John 1:1-5, 9-14
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 people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. 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 recognize 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.
Last night, just before going to bed, I turned off all the lights in my house except for the ones on my Christmas tree. I sat for a few minutes enjoying the glow radiating from the it, and marveling at how something so technically ordinary can be utterly transformed by the addition of a few strands of lightbulbs. As a child, each year when the tree had been decorated and was standing in our living room casting a kaleidescope of colors around itself, I wanted nothing more than to install myself as a permanent resident of the living room and sleep there every night until Christmas. No matter how much time I spent staring at the shining tree, it never seemed to be enough. I think if living inside the tree had been an option, I would have taken it! And if I’m honest with myself, I haven’t changed much since those days – I still find myself mesmerized by the play of the light on the branches, the sparkle of the ornaments and the smell of pine that seems to intensify with every moment.
This week is a part of the season of Advent, and although my own church tradition doesn’t celebrate Advent, this year I’m personally trying to set aside time each day of the season to meditate on its meaning. It’s so easy at this time of year to become wrapped up in shopping and planning and going to parties, and all too frequently we end up getting to Christmas Day without ever having really thought about the significance of this holiday season to our faith. (Discussing with friends how much it bothers you that people don’t say “Merry Christmas” anymore doesn’t count!) Advent reminds us to stop and look back to the past, and rejoice in the way God brought about the miracle of the Incarnation we celebrate on Christmas Day.
The coming of Jesus was an event so wondrous that the angels burst out of the heavenly realms to proclaim it. But in their words of joyous praise, those angels weren’t just celebrating that one event. They were extolling the incredible glory of God, who had spent all of human history orchestrating everything that led up to that single culminating moment. When we look backward to the time before Christ, to the Old Testament and the dark days of Israel’s unfaithfulness, what we usually focus on is the sadness and the lostness of humanity – the lasting image in our minds is of the traitorous Israelites languishing in captivity, still waiting for a savior. But during Advent we should be encouraged to look at the epic story of the Old Testament and stand in awe at the way our great God, the author of all history, wove together the events to produce the perfect time and place for the coming of the Messiah.
If you’ve never thought about it before, consider this: although we may never be able to understand it with our finite minds, God intentionally chose that time and that place for His son to be brought into the world. Every story and world event before the birth of Christ was designed to lead up to it; every story afterward has been affected by it. Our dating system of BC-AD isn’t just some arbitrary choice on the part of historians; it marks the crisis point of God’s whole plan for us.
The first chapter of the book of John is one of the most beautiful passages in the Bible; in it, John reflects poetically on the nature of God, the person of Jesus and the glory of the incarnation. The coming of Jesus into the world was the coming of the Word, the coming of the Light – it was the coming of God to earth. More permanent and far, far more brilliant than any strand of lights on a Christmas tree, the Light of the World came at exactly the right point in history, so that we could see His glory and be eternally changed.
But then the right time came. God sent his Son. A woman gave birth to him. He was born under the authority of the law. He came to set free those who were under the law. He wanted us to be adopted as children with all the rights children have. Because you are his children, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts. He is the Holy Spirit. By his power we call God “Abba.” Abba means Father. So you aren’t slaves any longer. You are God’s children. Because you are his children, he gives you what he promised to give his people.