John 1:1-18 Christmas Day
When I find it particularly difficult to come up with sermon material (which often happens around Christmas), I start googling random questions that come to me while I am studying the text. Sometimes these questions are relevant, sometimes just barely relevant. This year I wanted to refresh my memory on how we came up with the date of Dec. 25th for the birth of Jesus. It’s not in the Bible. The Bible doesn’t even say what season of the year it is when Jesus is born. A lot of people think December 25th was chosen as it coincided with a pagan holiday and the relatively new Christian faith was trying to supplant the pagan faiths. However, there is no proof that December 25th was chosen for this reason. It’s just an educated guess from what I can see.
I found one fascinating article while I was doing my searching. It was a description of Christmas in a newspaper out of India. Only about 2% of the population of India is Christian. They are probably as familiar with Christmas as we are with the major Hindu holiday—Diwali. I don’t want to criticize their depiction, but I want to share it, because I found it really interesting. The article said, “Many believe this day to be the truth of spiritual life. They believe that before the birth of Jesus the world was full of hatred, greed, and hypocrisy; however the birth of Jesus eradicated all the evil things and prevailed happiness in the world.” 
Wouldn’t that be nice—if Jesus eradicated all the evil things and happiness prevailed? Yet we know that’s impossible. His birth could have not accomplished that—because he was crucified and that would not have happened if all the evil things had been eradicated. So when was all evil eradicated? Was it when he was killed? Resurrected? As Christians, we say that Jesus conquered death through his resurrection which has given us all the path to eternal life. Yet even the miracle of the resurrection didn’t rid the world of all evil. In fact, the average observer would have probably said that absolutely nothing changed after Jesus was resurrected. Most people living in the time of Jesus didn’t even know that he was resurrected. So what was the point of it all?
“What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” John uses a great deal of light and darkness imagery in his Gospel. As you can see from this passage the light represents both life and Jesus Christ. There are many theories about what darkness is and in this passage it is not clear. It could be evil. It could be death. It could be anything that separates us from the love of God. For me darkness often represents hopelessness.
What I find interesting here is that John doesn’t say that the light defeated the darkness or eradicated the darkness. It simply says, “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness didn’t overcome it.” Jesus didn’t eradicate all the evil from the world. I wish he did. It would make our lives a lot easier. And frankly, if I had it my way, that’s the way it would have happened. Jesus would have been born in a manger, died on the cross, resurrected and then defeated darkness once and for all. But that is not what happened. What John tells us is that darkness didn’t win. That’s great. I am glad that darkness didn’t win, but sometimes I wish we could have had a little more progress than just not losing.
What happened? Why didn’t Christ’s birth, death and resurrection eradicate all evil? One explanation John provided, is that not everyone accepted him. So we could just blame the people who don’t believe in Jesus for all the evil in the world. And Christians have done that on more than a few occasions. But I also have to admit that even as someone who has accepted Jesus, I haven’t always done my part in shining light in the darkness. Sometimes, Christians can even contribute to the darkness.
“But to all how received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born not of blood or the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.” Most Christians love the Christmas story, of a baby born in a stable, surrounded by animals, shepherds and angels. It’s a sweet scene that reminds us of the humble origins of the savior of the world. The Gospel of John doesn’t share the story of Jesus’ birth. There is no baby Jesus wrapped in swaddling cloth. Instead John focuses on the light and how that light enabled us to become children of God, how we have become children of the light. And it’s not our effort that brings light into the world, it’s God’s power and glory, and even humility.
Jesus’ birth didn’t eradicate evil from this world, but it brought a new and powerful light into the world. It isn’t a light that eliminates all darkness, but it holds it back. It gives us a path of light that we didn’t have before. That doesn’t make for an easy life for any of us, but it can be a glorious one.
I don’t like that there is still evil in this world. I don’t like that I am not 100% good. I don’t even get to 75% most of the time. But I love being a child of God. I love being with you and seeing the way we can all be beacons of God’s light. And I know that one day, evil will be defeated and at that time we will all walk in the path of light and goodness. We hope, pray, and work to make the path of light wider so that the power of darkness can be minimized and more people can be witnesses to that light.
|Photo by Robin S
One of the theories about how the dates of Christmas was chosen was that European Christians wanted to usurp the pagan celebration of the winter solstice, which we mark as the longest night. The longest night has an ominous feel, but it’s also the time when the days are getting longer. It’s when new light comes into our life. So I think having Christmas during a time of new light works out pretty well for us Christians. It’s almost like God wanted it that way. When you see the days getting longer, the sun rising a little earlier, I hope you will remember that’s not just sunlight, that’s God’s light and that light is shining on all of us, making sure that darkness never wins.