John 1:1-14; 1920
December 14, 2014
On December 22, 1882,at the Fifth Avenue home of Edward Johnson in New York City, the history of Christmas in America changed forever.
Johnson worked for inventor Thomas Edison. Two years early, also during the Christmas season, Edison had demonstrated for all to see the first working strand of electric lights when he displayed them outside of his Menlo Park, New Jersey home.
Two years later, Johnson developed a novel idea by tweaking the Edison invention of a strand of electric lights. For Christmas that year, he had a special strand of 80 lights made at the Edison shop. The lights, which were basically the size of walnuts, were red, white and blue in color. When the strand was ready, Johnson took them home and he hung them on his Charlie Brown sized Christmas tree which Johnson had actually placed on a specially constructed motorized base which allowed the live tree to rotate. With this unique, one of a kind, strand of lights now hanging on his rotating tree, Edward Johnson introduced the world to the idea that would evolve into modern electric Christmas tree lights.
In so doing, Johnson also delivered the world from one of the most unsafe elements of Christmas of that time period. You see, to put lights on a tree wasn’t a novel idea. But generally speaking, prior to Johnson’s invention, the lights used to illuminate trees were real candles or specially made small lanterns. As you can imagine, the chance of fire was very real and came to fruition on a regular basis during those days. That is why it was not uncommon to find a bucket of water and of sand near many trees of the day simply because of the possibility.
Though it would be well into the 1900s before Johnson’s invention really caught on in a significant way, the advancements that they brought on all levels from basic safety all the way to the longevity, quality and the simple brightness of the lights was astounding. After all, can you imagine a home decorated for Christmas in 2014 without at least a strand or two of lights as a part of the equation? Without question, when we thinking of Christmas one of our first images is of trees, houses, wreaths, mantles and countless other items illuminated by light that shines in our winter darkness.
Our text for today also centers on Christmas light. But, not in the form of electric strands of lights such as those that Edward Johnson invented. Rather, the focus here is on Jesus as the ultimate Christmas light that had come to overcome the darkness that humanity had descended into.
This is John’s vision and version of the Christmas story. Rather than Joseph’s decision to remain true to Mary or the coming of Magi from the East as we read about in Matthew; or Luke’s story of shepherds in the fields and a baby born in a manger while wrapped in swaddling clothes, John’s story of Jesus’ coming is more focused on what Christ symbolized rather than on the birth story itself.
For John, one of the primary symbols of this word made flesh was Jesus as light – the ultimate Christmas light.
Without question there are a lot of things that we could say about Jesus as the ultimate Christmas light but this morning I want to focus on two aspects of what this idea means that are born from John’s gospel. In a very practical and real way, both of these aspects have basic, daily benefits for us if we live into them. Likewise, I think both of these aspects speak to how Christ as the ultimate Christmas light can lead to more light than darkness in our lives and can thus increase our level of joy as we live each day.
On the one hand, in John chapter one, to say that Jesus was the ultimate Christmas light was to say that this light shined above all others. The gospel of John can be a little confusing because two figures named John play into the story. First, there is John the beloved disciple who was one of the twelve and whom we believe was the author of this gospel that carries his name. On the one hand, there is also John the Baptist, a relative of Jesus who served as the one who prepared the Israelites for Jesus’ coming and who pointed toward him as the long promised Messiah. In chapter one, it is John the Baptist who we hear from. One of the things that he is very, very clear about is that compared to Jesus, he was nothing. Sure, he pointed toward the light, but, make no mistake about it, he was not the light.
A lot of the time, I don’t think we really appreciate how freeing this truth is and can be for all of us.
I say this because I don’t think we are as comfortable as was John the Baptist with being clear about our role and our responsibilities some of the time. Sure, we would all quickly agree that Jesus is the light of the world and not us. But, how many of us run around on a regular basis like we are the world’s savior? How many of us act as if our lives and the lives of everyone else depend on us? And, how many of us convince ourselves that if we don’t do it, if we don’t say it and if we don’t volunteer for it, no one else will?
Now, there is a careful balancing act here and I think John the Baptist handles it beautifully. It wasn’t as though John the Baptist felt and acted like he had no responsibility. He was to get people ready, he was to call them to recognize the Messiah had arrived, he was to join Jesus in his work, but ultimately, his powers and his responsibility was limited. He understood his place and where his limitations were.
One of the most helpful books for people of faith was written several years ago about two Christian counselors in California named John Townsend and Henry Cloud. The book was called Boundaries. The basic point of that book was that in every relationship we have, we have a role but we also have limitations. No relationship and no life role ultimately solely depends on us. Townsend and Cloud felt strongly that this is an idea that countless believers struggle to live with as a guiding principle and so they wrote about it.
Today, the book Boundaries has been reinvented by Townsend and Cloud to be refocused on countless more specific areas. Today, there is Boundaries for Families, Boundaries for Parents, Boundaries for Marriage and on and on it goes. Yet, the point remains the same – none of us are without responsibilities but at the same time none of us are God.
There is one ultimate light of the world. There is one ultimate light of Christmas and it is Jesus. Few things in this life can bring us more peace and joy than our ability to fully wrap our lives around this idea.
On the other hand, in John chapter one, to say that Jesus was the ultimate Christmas light was to say that when all others failed, Christ’s light would continue to shine. Here is the way John chapter one says it in verse five, “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”
This is a great verse to put in the context of Christmas. Most all of us in this room have had a similar Christmas experience at one time or another. We have gotten the Christmas decorations out of the attic or brought them in from the storage building out back and somewhere in the process, we have gone through the work of checking the Christmas lights to see if they still work. We all know the feeling of plugging in a strand a the lights and nothing happening – let’s just say, since we are in church, that when this happens we are not always in the most festive of Christmas spirits!
Why even last Sunday afternoon here are First Baptist as we were tidying up between morning worship and the afternoon performance of the cantata, suddenly we couldn’t get the lights on the sanctuary Christmas tree to work. Tommy and I must have spent half an hour trying to figure it out. I hate to admit to you that finally Adair came along and solved the mystery. In about five minutes, she had the lights working again. But, for at least a while, the Christmas lights failed us.
Here is my point. If we work with Christmas lights, or any other kind of artificial light for that matter, we know that ultimately our source of light is going to fail us. They are not meant to last forever. The light, no matter how good, will ultimately go out. Yet, the light of Christ never, ever will. When all other lights fade away, the darkness will never, ever extinguish this light.
Wars won’t. Cancer won’t. Divorce won’t. Whoever is in charge in Washington won’t. If the economy tanks, it won’t. Nothing will.
As people of faith, let’s be honest, we have never fully believed this. For, like everyone else, our sense is that our ability to find hope or joy depends on what happens with all of these issues I have just named. But, it doesn’t for the light still burns, no matter what.
Here is Christmas joy my friends. Christ is the ultimate Christmas light. Chris it THE LIGHT – not me or you. And, this light that will never stop burning. Here my friends, here is where joy can be found. Amen.