John 1 – Christmas For Dark Places Glen Scrivener

John 1:1-14

In the light of the news from America you may be asking, What can Christmas possibly say to Newtown, Connecticut?  Isn’t Christmas now inappropriate?  How can we dare to teach these children about the joys of Christmas when children just like them were gunned down in a school on Friday?  After all that’s happened, how can talk of Christmas go on?  After these events Christmas has been cancelled for scores of families.  How can we speak of Christmas??

I suggest to you that the real question is: How can we not??  How can we NOT speak of Christmas when the evil and suffering of this world is unmasked in such a horrific way?  How can we NOT speak of Christmas?  Christmas is FOR Newtown, Connecticut.  Christmas is precisely FOR this evil and suffering world.

If we feel that Christmas doesn’t fit with the horrors of Friday’s shooting, I suggest we’re thinking about the wrong Christmas. I hope you know that Christmas is NOT about elves and tinsel and warm cocoa and X-Factor number ones.  It is NOT about wandering blank-eyed through shopping malls and maxxing out the credit cards. It’s not even about sweet Carols and even sweeter Nativity plays. There is NOTHING sweet about the real Christmas.

There is NOTHING sentimental about the true Christmas story.

Matthew chapter 2, verse 16:

16 When Herod realised that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under… 17 Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: 18 “A voice is heard in [the region of] Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.” {Jer. 31:15}

That’s the REAL Christmas. Christmas happens IN THE MIDST of the slaughter of innocent children.
Does the slaughter of the innocents have a place in your remembrance of Christmas? I confess that amid all my Christmas preparations and celebrations, I forget about the true blood and tears of Christmas.

Here’s a forgotten verse to the Carol “Unto us is born a Son”.  Imagine the tune “Good King Wenseslas looked out.”  Here is a verse we never sing:

This did Herod sore affray,
And grievously bewilder
So he gave the word to slay,
And slew the little childer,
And slew the little childer.

That aspect of the Christmas story is often forgotten.  But the REAL Christmas occurs in the middle of a genocide. Not by a lone gunman but by a mad king, hell-bent on destroying the Messiah. And Jesus, willingly, knowingly, enters that circumstance. He enters unarmed into the fray. No gun, no bullet-proof vest, but naked and exposed. A defenceless baby, wriggling in a manger. With death all around Him, He is snatched away to Egypt to become a refugee on the run for His life. That’s the REAL Christmas story.  And it’s a reminder that Christmas is for dark places.

Almost all the famous Christmas Scriptures are about darkness.  Isaiah 9:2

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death, a light has dawned.

Luke 1:78

By the tender mercy of our God, the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death,

Or our own passage this morning, John chapter 1. Darkness is the context for Christmas.  If you look at our passage you’ll see that it begins “In the beginning”, before the world began.  And John reminds us that Jesus has always existed.  He is the eternal Son of God.  He is the Bright Radiance of the Father’s Glory.  He’s the One who has always been at the Father’s side.  He has always enjoyed that endless friendship and love in the joy of the Holy Spirit.  He’s the One, who, verse 3, made all things together with His Father and the Holy Spirit.  He is the LORD our Maker.  Therefore He is this world’s Radiant Life-Giver: Verse 4:

In him – in Jesus, eternally – was life, and that life was the light of all people.

But listen to the very next verse:

The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.

Jesus is LIGHT. The world is darkness.
Darkness is the context for Christmas.

I grew up in Australia with Summer Christmases.  Barbecues and beaches and backyard cricket. Perhaps you hear that and think “That’s WRONG.” In a deep sense you’re right.  Christmas is not a celebration of our sunny circumstances. The context for Christmas IS darkness.  The place to celebrate Christmas IS in the valley of deep shadow.  It’s in the valley of the shadow of DEATH that the true Light shows up.  And that’s why Christmas is for Newtown, Connecticut.  The commercialised Christmas is not.  The sentimentalised Christmas is not.  Those false Christmasses have NOTHING to say to tragedy. But the real Christmas is for those in the dark.  The real Christmas is for YOU and the dark place that YOU are in.

I hope you know that. Do you feel you’re able to be sad at Christmas?

With our commercialised, sentimentalised, Christmas, no-one’s allowed to be sad. “Have another mince pie and wash down your sadness with mulled wine, cheer up” they say, “It’s Christmas.”
But that’s a false Christmas. The real Christmas is for dark places. Because this world is a DISCONNECTED place.
Why do I say “DISCONNECTED”? Well look at verse 5: How can there be darkness, when the LORD Jesus our Maker is Light?  How can we live in darkness when the uncreated Brilliant Light of the World shines?  Well there’s been a disconnection?  We who were made for the light, are now lost in the shadows.

Think of a Christmas tree and I think we see a good picture of our disconnection from God:

Imagine a Christmas tree in the forest, connected to its root structure, connected to its life-source.  And then someone comes in the name of Christmas joy and cuts it down.  Instantly the tree is disconnected.  From that moment on the tree is dead.  And it begins perishing.

