(Jeremiah 31:7-14, Psalm 147:12-20, Ephesians 1:3-14)
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. 15 (John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’”) 16 From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.
Thinking back on our schooling days, we’ve all had subjects that were more difficult to understand than others. No matter how much time we spent reading and mulling over the assigned material, our brains struggled to make sense of it all. Some subjects are linear, going from point A to point B to point C to point D and so on. Math is a very linear subject: A + B = C. Very straightforward, black and white. Other subjects are less linear, more sensory. We feel the “correct” answer. We intuit the “correct” answer. Art is a very non-linear subject. The “correct” piece of art is often something that is felt and intuited. How about gym class? Not a very linear subject. There isn’t a certain exercise that is the “correct” exercise. Everyone is different and exercises affect each of us differently. Again, not a very linear subject. Some of us excel at the linear subjects, some of us at the non-linear subjects. Why do some of us understand one subject better than another? We’ve all been asked to learn or experience a subject that didn’t come easy to us. We forced our brains and bodies to do something that we didn’t like doing and we likely eventually learned what we were supposed to learn.
For many of us, the book of John is one of those books in the Bible that we struggle to understand. Right from the start, we encounter writing that is unlike any other style of writing in the Bible. John proclaims, “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 came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.” Is John trying to be ambiguous? What is the Word and how can it be at the beginning, with God, and be God? How is it possible that all things came into being through him? Is John referring to God as the “him?” Is John referring to Jesus as the “him?” But wait, isn’t Jesus just another part of God? John uses language that deliberately raises questions rather than provides answers. This is because John is less concerned with giving an account of Jesus’ life in terms of where he went, who he spoke to, why he did what he did, and what he did. The other 3 gospels do a good job describing who Jesus was as a man, existing in time and space as we exist. John is more concerned with giving an account of Jesus’ life in terms of who he was as the Son of God, existing outside of time and space. Like art or gym class, John’s account is less of a linear account of going from point A to point B to point C and more of an intuited account. John wants us to feel and know Jesus in a way unlike the other 3 gospel writers. John wants us to have an alternate understanding of who Jesus was and effectively uses language to convey this understanding. Like those pesky subjects in school, John’s account of who Jesus was is a little more difficult to understand than the accounts of the other 3 writers.
To help us understand who Jesus is according to John, we’ve been given the witness of Jeremiah, David, and Paul as a prelude. In our reading from Jeremiah, we hear how God gathers up His scattered and broken people and restores them. Jeremiah spoke for God saying, “With weeping they shall come, and with consolations I will lead them back, I will let them walk by brooks of water, in a straight path in which they shall not stumble.” God didn’t forget His scattered people. God didn’t let their suffering continue endlessly. God restored a broken relationship with His people and gave them new life. As Jeremiah proclaims, “they shall be radiant over the goodness of the Lord, over the grain, the wine, and the oil, and over the young of the flock and the herd; their life shall become like a watered garden, and they shall never languish again.” Through the voice of the prophet, Jeremiah, God was portrayed as a loving Lord who was eager to lift His people up and restore their fortunes. David lifted praise of thanksgiving up to the same caring and loving God that Jeremiah spoke of. David sings, “For he strengthens the bars of your gates; he blesses your children within you. He grants peace within your borders; he fills you with the finest of wheat.” Again, we hear of a gracious and generous God who wants nothing but the best for His people. God wants His people to know peace and riches. God wants His people to know His love. Jeremiah proclaimed it and David praised God for it.
The apostle Paul wrote to his congregation at Ephesus reminding them of how blessed they were for having received the love of God that Jeremiah proclaimed of and David praised God for. The Ephesians received the love of God through the Son, Jesus Christ…WE receive the love of God through Jesus! Paul encouraged the Ephesians saying, “In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory.” We, like the Ephesians, are to lift up praise and thanksgiving to God for the gracious gift of the Son. We are to sing out as David sang out! There is no greater gift of love than the Son!
But the Son comes to us as both man and God. Understanding how God and man can exist in one being is not easy. Unfortunately, such an understanding is a little more complex than A + B = C. Understanding Jesus as God and man is an intuited understanding that requires faith. Jeremiah, David, and Paul spoke of how God gathered His people and blessed them. Isn’t this what Jesus does? Doesn’t Jesus gather God’s people and bless them? Yes! John writes, “But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.” Jesus blesses those who believe in him with an inheritance of the kingdom of God. By believing in Jesus, we become children of God and inherit all that the Father has to offer. Jesus embodies the love of God that Jeremiah, David, and Paul spoke of. Jesus IS the love of God! And understanding love is, well, a little more complex than A + B = C. Love is an intuited understanding, a felt understanding. Love is most certainly NOT a linear subject!! For whatever reason, some of us are better understanding it than others.
You see, in his somewhat distinctive language, John tried not only to give an understanding of who Jesus was as the Son of God, outside of time and space but also an understanding of what love is. He writes, “What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.” Jesus is more than a light that shines on our sin and darkness. Jesus doesn’t simply want us to be aware of our sin and darkness. Jesus wants us to cling to his light. Jesus wants us to be nourished by his light. Jesus wants us to leave our sin and darkness and live in his light. Jesus’ light is a light of life and a light of love. His light is unlike any other light because it is a loving light. It feeds and sustains, frees and directs.
In my reflections this week, I came across the story by Paul Aiello Jr. of a ship out at sea. The captain of the ship looked into the dark night and saw faint lights in the distance. Fearing a collision, he immediately told his signalman to send out a message stating, “Alter your course 10 degrees south.” The lights promptly returned a message, “Alter your course 10 degrees north.” The captain was angered that he was being asked to veer off course to avoid collision. He sent a second message: “Alter your course 10 degrees south—I am the captain!” Soon another message was received: “Alter your course 10 degrees north—I am seaman third class Jones.” Immediately the captain sent a third message, knowing the fear it would evoke: “Alter your course 10 degrees south—I am a battleship.” Then the reply came, “Alter your course 10 degrees north—I am a lighthouse.” How often do we find ourselves barreling through life, demanding everything gets out of our way? There are a lot of lights out there telling us what to do and there is a temptation to barrel through them. But learn from the story and realize there is invariably a lighthouse out there whose sole purpose is to keep us from running aground. It is stationary and protected on solid ground. We’re the ones at risk on the seas. The lighthouse is a light of love, trying to protect us. Jesus can be this lighthouse in our lives.
In a couple days, we will celebrate Epiphany as the wise men arrive with their gifts for Jesus. They were drawn and guided by the light of the star in the sky. The star reflected the light that lay below in a manger—the light of little baby Jesus. Jesus is the true light that we celebrate this time of the year as we await the slow return of sunlight to lengthen our days. Jesus is the love of God that Jeremiah and David spoke of and of which Jesus reminded the Ephesians. Let us rejoice and be glad in God’s light of love, the light of life.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.