John 1:1-18 carols by candlelight service

Notes from sermon preached on 18th December 2011, evening
(please note these are notes!)

The Glory of God

What do you see this Christmas?  I see houses which have been decorated.  I see people having (or getting ready to have) parties and probably getting drunk.  I see people buying presents but spending less because of the recession.  I see stress.  I see anxiety about the future of the economy.  I see Christmas trees.  I see nativity scenes – we have one at home, with Mary and Joseph, and the baby Jesus.

We get the nativity story from 2 of the gospels in the New Testament, Matthew and Luke. Both start with the birth of Jesus, and tell us about the shepherds, the kings, and the birth in a stable.  But John begins his gospel – in the passage Donna read – in an altogether different place, because he sees something we miss.

John starts “in the beginning.”  v1 is very similar to the very first verse of the Bible in Genesis: “In the beginning God.”  It doesn’t say, “In the beginning nothing.”  Or, “In the beginning a cosmic egg.”  It says, “In the beginning God,” and this is the place we should begin our lives and thinking.

Of course John says it slightly differently, “In the beginning was the Word.” The idea of “the Word” was familiar to John’s Jewish readers – the world was created through His word, and the word of the LORD came to the prophets. The idea of “the Word” was also familiar to John’s Greek readers as the mind of God.  John continues, “and the Word was with God and the Word was God.”  But then, v14, John says something that neither the Jews nor the Greek philosophical world – nor we – would expect. In fact it seems quite shocking:

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.  We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” [John 1:14]

This is the incarnation.  It literally means “in meat” or “in flesh”.  The incarnation is the doctrine that God became human flesh in the person of Jesus Christ, and it is what this passage clearly teaches.

The incarnation is difficult to understand, but it’s not just an intellectual exercise.  John had good reason for believing it, because he has seen something: “we have seen his glory”.  It’s difficult to argue against a testimony.

When the Bible speaks about God, it speaks about his majesty his splendour and his glory.

“O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens.” [Ps 8:1]

“So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory.” [Ps 63:2]

“The LORD is high above all nations, and his glory above the heavens!” [Ps 113:4]

God’s glory is his infinite worth.  Of all the things we might see and notice this Christmas, do we see his glory? John says:

“We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” [John 1:14b]

Later on in John’s gospel the disciples are chatting with Jesus and Philip says to Jesus, “Show us the Father!” Jesus replies, “Don’t you know me Philip, even after I have been with you for such a long time? |in other words, haven’t you got it yet?| Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.”

To see the glory of God, just look at Jesus.  If we want to know the Father we must look to the Son.  This meets our spiritual need.

Sometimes as Christians we say, “Jesus is God.”  I’ve said it myself.  But this can give a wrong impression.  It can suggest we are making a human being into God.  But it is of course impossible to put any man in the place of God – it’s idolatry.

There have been plenty of tyrants in history who have called themselves a god, or sons of God – and seduce millions into following them – like the Roman Emperors, or the present day Kim Jong-il of North Korea.  It’s a terrible idolatry.

But John is not saying this about Jesus.  In fact, he’s saying the opposite.  He’s not saying, “a human being has become God;” he’s saying, “the Word, who was with God, and who is God, has become a human being.”  It’s impossible for sinful man to be anything like God; but if God can do all things, this must include the possibly of him becoming a human being.

Charles Wesley, in the great carol, Hark the herald angels sing, expresses what we call “the mystery of the incarnation”:

“Veiled in flesh the godhead see

Hail incarnate deity,

Born as man with man to dwell,

Jesus, our Emmanuel.”

It’s a hymn of praise! If we see the glory of God in Christ, we will want to praise and worship as well.

I can sense something of John’s excitement as he writes, “We have seen his glory!”

The writer to the Hebrews saw it as well:

“The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.” [Hebrews 1:3]

When a bride walks down the aisle veiled, her beauty is hidden.  John tells us that this beauty of God, this glory of God, the radiance of the very being and essence of God is found when we look at Jesus Christ, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

“For God, who said, “Let his light shine out of darkness made his light to shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” [2Corinthians 4:6]

But for most people this Christmas, when they look at Jesus, they will just see a baby.  We are anxious about presents, we mustn’t overcook the turkey, these fables about Christmas don’t mean much – even if they may be true. All these things cry for our attention.  But the one thing which should really get our attention, which meets our need, we miss.  (Hopefully the fact that you are here this evening, you won’t miss it!)

“The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.” [John 1:5]

“He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognise him.” [John 1:10]

Our sinfulness and unbelief is like a veil so that we cannot understand, and we do not recognise him.

“Yet to all who receive him, to those who believe on his name, he became the right to become children of God.” [John 1:12]

This is an easy step of faith, and it has power to change us.

There is in each one of us a God-shaped hole – and either we fill it with all sorts of pleasures to try or it gets filled by default with things like anxiety, fear, resentment, jealously and things like that.  But the God shaped hole is really meant for God – for his glory, and all that goes with it, his love, how peace and his joy.

One Response to John 1:1-18 carols by candlelight service

  1. Pingback: 120119–George Hach’s journal–Thursday | George Hach's Blog

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