Second Sunday in Christmas: Jn. 1:10-18
We were made for light. We were made to feel the warmth of light, to see the colors of light, and light is essential for life, quite literally. But just as man does not live by bread alone, so too man does not live by physical light alone. Darkness is not merely physical: it is also emotional, spiritual, rational, even social and political.
The Text: We break into the middle of John’s opening salvo against the darkness of unbelief and doubt and depression where John says that “He” was in the world and the world was made through Him (1:10). This “He” is the “true Light” from the previous two verses (1:8-9), and that “Light” was the “Life of men” (1:4), and that Life was the Word that was from the beginning as God and with God and the Creator of all things (1:1-3). Here, John repeats the same idea: He was in the world and the world was made by Him (1:10), and the astonishing thing is that the world did not recognize Him (1:10). John refers to three reasons why people ought to know Him and recognize Him: First, He is there by virtue of creation (1:10). Second, He has come to His own throughout history (1:11). Finally, and most significantly, He has come in the flesh of Jesus of Nazareth (1:14). Nevertheless, the world has not known Him (1:10). The world has not received Him (1:11). This is because you have to be one of God’s children in order to know Him (1:12-13). And this cannot be achieved through ordinary human blood or flesh or will power, but can only be accomplished by God Himself (1:13). And this is what Christmas is all about: God causing the Word to become flesh and to dwell with us, to display the glory of God, the Light of God on us and for us (1:14). Unless God gives us the power, we cannot see His glory. This is what John the Baptist came talking about (1:15), and this is what John the Evangelist is writing about (1:16). The law of Moses was the dawn, but now that Jesus has come the glory is inescapable – now His Light hits you square in the face (1:17-18).
What John refers to here goes all the way back to the beginning of time. God said, Let there be light, and there was light. The fact that the universe exists at all is a constant standing testimony to the existence of God and to the goodness of God. Despite the heavy guns aimed at Christians and all manner of common sense, the world continues to display the glory and order and coherence of its Designer. All true scientific endeavors presuppose predictability, order, utility, and not least of all truth but none of those qualities have any meaning in a truly accidental universe. “The heavens declare the glory of God… there is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard” (Ps. 19:1-3). “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world his invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse…” (Rom. 1:18-20). Go to the ant, count the stars, search the seas, feel the wind in your face – the glory of God is all around you. And it is the glory of God to conceal matters, and it is the glory of kings to search them out (Pr. 25:2). While we do well to hold our discoveries with humility, the same humility should drive us deeper into the glory.
In addition to this natural revelation, there is a deep and rich history of God’s dealings with this world. The inspired version is the Bible, the authoritative record of God’s Word to humans. But the Bible also points us outside of itself to the empires of men, to the stories of love and loss, to the betrayals, to the battles, to the epics, to the victories, to songs and games and feasts. The Torah, the specific law of Israel, was one of the chief signs that God was with them and for them in a unique way. But this law was not only for them; it was for them to be a light to the nations. “Therefore be careful to observe them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes, and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ For what great nation is there that has God so near to it, as the Lord our God is to us, for whatever reason we may call upon Him? And what great nation is there that has such statutes and righteous judgments as are in all this law which I set before you this day?” (Dt. 4:6-8) We should therefore not be surprised that despite the great failures of Israel, some of this light did spread to the nations of the world. And at the same time, this true light revealed the true darkness of man that even though he may have the truth right in front of him, there is still something standing between him and His Maker, and all men are in this predicament (Rom. 3:19-31, cf. Rom. 7).
But what’s glorious is that the same Word that made the heavens and the earth, the same Word that thundered from Sinai, that same Word has become flesh and dwelt among us. And John says that the glory of the Word made flesh is His grace and truth (Jn. 1:14). This is not a throwaway comment since he immediately explains that this means we have received “grace for grace” or “grace on top of grace” (Jn. 1:16). Christ comes on top of Moses, the grace and truth of Jesus fulfills and completely overwhelms the grace and truth of the law (Jn. 1:17). And this is because Jesus isn’t a reflection of God’s Light; He is God’s Light. If Moses and Creation and History function as the moons of God’s Light, Jesus is the Sun. Given this opening salvo, it’s a little surprising that John doesn’t use the word “grace” again in the rest of his gospel, but “truth” is a recurring theme throughout (3:17, 8:32, 14:6, 15:26, 17:17, 18:37). Piecing this together, we find that Jesus is God’s true Word about our sin and His true Word about His grace – the glory of the Father, full of grace and truth.
This Advent & Christmas, our theme has been watchfulness, vigilance, pursuing the Light of God so that we might be the Light of God in this dark world. Here, John calls us to boldness in searching creation, searching the Scriptures, and seeking Jesus and telling all of the truth about God, our sin, and His grace in Jesus Christ. This is what it means to be a “son of God,” but this is only possible by believing in His name (1:12). This is how God gives ordinary human beings the power to see His glory despite the darkness of this world.