (1:18). But it is also HOW Jesus makes God known that is in view in this passage. Not from on high, through some mystical experience; but rather God is made known right here on earth; in the nitty gritty of human experience, and in the cut and thrust of life in community.
The first Sunday in Advent speaks of hope. Desmond Tutu once said, “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness”. And darkness is often what we first experience, leaving us in need of something to guide us through where we cannot see our way. For many, in the dark years of apartheid in South Africa, there was the need to search for and cling to any source of light (through which to maintain hope). And, for many, this light was seen and found in Jesus. How? Why Jesus?? Because Jesus could be found within the most difficult and challenging of circumstances.
The story is told of a man who regularly visited poverty-stricken areas of a large city to tell people about Christ. One day, as he was talking to a woman, she suddenly said, “It’s one thing for you to come and tell us about Jesus and salvation, and then go back to your comfortable home again every evening”. GOOD POINT! This woman continued, “But would you be willing to leave your nice house and neighbourhood and actually live here in some dilapidated, rat-infested shack in order to help us”? A GOOD QUESTION!! Whatever that man answered that day, and whatever he then did, we know that Jesus rose to the challenge of the state of deep human need – Jesus left the riches and splendour of heaven to come to earth and give us life in all its fullness (1:14). Jesus opened the life-gate that all may go in. Praise the Lord! (Fanny Crosby).
This is the Jesus who, with God and the Spirit, participated in creating the world at the beginning of time (1:1-3). Matthew and Luke start their Gospels with the stories about the birth of Jesus. The Gospel of John takes us back right to the very beginning! In all his glory, Jesus took on the frailty of flesh and blood, and entered the danger of a self-obsessed culture, bringing the full measure of grace and truth. Jesus had done exactly what this (questioning) woman had suggested was necessary for credibility sake, and made himself subject to everything that a negative framework could throw up to him. Jesus was tested in all ways, but his light never dimmed.
If we would ever question God’s intentions in sending Jesus, or doubt Jesus in the nature of his ministry … there is a phrase here that should grab us (and make us reach out in awe) – “From his fullness we have all received, GRACE UPON GRACE” (v.16). From the depths of God, from his great and loving character – “grace upon grace”. Not judgement, that we should hide. Not duty, that we should rigidly line-up. But “grace upon grace” that we can simply receive and enjoy.
Eugene Peterson in the message translates verse 14 as: The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighbourhood. God through Jesus entered our physical and social environment. Other modern translators, looking at the Greek text of verse 14, go with something like … the Word (i.e. Jesus) became flesh, and “took up residence”, or even, “pitched his tent” where we lived. I used to like this translation as I talked to my previous churches about the importance of pitching a marquee in the midst of community events, as a physical representation that God is more than prepared to meet people where they are. From such a marquee you would provide free children’s activities, or serve sausages, or whatever it was that added something positive and helpful to the community’s experience that day. And from such a space you can connect with people in a non-threatening and happy environment.
God is not aloof nor standoffish; quite the opposite! Ross Langmead wrote: “It is central to who God is, that he reaches out to us through becoming one of us, and demonstrating in the life of Jesus the love he wants to express”. This is God revealing himself; the will of God is profoundly understood in the person and ministry of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the window through which to observe God at work!
Jesus was a gift to all the world. Jesus brought hope, love, joy and peace. God came to humanity, so that humanity could come back to God. God entered into the depths of our life, so that we could enter into the heights of God’s life. Yet, some would oppose Jesus; some would be apathetic. But also, some would welcome him, and humbly receive him, and believe in him, and they would become the children of God – through a new spiritual birth (v.12-13). That special relationship we were designed to have with God … has been restored! Yet, what about those who rejected him, or didn’t understand him, or who were undecided about him, or didn’t get to meet him? What about those who, so to speak, remained in the darkness. The witness of Scripture is that the light (which is the life of Jesus) still shines in the darkness – that the darkness CANNOT overcome the light (1:5).
There is such hope here for the lost, and such hope here for those seeking to share Jesus with the lost. There is an assurance here that Jesus will never be defeated, silenced or forgotten. Witnesses to the life of Jesus will continue to be raised up, bringing times of great renewal in different places in various seasons.
The Fullness of Time
It was in the fullness of time that Jesus came, according to Paul in Galatians (4:4), meaning at just the right time.
Human beings had existed for many thousands of years on this planet before Christ's coming. But what's really crucial here is not the time involved; rather, it's the population of the world. The Population Reference Bureau estimates that the number of people who have ever lived on this planet is about 105 billion people. Only two percent of them were born prior to the advent of Christ. Erik Kreps of the Survey Research Centre of the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research says, "God's timing couldn't have been more perfect. Christ showed up just before the exponential explosion in the world's population."
