Grace at Christmas - A Gift, John 1:10-18, Preached at Kendalia Community Church on December 25, 2016
Illustration - Christmas gifts at the office –
Like many businesses and churches, our law firm has two trees this time of year, that have gifts-to-give on them, benefitting families that don’t have the resources for Christmas. As I always do, I take one or more of them and bless the families that don’t have anything to give themselves or their children. Unfortunately, I was busy this time of year, and late with my gift. On Thursday of the past week, the last day our firm would be open, I was getting and delivering the gift to our office. I was doing it in the hope that someone would get it to the Gonzales family in time. May it be so with the Holy Spirit’s help! It was on the trip that I heard “Noel” on the radio, the chorus of which you will hear later on... Our office manager, Mike Virga, and others do this ministry because without it, and the firm’s giving, the particular families that we select have no gifts at Christmas.
It’s that kind of giving that Christmas brings, especially for Christians.
But gifts are given whether you are a believer or not, and it doesn’t seem to make a difference whether you believe in Jesus, are a Muslim, Buddhist, or Hindu. You give gifts no matter who you pray to, even atheists are big gift givers, I believe.
So what do we Christians have to say about that, and what can we bring to the table this time of year?
Illustration 2 – Bombs in Germany
While you think about that, I think we should first say that not everyone is blessing other people this season. 2016 has been a tough year for Germany. There have been a number of bombs or terror strikes throughout the year. December is no different. On December 20, 2016 they had an incident in a Christmas market in Berlin. It came from the driver of a stolen lorry – a large moving truck - that crashed into the market, killing 12 and injuring 49. The original truck driver, a Polish gentleman, was killed. In his place was a young Muslim man with hate in his heart. ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attack, and the individual, Anis Amri, a 24 year old Tunisian, was gunned down in a shootout in Milan Italy. He said, in a video posted on Islamic State’s Amaq website that he was taking revenge on “Crusaders” bombing Muslims. Crusades, done 1,000 years ago by Christian Knights, where they killed men, women, and children in the streets of Jerusalem, so much so that the blood ran in the streets up to the Crusaders ankles. Hatred burns bright in the hearts of many in this world...
Do Christians have a light or something to bring to the world that is good, or that maybe others don’t? Do we have a gift that we bring to people in need? Can we shed light on the darkness of evil hate?
On this Christmas day, I’m here to say we do. We have Jesus Christ, the Gift from God to the whole world!
But is that enough in this fallen world? Does Jesus’ birth bring grace to all?
When you look to the Bible and read about the story of Jesus’ birth, you get words like “joy,” “peace,” “relationship,” “for all people,” the idea of Christ coming down and taking earthly form, but the words that talk about the birth of Jesus don’t talk about “grace.” Of the four “Gospels,” the only ones to talk about the birth at all are Matthew and Luke. The Gospel of Mark begins with John the Baptist and Jesus’ Baptism, and the Gospel of John – after the Prologue which talks about Jesus in what I will call “the big picture” - also begins with John the Baptist. So where do we get “Grace” from in the story of Jesus’ birth? Maybe it’s a problem I have - after all, the title of this sermon is Grace at Christmas – A Gift!
But think about “the big picture” for a moment...
The Big Picture
I think the big picture is what the apostles came to know after Jesus’ resurrection. They got some of the pieces during Jesus’ life, but not enough to make sense – to them – what He was all about. After His ascension into Heaven, they were so committed to telling about Jesus and what He had done, and living a life – as much as they could – like Jesus, that 11 of them remaining (Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus, killed himself), 10 of them were martyred – or killed – while speaking the good news. John was the only one who died of natural causes, but on an island to which he was banished!
The “big picture,” in my mind, is what you get when you look at the Triune God, know that He tried to have a relationship with humans, that something was getting in the way (we Christians, for the most part, call that “sin”), and God had to think of some way to get that relationship whole. Turns out the way to get it whole was to have a piece of God come down as a man, enter the human existence – with all its fallen-ness – suffer and ultimately die for us.
