Calm & Bright: Redeeming Grace

John 1:1-17 (NIV)
    1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. 
     6 There was a man sent from God whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light,so that through him all might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.
     9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.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.

Just a few minutes ago we spoke the third verse of “Silent Night.”

     Silent night, holy night,
     Son of God, love’s pure light,
     Radiant beams from Thy holy face,
     With the dawn of redeeming grace,
     Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth,
     Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth

When we hear the words of the opening of John’s Gospel in the third verse of “Silent Night,” it is crystal clear that these words of John are his nativity scene. There is no stable in John’s nativity.There is no genealogy list like in Matthew and Luke. No, John goes far further back to the beginning when Jesus already existed with God, when the universe was born through God’s Word, “‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” (Gen 1:3)

Then, John tells us that “The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world … The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” (John 1:9, 14) The birth of Jesus as a full-fledged human, the Baby Jesus. The radiant beams of light now come from the newborn infant. This verse contains a wonderful phrase, “love’s pure light.” So, Love is our word this week. Love and grace go hand-in-hand, and the Gospel of John begins with four mentions of that word, grace, and then he doesn’t mention it again the entire rest of the book. As Karoline Lewis puts it, the mention of grace isn’t necessary because “the entirety of the Gospel shows  what grace looks like, tastes like, smells like, sounds like, and feels like … For John, God in becoming flesh in Jesus has committed God’s self not only to revealing what God’s grace looks like, but that God wants to know it and feel it as well,” from the human perspective.

God’s face in Jesus Christ has entered the world where it will be kissed by his mother Mary, cradled in Joseph’s rough carpenter-hands,and washed after the feeding and burping. This is real human life, full humanity wrapped around love’s pure light that will shine in a way remembered ever since. It is a love that “redeems” us–makes good on God’s promise to be with us always. It’s like a coupon that we get to redeem… only this one has no expiration date.

The beauty of the hymn’s poetry in this verse speak of light as a “dawning” as well. Dawn rises up, dawn pierces the dark night,transforming it. Picture a time when you have watched the sun rise. You can close your eyes. You notice the small, almost imperceptible, changes as the sun comes closer to the horizon. You start to see a faint change in the shade of blue there. It starts getting lighter in color. Then, other colors may start to appear. There is more and more, but still the overall light is very dim.  Then, *pow* the light of the sun starts to pour over the horizon almost blinding, and it’s like it pops up. It’s right there, and everything is full of light, especially after a fresh snowfall. The snow crystals sparkle like diamonds. Strangely enough, the desert sands can also sparkle from the fresh dew or sand crystals.

From the earliest human ancestors, dawn has been a source of reassurance once again that life continues. That the forces of life have gifted us, and we have arisen to see another day. In John’s opening lines, we hear of the presence of Christ from the beginning of time when “let there be light”constituted the first dawn in our faith story. Paired with the idea of Jesus as a human baby, this is the most poignant joining of the birth of the cosmos and the birth of human life. Divinity and humanity as one.

We witness this light, and “we have seen his glory.” (John1:14) There it is again… “glory” and the outpouring of light. This is “true light” that en-lightens us. Through the in-breaking of this light, we receive light and are “lit up.” So, I ask again for you to think about this idea. What would the world be like if “love’s pure light” was at the center of all we do, of all we create. Made in the image of this one who is grace upon grace, how are we to nurture relationships that birth, multiply, and radiate grace in the world? A grace-full existence. What would that look like? Well it would be wonderful, and before we get too “Hallmark cards” about it, we also know that it is not absent of pain. It was the love of Christ for the oppressed that got him in trouble and then crucified. It is this “sacrifice of love” that compels us to do what is sometimes difficult… get out of our comfort zones and risk extending the fullness of grace and love to all we encounter. “Fullness”means “complete” or “superabundant.” The incarnation of God, en-fleshed love,meant taking on all aspects of our humanity, including rejection. This is life.This is love.

So, we have been given this light that we are to reflect out into the world, the light of Christ. What would it be like if we looked for this light in the face of other people? We can look at folks who may be not quite as affluent or downright poor and see people that need help, and we want to help them. That’s good, right? What about looking at people as ones that have the light of Christ within them that have been given grace and have gifts and talents that they can share with the world? What does it look like to live as if the Gospel is true, not just for me and not just for you but for everyone? That means that when we encounter someone that we look for the light of Christ within them.

