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If you want to see a Vicar looking depressed, go round his or her house at about 7.30pm on 20 December: any year will do…
It’s pretty much always at that time that a Vicar sits down to write the Christmas Sermon and he or she opens their Bible to John 1:1-14 and begins reading the words: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us”. And the next 4 hours in that Vicar’s life is spent staring in despair at the blank computer screen, thinking, “Flippin’ heck, what can I say about that passage again this year that I haven’t already said a hundred times before?”
So, because I have a slightly masochistic tendency, I decided to preach on this passage again this week not 4 weeks since last preaching on it. I really do need to get a life, don’t I?
But interestingly, when we divorce this passage from the Christmas story, loads of new truths and insights spring out from the page. And it’s those fresh insights that I want to reflect on today.
But to do that, we must start with the central truth of this passage, which is the idea of Jesus Christ being the most amazing gift that God could ever give to the world. It is God becoming flesh and dwelling among us that brings ultimate hope to us as human beings. The fact that God does not leave us alone but that he is willing and able to leave heaven and get his hands dirty here on earth is the most incredible truth any of us can ever hear. The fact that God doesn’t just watch you from a distance living your life, he doesn’t just impassively sit and watch all the things you get right and all the things you get wrong, and your struggles and fear and anxieties, but that he actually loves you enough to come down here and get fully engaged in every aspect of your life…there is no greater encouragement than that.
God cares so much about you that he wants to be involved in every aspect of your life: all the good, all the bad, all the hopes, all the fears – everything…
Of course, God had always been with his people on earth; that is the story of the Old Testament. But in Jesus, God is amongst his people in a way that he never had been before: actually living in physical, human form, and personally becoming one with his people in the most incredible way so that he could experience everything that you and I experience.
And even though this is an incredible, mind-bending truth, I think that John, when he writes this Gospel also wants us to focus on the ordinariness of God becoming human. Unlike when Matthew and Luke write their Gospels, John doesn’t give us the story of angels and wise men and stars shining in the sky and angry kings and shepherds – and all that stuff that is so extraordinary…Instead, he just presents the basic fact: The Word became Flesh and dwelt among us. A simple truth: a truth that can transform our lives. God became human so that he could experience what you experience and so he could identify with you in how you live your life, so he can empathize with your struggles and give you maximum support. That is the greatest truth any of us will ever hear.
But that’s not an experience that we can keep to ourselves - and that’s what I want to really focus on this morning.
Our calling, as individuals and as a church community, is to reflect the love of Jesus to our local community. Our chief task is to connect our friends, families and neighbours to Jesus so that what we have experienced of God’s love for us can be something they experience for themselves. You and I are called by God to make a difference in our community, and we can only truly do that as we introduce people to Jesus and help them discover God’s love for themselves.
The Bible tells us over and over again that, if we want to influence people to discover a relationship with Jesus for themselves, one of the best ways we can do that is try to live our lives under the same principles that Jesus did. And as people see our lives, so they will want to find out more about Jesus for themselves. For example, in Ephesians 5:1, Paul writes: “Be imitators of God”. In Matthew 5:16, Jesus says: “Let your light shine before others”. In 1 Peter 2:21, we read that, “Christ has left an example for you to follow, so walk in his footsteps”. I could give more examples, but the principle is clear: we need to reflect the love of Jesus to the world so that others will be inspired to come to know him for themselves.
Most of us, I guess, are old enough to remember the 9/11 tragedy and the images of that are imprinted on our memories. One of the clearest memories for me is of people streaming out of the Towers whilst the Fire Officers were running into the burning building. That seems to me to be a wonderful metaphor for what Jesus has done for us; so we can be safe from the horrors of sin and death and eternal alienation from God, Jesus rushes into the burning building of sin and death by dying on the cross for us. Through the death of Christ, we are free to live.
One of the survivors from that 9/11 tragedy has told how, as she was running out of the building, she turned round to look at a Fire Officer who was running up the stairs towards the blaze. At that moment, he stopped and looked at her and their eyes met. And the woman says that, at that moment, his face was transformed into the face of Christ.
I wonder if this week, when you are at work, or at the gym, or at home, or in the shops, your face will be transformed into the face of Christ for other people? Paul says in Ephesians 5:1, “Be imitators of God”. I wonder what that might look like for you this week? How can you achieve that for yourself?
Well, here’s two practical ways…and they are both contained in verse 14 of our reading: “We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” There’s three words from this verse that I want to focus on.
Now, if you know me well, then you will know that the word “graceful” is not one readily applied to me, particularly if you have seen my try to dance! To say that I have two left feet is an insult to left feet! At the very best, if I try really hard, I can just about pull off a few dance moves reminiscent of that embarrassing uncle at a wedding. At my worst, I look something like a zombie coming back from the dead. ‘Graceful’ – in that sense – is not a word best applied to me.
But fortunately, that is not the meaning of the word ‘grace’ or ‘graceful’ as it is used in the Bible. And fortunately for you and me, we are all ‘graceful’ in the Biblical sense. And we have the perfect ability to live ‘graceful’ lives and to really make a difference to the lives of other people this week…
In the Bible, the word ‘grace’ comes from the Greek word ‘charis’, which means ‘gift’. Jesus, we are told here, was ‘full of grace’ - meaning that he truly was God’s gift to the world in how he lived and spoke and in what he did for others.
