Carols by candlelight service - John 1:1-14
An audio recording of this sermon is available.
The story is told of a couple whose two sons were growing up and were living abroad. And on about the 21st December the father rang up the son who was working in New York and said: "Son, Iíve got bad news. Your mother and I are getting a divorce, and this is our last Christmas together." "Thatís terrible Dad, the son replied. Iíll come home straight away on the next available flight." Then the father rang up the other son who was working in Hong Kong: "Son, Iíve got bad news. Your mother and I are getting a divorce, and this is our last Christmas together." "Thatís terrible Dad, the son replied. Iíll come home straight away on the next available flight." Then the father put down the phone and turned to his wife and said: "Good news dear. Both boys will be home for Christmas and this time weíre not paying for the flights."
Well I wonder what Christmas means for you. Maybe you look forward to it as a time to spend with family. Perhaps those family meal times and games of monopoly are just what you love doing at this time of year. Of course for others, the time will not be so good. Perhaps it stirs unhappy memories. Maybe for some itís a time of loneliness or unhappiness, perhaps the first Christmas without a loved one. But if the statistics are to be believed, then for most people Christmas is actually a pretty stressful and expensive time. Last year, the average person in the UK spent 15 hours looking for Christmas presents, made five separate shopping trips, walked 20 miles in pursuit of them and spent two hours queuing to pay. Office workers spend up to 7 million hours of company time doing their Christmas shopping, costing businesses £72 million in the first three weeks of December. On average, each household will spend approximately £160 on food and drink, £660 on gifts, £20 on cards and postage and £75 on the tree and various decorations. Itís no surprise to discover that a majority of people in Britain find Christmas more stressful than going to the dentist, with interestingly the majority of women saying itís the most stressful time of the year. Though 70% say they still enjoy it. Work that one out if you can!
Well with all the preparation and expense that Christmas brings for many of us, is it little wonder that the Christian message at the heart of Christmas is sidelined or forgotten. With so much else going on and so many other things left for us to worry about, the Christmas story is really a bit to tack on if we have time. And if we do think about it, then the temptation is to think that itís just a nice story to warm the heart and something that Christians like remembering, but really has no relevance to the 21st century. But this evening I want to show you that the Christmas message is actually the most important message you can ever hear. You see the Bibleís claim is that actually the Christmas message is more important than the Middle East peace talks. Itís more important than finding a cure for AIDS. More important than the examinerís verdict on your exam paper. More important than the bank managerís assessment of your second mortgage application. More important than the doctorís news on your test results in the surgery. Actually, nothing could be more important than what we will hear over these next few moments from Johnís gospel. Because what is contained in these famous words read at Christmas time is the most serious and the most wonderful news in the world, and our response to it not only affects our lives in this world, but it affects our very eternal destinies. Thatís how important the Christmas story is. Now I realise that is a bold claim, so let me explain why this news is the most important in the world by showing you two things from John 1, the passage read to us a moment ago. For we discover from this passage that Christmas is about:
1) A Royal Scandal
2) A Royal Pardon
1) A Royal Scandal
So first then Christmas is about a royal scandal. Now in one sense we are quite used to royal scandals. Just this week the report by Lord Stevens on the death of Diana has sought to quash rumours of a conspiracy. Rumours abound of her assassination at the hands of the British Secret service unhappy that she was about to marry Dodi Fayed. Thatís the sort of royal scandal weíre used to. But John tells us in his gospel about a royal scandal with a difference. Now this passage from Johnís gospel is read at Carol Services around the globe. But itís probably the least well understood. You see John is talking about someone called the Word in verse 1. And we find out later in John chapter 1 that this Word is Jesus. And John is making an extraordinary claim about Jesus in the first few verses. Letís read from verse 1: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning." You see the extraordinary claim is that this Word Jesus is God himself. Jesus is actually God. The Word was God. And heís been there from the very beginning. If you like Jesus is all that needs to be said about anything because he is God himself. And John goes on. "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 men." This Jesus is the one who made all things. He is the one who gives life to all people. So John is saying that Jesus is God. Heís been there from the start and heís responsible for the creation of the universe and everything and everyone in it. He is God. But then comes the most amazing verse in the passage and that is verse 14: "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." This God who made all things, who is there right at the start of time, actually takes on human flesh and becomes a man. God became one of us in the person of Jesus Christ. That is the remarkable truth of the Christmas story. That snuggled into that rough cradle was the living God himself in the person of Jesus Christ, the Word.