So often, well-meaning people in churches and other religious organizations all around the world look at a person, family, or neighborhood that is struggling and diagnose what they think the person”needs.” I think you need “x”, so I’m going to do”x” for you. It doesn’t matter whether you want it or not. I think you should have it. You are incomplete if you don’t have it. If you don’t want it, it’s because you are too ignorant to know that you need it. Even if you agree, I want to make it easy for you, so I’m not even going to ask you to help. As a matter of fact, even if you want to help, I won’t let you because it’s not in my plan. I don’t want to burden you. I’ve already arranged for others. It will make things too complicated.

Something similar happened to a community around a Methodist Church in South Bend, Indiana. A group of students from Notre Dame University came to the neighborhood to do home repair. It was all arranged far in advance.The officials asked the pastor of the church along with other local groups to let the people in the community know that this group coming in was okay. When the pastor asked why, they said that often when they come into neighborhoods,they are viewed with hostility like an invading army. The pastor knew that some of the locals were experienced in building and construction work, but no, the group did not want to involve any locals, not even to cook or provide food or beverages. They had it all covered. When you saw these young people with no building repair experience to speak of climbing all over these little houses in the neighborhood. No wonder people felt like it was an invading army. (Mather,Michael. Having Nothing, Possessing Everything: Finding Abundant Communities in Unexpected Places (Kindle Locations 859-875). Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.. Kindle Edition.)

One Pentecost Sunday, when this same pastor had been appointed to Broadway United Methodist in Indianapolis, the sermon was based on the passage from Acts when Peter quotes the Prophet Joel, “I [God] will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh.” After worship a woman asked the pastor, “When people come to the food pantry, we ask people how poor they are rather than how rich they are. Peter is saying all people have God’s Spirit poured into them.” He stopped. He didn’t know what to say. Shamed, [he] whispered,“You’re right.” [They] were actually working against [their] beliefs.” Do we do the same here? “We say in worship that “God’s Spirit flows down on everyone,” and then we act like it isn’t true.” (Loc 273-276)

After the pastor thought about it for a little while and did some research, they started asking different questions of people who came for help like: Do you take care of children or elders, and is it to take care of family, is it a job, or are you helping a neighbor? Can you put up drywall? Can you fix a toaster or drive a car? Do you play a musical instrument? Do you garden? Flowers? Vegetables or both? You can see that they were having a conversation, finding out about the hopes and dreams, the interests and passions of the people who came to the church.

They would end the survey with these three questions:

  1. What three things do you do well enough that you could teach them to someone else?
  2. What three things would you like to learn that you don’t already know?
  3. Who besides God and me [the interviewer] is going to go with you along the way? (Like who celebrated your last birthday with you?) (Loc 267-288)

One of the first people who came through the door after they stared using this new method was Adele. She told them that she could cook. They said “prove it,” and paid her to cook for the small church staff. The food was great. Shortly after that, they asked her to cook for a church event.People wanted to know how they could get Adele to cook for their events.

The church would have never have even known that Adele had that gift if they hadn’t changed the questions they were asking, if they hadn’t changed their perspective on how they regarded people. All have been blessed by gifts from the Holy Spirit whether they thought of themselves that way or not.

What if we look for the light, the gifts of people, most especially of people that we encounter, both as individuals and as the church?What if we presumed that each person who comes is made in the image of God and is of great worth? All of us at different times in our lives have made some unfortunate choices. We may have been overwhelmed by circumstances, so may anyone that we encounter. No matter what someone’s circumstances are, they have thoughts, ideas, dreams, ambitions, and talents to share if only we will take the time and ask the right questions. As long as we stop looking at people as problems to be fixed but individuals to be empowered.

We get this glorious, radiant, beaming light through Christ.We receive it. We reflect it. That light is there for and in others too.Sometimes it is our job to recognize it in others and fan the flame. Help them to see it too. Our job is not to fix people. Our job is to be witnesses to the light, like John the Baptist was. In our Scripture passage today, he was more like John the Witness.

Sometimes it is we who need our flame fanned. Through the love of Christ, you are worthy. This light is in you even if you don’t see it, even if you don’t feel it. No matter what’s going on in your life, the Spirit of God is with you in it. The same God who spoke the universe into being can speak the same words into your life. “Let there be Light!”

Praise be to God!


Categorized as Sermon