I think the big picture is what the monk Martin Luther got in the 16th century, in Germany. He was reading Romans, by Paul, when he saw – through the Holy Spirit, I think - that it was Grace that saved us, not works! He was trying to correct the Roman Catholic Church based on the Word of God (the Holy Bible). Only the Roman Catholic Church had tradition right up there with the Word of God (by the way, they still do) and that brought a heap of trouble. One of the troubles was that works were part of the salvation process. Well, Luther disagreed, based upon the Bible, but the Pope didn’t agree with Luther (or the Word of God), nor did the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V – who was 21 at the time. Though Luther didn’t know it at the time, he started the Protestant Reformation!
Though Luther had a lot of faults, one thing he got right is he saw what Paul saw – that grace saved us, not works. That is told in Romans at 1:5, where grace was received by humans by obedience or righteousness in faith. It’s said more explicitly (by Paul) at Ephesians 2:8-9:
Ephesians 2:8-9 New International Version (NIV)
8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.
But there we have it, Grace again. Maybe we can look at John, sometimes called the Fourth Gospel, and get a different view of Jesus and more on grace.
The Gospel of John’s author is actually anonymous in the text, but probably was written by John the Apostle or His community. It was written probably in Ephesus around 90-110 A.D. (it is the last written Gospel in the Bible), and actually extends the ministry of Jesus to three years (from one which the other Gospels says). Unlike the other Gospels, the Synoptic Gospels – because they generally follow the same format and generally discuss the same things – John is a theological Gospel aimed at a different function. And the incarnation, or Jesus coming to the world as a human, is the centerpiece.
You remember the beginning of John, which points to the humanness of Jesus, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God,” which is John 1:1. In Greek the Word is logos, and one of the Scriptures that make up the Scriptures for today, speaks further of it: “the Word became flesh and lived among us,” which is 1:14.
The difference is clear: we get a new and fresh look at God, because the Creator humbled Himself and became man, with some of the weakness human being have. In other words, we get a sense that Jesus went through all of the temptations you and I have, and experienced the joy and the sorrow that human beings encounter.
The Prologue is verses 1-18 of John 1, named so because it gives us a picture from which to view all that comes after in John’s good news. It starts with the same format as Genesis: “In the beginning” and talks about the relationship in God and with the created world. In the created world, it talks of human beings and the relationship that they had and now have with God, because the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory.
Interestingly, the Prologue appears in the church lectionaries (or topics) during the Christmas season. Though I have pointed out before it doesn’t contain any of the typical elements of Jesus’ birth - which are on Matthew and Luke – it focuses on the difference the life of Jesus made and makes in the world.
Now, let’s go to the Scriptures for today, part of the Prologue. It’s John 1:10-18, with a focus on 14-18.
John 1:10-18 New International Version (NIV)
10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
14 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.
15 (John testified concerning him. He cried out, saying, “This is the one I spoke about when I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’”) 16 Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and[a] is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.
John 1:18 Some manuscripts but the only Son, who
1:14 In Verse 14, here the incarnation is happening. In fact, it is commonly understood in scholarly talk as the central Scripture on the Incarnation. God the eternal is becoming the temporal, or from out of time into time! The Word becomes flesh and, most importantly, lives among people as Jesus Christ, and most decidedly, people of the Way (or Christians as they were later called). The Word comes again, as it did in verse 1, so that God is eternal and in time for us in Jesus – it is a wonder to all who hear and/or believe it. But then the end of the verse is what I want to focus on – “full of grace (steadfast love – hesed) and truth,” talks of God’s covenantal love and faithfulness that brings about the event. The Creator’s willingness to come out of love for the rebellious—the true light in our darkness—is a gift full of grace and truth.
1:16 Grace comes again in Verse 16. John and the believing community have received grace; not only that, but grace everlasting or abounding grace! It is the gift of God, through Jesus, that we are broken and yet to God we are whole when we believe in Jesus. Oh, grace upon grace! It is one of the themes of John’s Gospel that John will return to again and again by illustration.
1:17 In Verse 17, we have a comparison between the Law of Moses and grace and truth given by Jesus Christ. Not that there was anything wrong with the law, but Jesus Christ brings something new; something not seen before; something wondrous; something that is a gift from God – as denoted in verse 18! Did you know that Jesus Christ is named for the first time in John’s Gospel here! Praise be to God that Jesus Christ is His gift to human kind...
