Our Story This Christmas
One of the difficult challenges that pastors face every December surrounds the process of selecting the various texts to address during the Season of Christmas. My apparent choices boil down to either Matthew or Luke and these two options seem to exhaust one’s choices very quickly. This challenge becomes even more problematic if you stay in the same community for a number of years. We wrestle with, “How soon can I start to recycle these sermons and not get nailed by the listeners?” So this year, I decided to go for a new challenge by using the first chapter of John’s Gospel as the basis for our Christmas series.
You may ask, “How can John’s Gospel provide you with the texts for a Christmas series when it does not have a birth narrative?” Well, I am glad you asked. John’s opening narrative provides us with the prequel to all the other birth narratives for Jesus of Nazareth. We are introduced to the life of the Son of God before He became Jesus. We discover that the Son was involved in all kinds of important events long before he became a human being. This is so important for our journey with God. What we believe about Jesus makes a huge difference in what we believe about God. Jesus gives deeper flesh, words, and meaning to our conversations about who God is, what He is like, and what it means to be in relationship with Him. To follow Jesus is to follow God. To know Jesus is to know God.
John’s Christmas Story
This month we begin a new series entitled The Divine Prequel: The Life of the Son Before Christmas where we will be studying the first eighteen verses of the Gospel of John for the focus of the Advent and Christmas Season. The first text we will focus on comes from John 1:1-2 where we read:
“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.”
Let’s unpack what John is saying. John draws his readers back to the beginning of the grand Story of Scripture. We here the words, “In the beginning…’ we are immediately drawn to the opening words of Jesus. John, however, drops a bomb by inserting an important word. Rather than “God” he places “the Word.” Genesis 1:1-5 tells us,
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. 3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.”
We learn that the Word was present at creation and that the Word was present with God. The creation account shows us that God’s power is through the word that brings light and life in the midst of real darkness and chaos.
We need to pause for a moment and explore the use of the Word of the Lord in the Old Testament and how it can shape our understanding of what John is trying to do in his opening statements. In the Old Testament, the Word of the Lord is a term addressing God’s self-revelation or self-expression. God’s Word reveals to us what He desires, what He expects, His responses to our actions, both positive and constructive, as well as what it means for God to be God.
God’s Story thru His Word
His Word has Power
As we explore various passages in the Old Testament, we learn that the Word of the Lord was the power behind creation. Psalm 33:4-9 says this,
“4For the word of the Lord is right and true; he is faithful in all he does. 5The Lord loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of his unfailing love. 6By the word of the Lord were the heavens made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth. 7He gathers the waters of the sea into jars; he puts the deep into storehouses. 8 Let all the earth fear the Lord; let all the people of the world revere him. 9For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm.”
His Word has Healing
We also learn that the Word of the Lord brings about healing and transformation in the lives of broken and rebellious Israel when they return to God. Psalm 107:17-20 states,
“ 17Some became fools through their rebellious ways and suffered affliction because of their iniquities. 18They loathed all food and drew near the gates of death. 19Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress. 20He sent forth his word and healed them; he rescued them from the grave.”
His Word has Direction
The Word of the Lord provides the foundation for how Israel was to live because it provided Torah as a way of life. In Psalm 147:19-20 it says,
“19He has revealed his word to Jacob, his laws and decrees to Israel. 20He has done this for no other nation; they do not know his laws.”
His Word has Power
Not only this, but the Scriptures tell us that the Word of the Lord is a powerful voice that goes out and transforms all of life. God does not waste words. Isaiah 55:10-11 explains,
“10As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, 11so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”
His Word has Guidance
Finally, we learn that the Word of the Lord is to provide guidance and parameters for the decisions that we make. Psalm 119:105-111 expresses,
“105Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path. 106I have taken an oath and confirmed it, that I will follow your righteous laws. 107I have suffered much; preserve my life, O Lord, according to your word. 108Accept, O Lord, the willing praise of my mouth, and teach me your laws. 109Though I constantly take my life in my hands, I will not forget your law. 110The wicked have set a snare for me, but I have not strayed from your precepts. 111Your statutes are my heritage forever; they are the joy of my heart.”
The Story of Christmas
These passages, and many others, provide a rich understanding of the Word of the Lord and its impact on all that we know and understand about God. However, what does this have to do with John’s introduction? John drops a bombshell by telling his readers that the Word was not simply present at the beginning, but that the Word of the Lord was God. John explains further that the Word is the Son of God who is also Jesus of Nazareth.
In the Old Testament, the Word of God is powerful and effective and is seen to manifest itself as it creates new worlds and new life and heals the wounds and brokenness of humanity. The Word reveals God’s pattern for the way to thrive in life and is true and dependable. The Word of God reveals to us God’s identity and desires and appears to proceed from God, but John explains that the Word of God is not a “what,” but is a “who.” The Word of God is the Son of God and is the man Jesus of Nazareth. All of these wonderful attributes of the Word of the Lord in the Old Testament are attributes of Jesus, who is the ultimate Word or revelation of who God really is. If you want to have a relationship with God, you have to have a relationship with Jesus.
A question that I would have for you is this, “Do you know Jesus?” Jesus is more than a wise teacher, more than a good person, more than a person who spoke about love, or more than a tragic story of one more Jewish male killed in the ancient world; rather, Jesus of Nazareth was and is the Son of God who made it possible through his mission and message to make a relationship with God the father possible. Are you pursuing a relationship with him?
In Psalm 119:105 we read, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.” When you read that, what kind of image comes to mind? Too often we have this picture of a huge lamp that allows the person to see really far ahead and everything is clear for miles around. However, the type of lamp described here is a small oil lamp about the size of your hand. These lamps only allowed you to see a few feet out – just one step, basically.
I believe this provides an important picture of our journey with Jesus. Jesus’ mission and message is supposed to guide our lives and provide direction for us each and every day, but it does not always provide the amount of certainty and clarity we would like. We want the light to shine really far ahead so that we do not have to trust; rather, we want certainty. Jesus provides enough light for us to take just one step at a time. That is all he asks of us. To trust him, to live out his teachings by the power of his Spirit one day at a time, and then be willing to take another step.
Hear the full message of taking Just One Step on our podcast.