Thing is, the tree doesn’t look dead and perishing does it?  Not to begin with?  It looks fresh and verdant.  And we bring it inside and dress it up in all kinds of decorations. But it’s disconnected, it’s dead, it’s perishing.  The needles are dropping, the colour is draining and in just a few weeks we’ll throw it out.

That’s Christmas trees, that’s the human race.  We were made for connection with God, but ever since our first parents, Adam and Eve, there’s been a disconnection.  We were made for the light, and now we’re in darkness.  We’re no longer connected to our Maker, the LORD Jesus.  No longer connected to the world’s true Life-source.  So actually we’re dead.  We have no true spiritual life in us.

Of course we don’t look dead. We look and smell ok. And we can dress ourselves up in all sorts of great performances and achievements. We can decorate ourselves with all sorts of good deeds and accomplishments. But we’re dead and we’re perishing, and we’re headed for the rubbish dump.

This is a physical truth and it’s a spiritual truth.  We’re physically perishing and we feel it. We’re also spiritually perishing – disconnected from our spiritual life-source.

Human beings are out of sorts with God.  We don’t naturally know God.  If we try to pray, we feel like the prayers bounce off the ceiling.  We try to do good, and so often we end up making things worse.  We try to climb out of the valley of the shadow, but try as we might, we only sink deeper.

That is our disconnection.  And it’s what ruins our traditional Christmasses.  Christmas is so hard because we’re meant to be connected to one another, but life is full of disconnection.  At Christmas we know we’re meant to connect with each other, but we’re reminded how hard that is.  Perhaps there’ll be an empty chair at Christmas lunch this year because the disconnection of DEATH has struck.  Perhaps the disconnection of divorce will make Christmas hard.  Or depression.  Or a pervading sense of dis-satisfaction: no matter how great the presents or how wonderful the company, none of it deals with the darkness.  Death, divorce, depression, dissatisfaction: these are all forms of disconnection.  And worst of all we’re disconnected from God.  And if this disconnection is left unaddressed, we will forever perish – not just physically but also spiritually.  Apart from our Life-Giving Source, what life can we have?  If we remain disconnected then the darkness is our lot, both now and forever.

THAT’s the context for Christmas. The valley of the shadow of death. But then something incredible happens. Verse 9:

The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.

As we’ve just sung, Light of the world you stepped DOWN into darkness.  Here’s the REAL Christmas.  What does the LORD Jesus, our Maker, DO when He sees us sunk in death and spiritual disconnection? Does He cut us loose forever? Does He tell us, You wanted rid of me, now you can wallow in the darkness?

No, moved by TENDER MERCY, He comes. Our Maker enters INTO our predicament and He enters in at the deepest point.  To a world lost in sin and wickedness, to a world in which children are slaughtered, He showed up AS a child, as a vulnerable, defenceless baby.

Verse 14 of our passage says Jesus, the eternal Word our Maker, BECAME flesh and lived among us.
He BECAME “flesh”.  Flesh that needs to be smacked so He’ll take His first breath.  Flesh that gets nappy rash. Flesh that will get sunburnt in the middle-eastern sun.  Flesh that will develop acne.  Flesh that can be bruised and cut and pierced.  Flesh that WOULD be bruised and cut and pierced FOR YOU.

The Word our Maker BECAME flesh.  He – the One who has been eternally CONNECTED to God His Father – He, while remaining connected to the Almighty Father, enters into our disconnected state.  And there in Mary’s womb a RECONNECTION happens.  The One eternally connected to God, gets connected to us.  The Life-Source re-established contact.  He grabbed hold of His creatures and took our life to Himself.

Jesus saw His world tumbling into a bottomless pit – and He jumped in, to lay hold of us.  Only our Maker could remake this wicked world.  Only the Life-Source could reconnect us again.  And that’s what the REAL Christmas is.  The REAL Christmas is the Son of God BECOMING FLESH – OUR FLESH – grabbing hold of us in the deepest, darkest part of the pit. He joins us in our kind of life, so we can join Him in His kind of life.
That’s what verses 10-12 are all about:

10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognise him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God–

Jesus entered our kind of life – FLESH-LIFE, in the dark – He entered that kind of life in order to bring us into HIS kind of life.  And what’s His kind of life?  Well He is originally and eternally connected to God.  He is originally and eternally full of the Holy Spirit.  He is originally and eternally THE SON of God.  And through His invitation now WE can be children of God, connected to our Life-Source Jesus, now we can have His Spirit as our Spirit and His Father as our Father.

Here we are perishing in the dark and even so, we can enter the eternal life of God, all because of Christmas.
Throughout church history people have had a phrase to explain this wonderful news: “He became what we are that we might become what He is.”  He, the Son of God, became flesh, that we who are flesh, might become children of God.