1:18 So, lest there be any doubt, Verse 18 says it plainly. No one had ever seen God. Moses was the closest one in the Old Testament, but even he could only see the back of God (to see the front would have killed him!). But now anyone can see His Glory by looking at, talking with, or walking with Jesus. That this Jesus, is a part of God, and that this comes from God. This is God’s gift to the world!
But the world has fallen because of the Garden, and the world has been fallen ever since. Each Century, each race, each continent has its own shortcomings, its own evils, its own sin... For the most part, Christians have been there and some of them made a difference for time and eternity...
One such believer was Nicholas. He was born on Patara, Lycia on the land that is now Turkey in the year 280 A.D. Not much is known about his early life, although he was born into a wealthy family and a devout Christian. His parents died when he was young, and he used his inheritance to care for the poor and sick.
As an adult, he became a priest and later the Bishop of Myra, in a city that is now Demre, Turkey. There are many legends of his generosity and his faith. One is that he helped three poor sisters. In a time where the father had to have a dowry for the husband, their father was poor and couldn’t afford to have a dowry for one, let alone three. In fact, the father thought of selling them into servitude to have some sort of life. Nicholas knew about it, and secretly went to their house at night and put a bag of money inside the door. The money was then used by the father to have a dowry for one daughter. Seeing that it worked, Nicholas went and did the same thing for the other two sisters. On the last visit, the father saw him and thanked him for his kindness.
News of the man’s kindness, miracles (that are not mentioned here), and work for the poor spread all across Europe. The legends it seems – or a part of them – were true and he was sainted by the Roman Catholic Church. He became known as the protector of children and sailors and was a gift-giver. He died on December 6, 343. But the kindness that he did and the gifts remained. In fact, the Dutch in Holland continue to celebrate the feast of St. Nicholas on December 6. In that feast, the children of the Dutch put out their shoes the night before, awake, and find the gifts that St. Nicholas, or Sinterklaas left for them.
The gift was a symbol of the gifts or kindness that St. Nicholas did, but it was because Nicholas was a Christian. The grace God did for Nicholas by sending Jesus; that Jesus came and died for him, made Nicholas love to do it for those who couldn’t help themselves...
Bring it to the Congregation
I don’t know if you know The Message. It’s not a translation per se, but a paraphrase of the Bible. It is by Eugene Peterson, an American pastor, author, and professor. John 1:16 goes like this in Pastor Peterson’s Message:
The Message – by Eugene Robertson
16 We all live off his generous bounty,
gift after gift after gift.
The question is: where are you today? Because of this gift, are you joyous? Humble? Are you praising God for sending Jesus into your life? Feeling the relationship that pours over you like a sweet fragrance? ... Or is it a struggle... Yeah, you are doing those things, kinda, but part of you is wishing someone were here with you? Or you were there with them... Maybe you are having to go to the hospital or a nursing home after this worship service? Are you tired? Glad to get the Christmas season behind you?
For some, it is the day of celebrating God and specifically Jesus, of having a relationship with the Triune God through Jesus. Of seeing, perhaps for the first time, the baby born in Bethlehem was grace; sent by God to have a relationship with you, if you only believe!
For others, it is that...but it is also a day of remorse, and we cannot forget that: remorse for loved ones who have gone to heaven during this time of year; divorces and families that were broken apart by divorces; illnesses that won’t take a break for holidays – even Christmas; or memories of low times in your lives that seem too painful to forget and the joy seems to bring it home all the more in your life.
What will we do with this gift that God has brought, and for which we are here today? For that is all here in this congregation, or somewhere in this world... And yet, the baby Christ came for all – especially the poor, weak, wounded, and downtrodden – to give hope, peace, and relationship for eternity. That is God’s grace to you...
Wherever you are, the Prince of Peace, the King of Kings, the Savoir of the World has time for you. It is God’s gift; Jesus’ gift to you. Won’t you accept it?
The Contemporary Christian song Noel, written by Chris Tomlin and others, and sung by Lauren Daigle, is a song that rings true around this time. For God in His infinite glory came down as a man, but more, as a baby. Noel means “Christmas” in French, and what could be more joyous and give us hope and peace than the Creator of us all coming to live amongst us. The Chorus goes like this:
Come and see what God has done
The story of amazing love
The light of the world
Given for us
God’s grace given through His Son Jesus Christ, the true light of the world! A Gift for Us – wherever you are - on Christmas! Let us pray...