I remember one time I was asked to speak at a school to a group of A Level students. And one bright spark put his hands up and asked me to show him God. Well I had to admit I was stumped there. But I said to him that he could have met God in the flesh if heíd been around at the right time. Which slightly threw him until I explained who Jesus is. But youíd expect, wouldnít you, that if God were to come to town, then surely everyone would accept him joyfully. Everyone would bow before him as the great God of the universe. But that actually is not what happened according to John. For in verse 5, John tell us that the light, that is Jesus, shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it. And again in verse 11, he says that Jesus came to his own but his own did not receive him." Darkness in Johnís gospel represents humanity in opposition to God. Itís a picture of the whole human race. You see the Bibleís understanding is that you and I were made by God for God. We human beings were designed for something more wonderful than just making money and having enough fun to last 70 odd years. We were made for something better. A relationship with God, which is the best thing we could possibly want. The trouble is we donít want it, and we prefer self rule and to be the kings of our own lives. John tells us later in his book that "people love darkness instead of light because their deeds are evil."
And if we do cry out to God, then itís very much on our terms and in our timing.
You may have heard the story of the atheist who was being chased by a big black bear. And as the bearing was getting closer he could feel the breath on his neck. Now the atheist did want to do anything to compromise his own position. So he decided to ask God, if he existed to make the bear pray. So he shouted out to God: "God if you exist and if it is possible, please put a Christian prayer into this bear's mind." Just at that moment, the atheist tripped on a log and fell and was concussed. The bear came up to him, picked him up gently in his claws. And raising him heavenward he said, "For what we are about to receive may the Lord make us truly thankful."
You see the scandal is that we treat our God and king like that man. We call on him on our terms, but the rest of the time ignore him. And actually that is deeply offensive to the God of the universe. For he loves us, he cares for us and wilful rejection of him and his standards demand that we stand before him and give account. And the uncomfortable news is that we are all guilty as charged, every one of us, no matter how good we think we are. For itís Godís standards of goodness that really matter. And his standards are 100%. But do you know the even more scandalous thing. The thing that makes this Christmas story a right royal scandal. It is that God is willing to come into our filthy mucked up world and do something about the mess we have created. The scandal is that he still loves us despite our treatment of him, that he is still willing to deal with us lovingly, when quite rightly and fairly he could wipe the human race from the earth. But he doesnít. No he comes into our world, he feels our pain, he lives our life, he experiences our hurts and sorrows. And takes on human flesh to such a degree that no-one can ever accuse him again of not knowing what this world is like. The Word became flesh. God came to earth. And that is a royal scandal.
2) A Royal Pardon
But why? Why should God go to all that trouble to come into the world he made but which we have mucked up? Why did he do it? Well that brings us secondly to a royal pardon, the second amazing fact contained in this passage. Because the truth is Christmas is about a rescue mission, a royal pardon that is offered to you and me so that we could be forgiven by God and live with him as our friend and king. Now weíve just seen that human beings have a real problem. We are rebels against our maker. We deserve not his love but actually if truth be told we deserve his condemnation. So what is the solution to that problem? Indeed is there one? Because if you have a problem it is vital to have the right solution.
For example, Quantas Airlines has a policy whereby after every flight, pilots fill out a form that tells mechanics about problems with the aircraft. The mechanics correct the problems and document their repairs on the form, and pilots review the sheets before the next flight. Here are some actual maintenance complaints submitted by Quantas' pilots and the solutions recorded by maintenance workers. P: Left inside main tire almost needs replacement. S: Almost replaced left inside main tire. P: Evidence of leak on right main landing gear. S: Evidence removed. P: Number 3 engine missing. S: Engine found on right wing after brief search. P: Aircraft handles funny. S: Aircraft warned to straighten up, fly right, and be serious. P: Mouse in cockpit. S: Cat installed. P: Noise coming from under instrument panel. Sounds like a midget pounding on something with a hammer. S: Took hammer away from midget.