Hudson Taylor was a missionary to China, and one man converted through his ministry was a Chinese confucian scholar.  This ex-Confucianist used to tell a story to explain his conversion which Hudson Taylor often repeated:
A man fell into into a dark and slimy pit.  Try as he might, it was impossible to pull himself out. One day Confusius himself came past the pit and said: ‘Poor man, if only he’d listened to me, he’d never have fallen into the pit in the first place.’  Some time later the Buddha came past.  Looking down at the man he said: ‘Poor man.  Just come up here and I’ll help you.’  And he walked on.  And then Jesus Christ walked past and he said, ‘Poor man.’  And He jumped into the pit and lifted him out.

That’s the message of Christmas, and it’s a message unlike any the world has heard.  We all acknowledge that we’re in a pit, when we hear the news from Connecticut we’re doubly convinced we’re in a pit. But what’s the answer?

Some think they can climb out through their own goodness, their own striving, their own “can-do” attitude.  Others put their hope in politics to find a solution.  Others trust that science will provide an answer.  Some just try to make their home in the pit and enjoy themselves.  Others slump in the pit and despair.
Jesus jumps in.  That’s Christmas.  That’s Christianity.  It’s SO different.  Jesus jumps in to share with us in EVERYTHING that makes this world so dark.  Every sorrow, every suffering, and then on the cross every sin – YOU NAME IT, HE BECAME IT.

One of Jesus’ names is Immanuel.  You know what it means?  It means God WITH US.  Think about that for just a moment.  GOD… WITH US.  Look at the manger, that’s what you’re seeing.  Now and forevermore a member of the Trinity has become a member of the human race.  Forevermore He is Immanuel: GOD WITH US.
How can you deny that God is for you when you look in the manger?  He is SO for the human race He became human.  God the Son has entered into our life at the deepest level.  You name it, He became it.

Think about it: Does Jesus know what it is to survive the murder of innocent children? Yes.  Does He know what it’s like to BE an innocent who is murdered?  Yes.  He even knows what it is to die the death deserved by the murderer.  That’s what happened at the cross.  You name it, He became it.  And it all begins in Mary’s womb.  Immanuel enters into EVERY aspect of our broken world in order to transform it.

Does He know what it is to suffer family breakdown?  Yes.  Things got so bad at one point His own family tried to get Him sectioned.  Does He know what it is to suffer depression?  Yes, He was the Man OF Sorrows.  Does He know the temptation to even commit suicide?  Of course.  The night before He died He was sorely tempted for another way out.  You name it, He became it.

An oppressed minority, taunted and teased, rejected by His own people, a poor beggar, a betrayed friend, unfairly arrested and tried, and mocked and spat upon and crucified as a public joke.  You name it, He became it.  And He did it for you.  To become EVERYTHING you are and invite you into EVERYTHING He is.

That’s Christmas.  That’s Christianity.  That’s Christ – He jumps into the pit.  He lifts us onto His shoulders – takes all our burdens, all our sorrows, all our sins (on the cross).  But from the womb to the tomb and beyond, He grabs hold of the human race by the scruff of the neck.  He takes responsibility for EVERYTHING and marches through life, through death, and up out of the valley of the shadow, up out of the Easter tomb and up to the Father in Heaven.  He does it all carrying us with Him.  Like a Good Shepherd, He has hoisted His sheep onto His shoulders and marched home.

That’s what He’s doing there in the manger.  He’s entering into our life, so He can bring us into His life.
And it’s all for free. You don’t have to climb out of the pit yourself.  You CAN’T climb out of the pit yourself.  You can’t raise yourself an inch.  But you don’t have to.  He has come ALL the way down.  That’s the meaning of Christmas.  It’s good news of great joy for dark places.  And it’s real comfort for real sufferers, like in Newtown, Connecticut.  After a lot of tears, a lot of prayers, a lot of silence, a lot of listening, there’s one message that can do justice to the evil that’s happened and to the hope that’s ahead. Christ has entered the mess, permanently. He has pledged Himself to redeeming all things from the inside out.  He is now forever anchored to this world and forever committed to transforming this darkness into His radiant light.

He will not and CANnot forget the evil and suffering of this world because now and forevermore He is ONE OF US and He will make THIS world the home of righteousness. I don’t know what redemption will look like for the victims and their families.  But redemption IS promised.  God the Son has pledged His very self to this dying world and He won’t let us go.

Maybe you’ve never really understood Christmas before – the REAL Christmas.  Maybe you’ve never really understood Christ before – not like this.  But I’m here to tell you He IS the true Christmas gift to be received by us this morning.  That’s what verse 12 says: He is a Gift to be received.  The Father has given Him to you – and whether you’ve known Christ all your life or whether for the first time, I’m going to pray a prayer for us, that we would receive Jesus in our lives.

I’m going to use the last verse of the Carol “O Little Town of Bethlehem”, perhaps you know it.  It says:

O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray;

Cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today.

We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell;

O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel!

O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to me, I pray;

Cast out my sin, and enter in, be born in me today.

We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell;

O come to me, abide with me, my Lord Emmanuel!