If you are a follower of Jesus, you too are ‘full of grace’ because you have the Spirit of Jesus living in you. You truly are God’s gift to the world! And you are full of grace, full of gifts, to give to others…
So what does that mean on a practical level for your life this week?
It means that you can make a real difference in the lives of others by becoming a gift for them…Kind words, forgiveness, helpful gestures, showing compassion…all of these are signs of grace towards others.
Will you be ‘full of grace’ this week in your social interactions?
And what is the greatest gift you have? Surely it is the knowledge and experience of God’s love for you! You contain within you the greatest gift known to the human race: the experience of God’s love, the knowledge that your past is forgiven, the knowledge that Jesus ran into the burning building of sin and death so that you could experience new life with God.
If you are to be ‘full of grace’ this week – and to be graceful towards others, can you pray for the opportunity to tell someone else about God’s love? Can you ask God to give you an opportunity to share the ultimate gift with someone else this week, as you tell them what God has done for you? Will you be full of grace this week - at home, at work, at the gym, online through Facebook and Instagram? How can you be God’s gift to the world this week?
And the second way you can imitate Jesus this week is linked to that in the second word from verse 14: Jesus is described as being “full of truth”
Now, it’s really important that we keep these words ‘grace’ and ‘truth’ together, because being ‘full of truth’ does not give us the excuse to be downright rude to other people by ‘telling them the truth’!
I’ve learnt that the hard way – in fact, I relearn that lesson every time Jo asks for my opinion about a dress, or a holiday choice, or a colour to paint the walls and just about every other decision she wishes to make! I have learnt that, sometimes, the truth is not what is required so much as a diplomatic withdrawal and an ambiguous comment of semi-support!
‘Truth’ without ‘Grace’ is not the way for us to go in any social interaction!
But ‘Truth’ is important in the Biblical sense because it has less to do with our subjective opinion about something and more to do with the Truth of God’s eternal love for us.
Jesus was “full of truth’ in that he contained within himself the perfect embodiment of God’s love – the perfect truth of God’s love – for the world.
And you, as a follower of Jesus, an imitator of God, you are full of truth too. Not that every opinion you have about everything is true or right - but that you embody the truth of God’s love for you and that your daily life is a testimony to how much God loves you because he is with you every step of the way and upholds you in every situation. That is Truth.
So, this week, as you seek to imitate Jesus from Monday to Saturday, what can you do to share that Truth with others?
Sharing your truth is not about telling other people your opinions about faith: whether God made the world in six days, or whether all religions get to God or not or whether gay marriage in church is right or wrong or whether it’s OK to drink alcohol and still be a Christians or whatever…these are all personal opinions.
What people want from you – what people need from you – is Truth: the Truth that God loves them, the Truth that God has gone into that burning building so they can live, the Truth that he wipes the slate clean from the past and gives a fresh start, the Truth that he will uphold them always and forever. That is Truth – and your experience of God indicates that you are full of it!!
So this week, at work, in the gym, at home, online - pray for an opportunity to share Truth with others, always coupled with Grace, so that they too may come to know Jesus for themselves.
You have a story to tell about God’s impact on your life – so tell it…
So be Graceful, be Truthful, as this week unfolds, harness Grace and Truth in all your relationships with others.
But there’s one final word I want to focus on from this verse, in which Jesus is described as being “full of grace and truth”.
The important word here is “full”.
What do we mean by that?
We had a Chinese last week with Tom and Illy, Damian and Julia - and I hadn’t had carbs for a few days, so I decided to give the huge quantities of rice a good bashing. 20 minutes later, I was full. I mean full. I mean that I really couldn’t have eaten another spoonful of rice even if you had promised me a new MIDI keyboard for my recording studio. Mr. Creosote full, if you know what I mean by that..!
And Jesus was full of grace and truth in that there was never a moment when he was not God’s gift to the world and there was never a moment when he ceased to embody God’s love for the world.
What a challenge that is for us as we go into this week: that we are to be absolutely consistent in how we relate to others. It is not enough for us to show one random act of kindness and then think to ourselves, “Well, I’ve done my bit”. It is not enough for us to be nice to that work colleague to his face and then join in the office gossip about him behind his back. We are to be full of grace and truth: absolutely consistent in our words and behaviours across all formats of interaction with others, whether that is face-to-face, or through social media, or e-mail or whatever.
Full of grace and truth.
When we move towards that, we are moving towards becoming a true imitator of Jesus…
So Paul says in Ephesians 5:1 that we are to be “imitators of God” and God, as we know, is most clearly revealed to us in Jesus the Word made Flesh. And Jesus was full of grace and truth, and in the same way, we are to be full of grace and truth if we are to truly imitate God this week.
So, at work, at home with the kids, at the gym with your friends, through your Social Media posts - let’s strive to be full of grace and truth this week: showing kindness, love and compassion in our words and deeds and seeking opportunities to share the truth of God’s love for us with others.
What the world needs is more people to be full of grace and truth.
What Enfield needs is for more people to be full of grace and truth.
If you can embody that in your daily life, if you can try to imitate Jesus, you really will make an enormous impact on the world for good and you will really make a difference in the lives of others and this community.
In the strength and power of God’s Holy Spirit, be the change…