You see you need to administer the right solution to solve the problem. So what is it that God does to solve this most serious of problems with the human race? Well the coming of Jesus Christ into the world is an act of extraordinary love and sacrifice. And his coming means that we can be put right with God, we can be forgiven. See what John says in verse 12: "Yet to all who received 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 a human decision, or a husbandís will, but born of God." What John is saying is that the coming of Jesus makes it possible for us to become children of God. We can be part of his family again. And how is that possible? How can God welcome us back into his arms given all that we done to him? Well what John goes on to describe in the rest of his book is that this child born in a manger grew up and willingly died on a cross. For Christmas cannot be fully understood without Easter. The manger leads to the cross. And on the cross Jesus bore the penalty you and I deserve for our wrongdoing. God himself in the person of Jesus Christ willingly paid for the crimes you and I have committed against him. It means that if we accept his rescue mission on our behalf, if we admit our wrongdoing and ask him for forgiveness, then we can go free. We will be forgiven for whatever we have done. We can receive Godís royal pardon. We can know the God who made us personally. We can begin to live life the way God intended it to be lived with him as our Lord and King. But it all depends on how you respond to the Son, Jesus, the Word of God.
Some time ago during the second world war, a famous American art collector learnt that his son had been killed in action saving the life of another soldier. The following Christmas the soldier who survived and who himself was an amateur painter, gave the old art collector a simple portrait heíd sketched of his son. It was nothing like a master piece, but it became very special to the old man in his loneliness. Not long afterwards the art collector died; and his paintings were to be auctioned, according to his will, on Christmas Day. To everyoneís surprise the auction began with a painting which no-one had ever heard of or seen. It was the painting of the art collectorís son. "Who will open with $100?" the auctioneer asked. Nothing was offered. It was suggested they move on. But the auctioneer said: "No! We must sell this painting first." Eventually a friend of the old man, not a collector, and not very rich, offered a small sum: "I knew the boy, he said, so Iíd like to have it." "Will anyone go any higher?" the auctioneer asked. There was silence. So the auctioneer said: "Going once, going twice, gone." There was a huge sigh of relief around the room as people hoped they could now get on with the real business. But the auctioneer stood up, looked at the audience and declared that the auction was over. There was stunned disbelief. "Itís very simple," said the auctioneer. "According to the will of the father, whoever takes the sonÖ.gets all."
You see the fact is our future destiny whether we are with God or apart from him in eternity depends on our response to Jesus Christ. And that is why the Christmas message is the most important message you will ever hear. Itís a message about a royal scandal, that God should come to this world we have mucked up and still be bothered with us. And he is offering each and every one of us a royal pardon. To live life his way, the right way. So I want to urge you very simply this Christmas time to think very seriously about this message. Because if our doctor gave us tough news, weíd have to listen. If our bank manager gave us a grim assessment of our finances, weíd have to listen. And when God himself speaks to us as he done this evening through his Word the Bible, then we must listen. For to ignore him is folly in the extreme. So why not get some literature from the bookstall or think about coming to one of the courses we run here which help explain more about the Christian faith. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. But for some here this evening, you might want to take the opportunity to get right with the living God today, even now. Because that is perfectly possible. He longs for us to come home to him, even today. So as we finish, Iím going to pray a simple prayer which says sorry to God for hurting him, thank you to God for his rescue through Jesus, and asking him for help to live his way.
Father God, Iím sorry that I have run my life my way and kept you at arms length. Thank you that you sent your Son, Jesus Christ into this world to die on the cross for me, so I could be a child of God. Help me to accept the forgiveness Jesus offers through his death on the cross and to live with him as my Lord.
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