The Gospel of St John was the last to be written and is in a very different style from that of the other three. It’s less of a story and more a look at what the coming of Jesus means. Right at the beginning, John unpacks for us what the Incarnation means for us, that we can be children of God. Adopted children then, as now, had the same rights and privileges as natural children. We have the opportunity to become part of God’s family, brothers and sisters of Christ, if we so choose.
At the two Sunday services the readings were Psalm 147:13-end, Ephesians 1:3-14, John 1:10-18. The reflection I gave is reproduced below:
I wonder what you received as Christmas presents and if they were things you wanted, liked, could use etc? In our family there is usually a concerted sigh because I am ‘difficult to buy for’. I don’t try to be difficult, I just really don’t feel the need for anything more. I know there are conversations going on between our children and my husband and each of them listens out for the slightest hint of anything that I would like. I really admire their tenacity and the way they always seem to manage to come up with something that I will enjoy.
This year I received some lovely warm slippers. Not very exciting you may think but it’s become a bit of a tradition and I love putting my feet into new slippers on Christmas Day. We’ve had a lot of cold weather so they have really been appreciated. I did make it known that vouchers to go to the hairdresser’s would be good and those duly arrived. I was applauded by our middle son when I found two CDs I wanted and he kindly bought them for me. I was very surprised to get a rug making kit from my husband but have made a start on creating Shaun the Sheep.
Of course, receiving gifts is not all of the fun. I also enjoy watching the gifts I have bought being opened and appreciated. Perhaps the most successful gift I bought this year was for our daughter who is a doctor. She often has to work nights and finds it hard to sleep in the day. She really loves Tigger and has various versions of him at home. This year I found a Tigger with a lavender scented wheat-bag inside which can be heated up in the microwave. It seems that having this warm friend to cuddle and the soothing scent of lavender has helped Zoe to sleep really well.
Some people solve these gift-giving problems by writing a list of what they want. If we were given the option of listing anything and everything that we would like to receive as a gift, I’m pretty sure we would never have thought of the gift of God himself if we had not been told about it. John in his Gospel tells us of how God came to earth and just what it all means to us, what a wonderful gift it is that he brings. Actually, this is more like a Christmas stocking full of gifts than a single gift, when you unwrap it.
First, if we receive Jesus, if we believe in him and welcome him into our lives, submit to him in a relationship with him, trust him, we have the most incredible gift of being children of God. We can be adopted into God’s family. Adoption in the time this was written meant having exactly the same rights and privileges as a natural child. For us that means being just as much a member of God’s family as Jesus.
John tells us that Jesus dwelt among us, which more literally means ‘pitched his tent’ or ‘tabernacled’ with us. In the wilderness God was present with the people in the tabernacle. His glory was seen there. Later he had a more permanent home in the Temple. God became even more present by residing in a human body, the incarnate Word, Jesus Christ. God may have been thought of as living with his people in the tabernacle and temple, but in Jesus he was physically present. The glory of God was seen in Jesus as he lived among the people. In a further development later the Holy Spirit makes the church into a temple and our own bodies also.
This idea of glory being in a physical body would have been particularly shocking to the first readers of John’s Gospel as they were Greeks. They had learnt from Plato that only the invisible world is perfect. The physical flesh and blood bodies we are in are traps holding the soul captive. These bodies are inferior and should be despised. God coming and glorifying a human body gives us yet another gift, that of enjoying being a physical being.
When Jesus came he was full of grace and truth. Grace is the most wonderful gift, the unmerited favour of God. We usually give gifts to people because we love them. We don’t normally expect them to earn a gift. God is the same. He loves us and gives us a gift that we are incapable of earning, that we certainly don’t deserve. The gift is salvation – experiencing right standing in God’s presence.
The truth Jesus brings sets us free – another gift. As we respond to Jesus and follow him we find freedom. The truth tells us what we need to know to believe in Jesus and makes it possible to follow him.
John struggles to tell us just how great a gift we are being given. We are not given just a one time gift but ‘grace upon grace’ or ‘one blessing after another’; that’s the way we receive the fullness of all Jesus has to offer us.
Finally we are told that we have the gift of seeing God. No one before the time that Jesus came on earth could look at God and live. Once Jesus was present, God could be seen, heard and touched. Unlike John and the other disciples, we cannot be physically present with Jesus in quite the same way. However, things have not returned to how they were before God came on earth as a tiny baby.
As C.S. Lewis writes: “our faith is not a matter of our hearing what Christ said long ago and trying to carry it out. Rather, the real Son of God is at your side. He is beginning to turn you into the same kind of thing as Himself…beginning to turn the tin soldier into a live man. The part of you that does not like it is the part that is still tin.”
I started by talking about Christmas gifts. We could choose not to take them from under the tree, not to undo the bow or tear off the paper to reveal what is inside the package. In which case the presents would remain as attractive items to look at but would not alter our experience one bit. If I had not unwrapped my fluffy slippers, they could not have warmed my feet as they are doing now.
It’s the same with these wonderful gifts from God. Unless we choose to actually accept them, and that can be quite an exercise in humility, we will not benefit from them. They will just be nice ideas, attractive to look at, but of no practical use to us at all.
Far better is to accept the grace of God to us and move into the new year with anticipation of what living in God’s grace will mean for us. Leon Morris writes, “Grace is always an adventure. No one can say where grace will lead, what blessing it will bring, or what challenge it will make. Grace means an ever-deepening experience of the presence and blessing of God.”
Helene Milena – Lay Pastor