When Christ came, the nation of Israel had already been prepared by prophets like Isaiah, yet at the same time this nation’s religion had in its various forms become rigid, compromised, perverted and/or withdrawn. Thus, there were many seekers after real truth and spiritual freedom – Jews, and also Gentiles … for the ‘gods’ of the Roman world didn’t offer any real hope either. The Roman peace (the ‘Pax Romana’) operated over the whole the Mediterranean world, so there was greater freedom of movement and pathways of trade; this was also an age of literacy and learning. The stage was very well set indeed for the advent of God's Son into the world.
What the law (the ‘Torah’) would never be able to do (as a set of instructions), a personal relationship with Jesus could achieve! God would never become fully known through ‘law’, only through a person. The life of Jesus is a description of God based on fact.
(Sources include William Lane Craig from a debate with the atheist, and now deceased, Christopher Hitchens).
The First Witness (v.6-9f)
The first witness to Jesus’ earthly ministry was John (the Baptist). What was the nature of John the Baptist’s witness (v.7)? John was going to testify to the light, so that all might believe (in God) through that light. So whatever John was going to say or do, he hoped that it would be the light of Jesus that shined out. For only Jesus could ultimately save. In all he said and did from this time on, John the Baptist would seek to prepare the way for faith in Jesus.
John the Baptist had gathered followers of his own, and one might think that he could have become even more famous in his own right pointing to himself (and perhaps also avoid an early death). But instead he chose to be a follower … a follower of Jesus, and point to him. In another Gospel, we hear John say that he is not even worthy to unfasten the sandals of the one he is pointing to (Mark 1:7), such is the difference between them – or should we say, such is the greatness of Jesus. [Yet, at the same time, Jesus said that he came not to be served, but to serve (and give his life as a ransom for many) – Mark 10:45.]
How can we witness to Jesus? >
Ø By knowing well how Jesus has made a difference in our life
Ø By listening and observing well how other people are travelling
Ø By forming intersections between the two
Ø And by sharing a journey.
This is about discovering and resolving whatever separates other people from God.
For me, Jesus gives me clarity – a knowledge of who God is and what God’s will is. This may intersect with those who are struggling to get a handle on life. I don’t have a dramatic conversion story that many of you will have; but those who do have significant stories of rescue, can probably intersect well with the life situations other people find themselves in. Of course, simple friendship and relationship building, tinged with light, can provide beautiful witness to Jesus.
Let’s look back to verse 5. How might we describe this darkness, into which the light of Jesus still shines?? How does this darkness look in everyday life???
· The absence of light
· Life divorced from God - deadness in spirit, spiritual void
· Lack of hope, absence of peace, feeling of being unloved
· Poverty, unemployment, homelessness, depression
· Oppression, enslavement, entrenched injustice
· Violence, abuse, cruelty, evil.
Yet, there is no burrow down which Jesus cannot go. This is the point of Matthew and Luke telling us about the humble circumstances of Jesus’ birth – born in a barn with the animals, born to parents with controversy hanging over their heads. Jesus is ever-present with his love. We might also say that God remains undeterred by any human disinterest. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
The Body of Christ
Now we are the Body of Christ … we are the incarnation of God in the world. We are the ones who are to live out the life of Jesus in the way he lived life in the world. C.S. Lewis tells us that what God could do himself perfectly in the twinkling of an eye, he nonetheless chooses us to do, even if it is done slowly and blunderingly. We have the responsibility, especially when things clearly aren’t right, to be representatives of the light and love of Jesus.
Everything that Jesus said and did was fruitful. Jesus lived love, compassion and grace. Jesus was a mouthpiece for truth and justice. Jesus influenced culture towards an appreciation of the kingdom of God. Jesus opened the path of forgiveness and salvation for all humanity. We can show love, compassion and grace. We can be a mouthpiece for truth and justice. We can influence culture towards an appreciation of the Kingdom of God. Our lives can point towards the good news of forgiveness and salvation. We have seen how John’s Gospel commences – later in chapter 20 we read Jesus saying (to his disciples), “As the Father has sent me, so I send you (20:21). Jesus’ human life is the epitome of what a human life lived in God’s Spirit looks like – so we imitate him (Michael Hardin, The Jesus Driven Life, p.258-9).
Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost write that the truly missional church, “disassembles itself and seeps into the cracks and crevices of a society in order to be Christ to those who don’t yet know him (The Shaping of Things To Come, p.12).
Ultimately Jesus will shine for himself in his Second Advent, but there is a good reason for us not knowing the time of this. It is because we have been given all that we need to shine for Jesus now. The crucified Jesus brings us forgiveness. The resurrected Jesus brings us a new life orientation. The Holy Spirit develops our character, fruitfulness and giftedness, allowing us to make a difference. Our sisters and brothers in the church make up for our deficiencies with their various qualities, as we become a mutually encouraging and effective body. God will guide us into the frontline of all we need to do in His name, and for His glory, and sometime in the future this will be enough.