Collect for Christmass II
ALMIGHTY God, who in the birth of thy Son hast poured upon us the new light of thine incarnate Word
and revealed to us the fullness of thy love: help us so to walk in his light and dwell in his love
that we may know the fullness of his joy; who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Old Testament lesson:
Jeremiah 31, Vv 7 – 14
Ephesians 1, Vv 3 – 14
St John 1, Vv 1 – 18
Today’s Holy Gospel comprised, as you have just heard, some verses written by Saint John. They are often referred to as the Johannine Prologue. We have previously heard them read twice in recent days: they concluded our Festival of Lessons and Carols and they were proclaimed as the Holy Gospel on Christmass Day. Since they encapsulate the whole theology of the Incarnation in a very precise and succinct way and because they seem to crop up with such regularity at this time of the year perhaps we should spend a few minutes looking at their significance.
The evangelist, in his prologue, lays down the great truth that he sets out to prove in the remainder of his gospel – that Jesus Christ is God and he is one with the Father. Referring to Jesus as ‘The Word’ is uniquely peculiar to John’s writings. We meet this again in the first verse of his first epistle, ‘That which was from the beginning, that which we have heard, that which we have seen with our eyes, and which we beheld, and our hands handled, concerning the Word of life.’ And again in Revelation (C9: v13) where we may read, ‘He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God.’ The Word’s existence was in the beginning: ‘In the beginning was the Word.’ This puts the Word’s existence, not only before his Incarnation, but also before all time. The beginning of time, which, of course, coincided with the beginning of space, and was the Creation, found this eternal Word already in existence. It is interesting to consider that Saint John began his prologue with the exact same words that began the Book called Genesis, ‘In the beginning….’ John tells us that the world was from the beginning, but the Word was in the beginning. The Word co-existed with the Father: ‘The Word was with God, and the Word was God’, and this point is amplified – ‘The same was in the beginning with God.’ Saint John wants us to be in no doubt about the theology of his gospel. He then tells us, ‘All things were made by him,’ and he stresses this by adding, ‘and without him was not anything made that was made.’ From the highest angel, through the noblest of men to the lowliest single cell organism, the Word made them all. In all that work God the Father did nothing without him. This proves that he is God, for, as we know, he that built all things was God. We are then told, ‘In Him was life; and the life was the Light of men.’ The whole purpose of The Word’s work was to create human life, which life emanated from God himself. We are made in God’s image. The making of everything else, such as the animals and birds and mountains and rivers, was all for our benefit. We are made like God. We are to be his companions, not just his servants, but by our own voluntary choice. We are to be an integral part of his kingdom. John stresses, as he has done previously, the importance of this statement, for he adds, ‘And the Light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.’ Thus, before God created man with his light of life, there was only darkness and loneliness. As soon as the darkness saw the light of man, it had to submit. The darkness was not able to snuff out the light of man’s life.
Saint John then appears to break into his theology of the Word by introducing John the Baptist. He says, ‘There was a man sent from God whose name was John. The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe.’ God sent a man, a forerunner, as he had many times in the past. This man’s job was to prepare all for the arrival of the Light of the Word in human form. John the Baptist had a very important preparatory task to warn the people so that they would be able to believe in Jesus and not be caught completely unawares. But John, ‘was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light.’ Here it is made very clear that although John the Baptist was to have an extremely important preparatory rôle, he was not to be confused with Jesus, the Light. The Word takes nothing for granted. The Word realises that John would have a very loyal following and would be greatly admired and be looked up to. There was a possibility that John’s followers might think that he was the prophesied Messiah. So again Saint John amplifies the point – he further differentiates, ‘That was the True Light, which lighteth every man, that cometh into the world.’
Having given us the climax John reintroduces us to the Baptist. He has the Baptist emphasise the timelessness of Jesus, his second cousin. ‘John bare witness of him, and cried, saying, This was he of whom I spake, He that cometh after me is preferred before me: because he was before me. And of his fullness have all we received, and grace for grace.’ The expression again clearly shows that Jesus had existence before he appeared on earth as man. All fullness dwells in him. From him alone fallen sinners shall receive by faith all that renders them wise, strong, holy, useful and happy. Then John reminds his readers that, ‘the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.’ Finally, in this prologue to this wonderful gospel, he says, ‘No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.’ The Law of God is holy, just, and good; and we must make the proper use of it. But we cannot derive pardon, righteousness or strength merely from the Law. No. Mercy comes from God to sinners only through Jesus Christ. No man can come to the Father but by him. No man can know God, except as he is made known in his only begotten and beloved Son.
All of our Christian thinking throughout this Christmass season about the Incarnation of Jesus is encapsulated in these early verses from Saint John. Their language might seem strange in a world that sees this season more usually associated with shopping expeditions and domestic frippery yet within these few verses lay our past, our present and our future as children of God. We are all made children of God by the wonders of Christ’s Incarnation and that is something we must continue to celebrate.