It's great to see you all. That was beautiful wasn't it. Although as a parent, when I read words like 'silent night' and 'sleeping in heavenly peace', I can't help feeling that maybe that's a little bit of an idealized version of how it was!
My wife and I have a little 15-month-old son called Ezra, and we were over at a wedding last weekend in Northern Ireland. My wife was a bridesmaid and so she went over a couple of days early and I was on toddler duty. In the wedding service, Ezra still hadn't seen mum for 2 days, (the longest time ever!) and I was a bit worried that he would freak out if he suddenly saw her coming down the aisle and ruin that special moment of the bride walking in – and so I made sure he didn't see her as she walked past.
But in the signing of the register, there was a bit of a breather, and bridesmaid mum couldn't resist seeing him – so she got down on her knees at the front of the aisle with loads of people watching, and she called to Ezra who was at the back. I was kind of imaging him doing a slow-motion Chariots of Fire run down the aisle shouting 'Mamaaaaaaaaa', but instead, he just stood looking and he didn't recognize her whatsoever! Because obviously his mum doesn't usually look so glammed up, so he just walked off in the opposite direction, much to the amusement of everyone in the church. And obviously, his mum was gutted!
Well this evening we're going to take a quick look at John chapter 1 which was read earlier. And what it tells us is a tiny bit like that wedding story. It tells us the incredible news that the God of the whole universe has revealed himself to us, and he wants to show us love, wrap us in his arms, and be a parent, a Father, to us.
It was a bit sad when my little man didn't recognize his mum. But it's a whole lot more sad, tragic actually, if we don't recognize the amazing God who made us this Christmas. So I'd love you to follow along with me, and it would be great if you could have John 1.1-18 open in front of you, it's printed in the service sheets.
I guess at Christmas you might expect the reading to be all about Jesus' birth in a manger and the shepherds and the angels…so this might not seem the most obvious passage. But it's actually a wonderfully concise explanation of what that first Christmas was all about. And the first thing it says is that:
1. Christmas Means God Has Revealed Himself To Us
In this Bible passage, John starts off his whole book with an extraordinary statement. Take a look at verse 1. When John says 'the Word' he's talking about Jesus. And here's what he says:
"In the beginning was the Word [Jesus], and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made."
I'm sure most of us have got at least a bit of an idea of the Christmas story. The star, the shepherds, and the birth of a baby, laid in a manger. And here John's saying, the one I'm going to tell you about in this book, that baby who was born in a manger, the one who we celebrate at Christmas…get this - he is the one who created you in the first place!
a) The baby in the manger was God himself
The God who made all things. The God who made you and I and the whole universe – he's chosen to step into this world and reveal himself to us. Jesus is God himself come to us. It's easy for that to trip off the tongue isn't it, but if we really think about that, it's totally mind-blowing!
I mean, imagine if you were making up a story about God arriving on earth. You'd be tempted to turn it into the biggest international event in history. Maybe he would appear in Los Angeles and there would be a Hollywood film crew on standby ready to make a film. Celebrities would be instagramming themselves with baby Jesus. It would be beamed across the world like the moon landing!
But how did God actually appear? Well rather than a high-profile arrival in amazing surroundings, he was born, as a baby, into the lowliest of circumstances. In a little unimportant town named Bethlehem, where he even had to be laid in a manger, the place where animals fed, because there wasn't room anywhere else. God appeared on earth as a helpless human baby, unable to do more than lie and stare and wriggle and make noises. There's a great line in a Christmas carol which sums it up:
"Lo, within a manger lies
He who built the starry skies."
And it begs the question, what does that tell us about God? What sort of a God would come like that?
The amazing message this birth sends to us is that this is a God who is willing to lower himself to dwell among us. Rather than coming to earth as a pampered, privileged ruler, aloof and inside some secure compound – this is a God who is approachable, accessible and available. Just imagine trying to get access to the queen! It would be virtually impossible. I mean it's hard enough to get access to someone to fix your broadband, isn't it! Let alone the queen. But this is God, coming to us.
John sums it up in a lovely way in verse 14. He says:
"the Word became flesh and dwelt among us"
b) He identifies with us
That word 'flesh' is a bit odd isn't it. I mean why doesn't he just say 'became a man'? Well the word 'flesh' stands for the whole person – it makes us think of humans in their frailty and weakness, doesn't it? And Jesus identified with us that much. This is a God who has revealed himself to us, not only in a way which is humble and approachable, but in a way which identifies with us in all the ups and downs of human life.
Christmas is full of joy and excitement, isn't it? And rightly so. But it can also be a time that reminds us of the difficulties of this life – the loss of loved ones, loneliness, a struggle for money. And yet Christmas tells us that God identifies with all of that. He doesn't just stay aloof and not care. No, he steps right into the thick of it. He's experienced those things because he came down.
So if we're ever tempted to think, 'this is really tough. God doesn't know what I'm going through. God doesn't understand because he's up there in his palace.' Well he does because he came down in humility and love. You see, Christmas means not only has God revealed himself to us, but it also means that we can actually know him personally.
2. Christmas Means We Can Have A Relationship With God
I heard of a lady who loves to tell people that her parents were at the circus when she was born. Imagine the chaos that would be! Born at the circus! And so most people think she's winding them up…until…she reveals that she was adopted at birth…and her new parents were actually at the circus with her older brother. And this lady loves to tell people that she went from being an unwanted pregnancy to being a much-wanted, loved child, with a home and all the amazing blessings that come with that. As an adult, she's realized what an incredible thing adoption is.
And that's the amazing level of relationship that God offers to us. Take a look at verses 11 and 12. John says:
"He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God."
God has revealed himself so that we can know him personally, not just in any old way, but as his adopted children. And yet, do you see there in verse 11 that people did not receive him. People ignored him or even worse. And still today, we easily ignore him, don't we? Maybe that's you today? I think in one way or another that's what we're all like. We take his gifts and ignore the giver. And maybe you think you've got good reasons for doing that.
But I hope that if tonight has done nothing else, maybe it's shown you that God's character is different to what you thought it was. He's not out to get you, he wants to show himself to you, he wants the best for you and he wants to adopt you into his family.
In fact, Jesus told a story to illustrate that. A son who had turned his back on his Father, taken his money and left him, finally decides to head home in shame. And when he's just within sight of the house, his Father sees him and runs towards him (in a culture where dignified older men didn't run!) and he hugs him and kisses him, he puts his best robe on him, he throws a party. And Jesus says, in the same way, there is rejoicing in heaven over everyone who turns back to God and asks him to be their Father.
And this Christmas would be a great time to do that. Well thanks for listening, and I hope you have a very joyful Christmas.