Jeremiah 31.7-14; Ephesians 1.3-14; John 1.[1-9]
Almighty God, in the birth of your Son you have poured on us
the new light of your incarnate Word, and shown us the fullness of
your love: help us to walk in his light and dwell in his love that
we may know the fullness of his joy, who is alive and reigns with
you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
THIS Sunday, we hear the Christmas Day Gospel in an extended
form, alongside different readings and a different collect. From
exile, Jeremiah records how God has saved, redeemed, and gathered
his sheep, and led them back home.
Yet, in Christ, there is still more. Ephesians falls over itself
in a breathless paean of praise about every blessing, being chosen
in Christ before the foundation of the world, being redeemed,
chosen for adoption as children, experiencing God's good pleasure
in Christ, and more, and more . . .
When the author of Ephesians finally pauses for breath, it is to
conclude that all this is given so that we might live for the
praise of his glory. That leads us to John, who tells us that we
have seen his glory, full of grace and truth.
John's opening, "In the beginning", echoes Genesis. Scientists'
discoveries about the scale and beauty of the cosmos are
mind-boggling enough for us to cope with, but "In the beginning was
the Word" takes us beyond the beginning of created time, as we know
it, to eternity. The ancient hymn "Of the Father's heart begotten"
gives poetic voice to this mystery.
Part-way through John's theological litany of wonder, amazingly,
human time and space are suddenly interjected, and become part of
the story: "There was a man sent from God whose name was John."
God's eternal light and life are let loose in the world that we
know. We are people upon whom the riches of God's grace are
lavished, blessings of which Jeremiah's exiles were promised a
John's prologue is like an overture, playing phrases of themes
that will be repeated and developed richly throughout his Gospel.
"The light shines in the darkness" looks forward to other
references to light and darkness. That the Word is "the true light"
points to another of John's themes: that of truth and what is
The Word "came to what was his own and his own people did not
accept him" is a succinct summary of the first half of John's
Gospel. The prologue then turns on verse 12, "but to all who
received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become
children of God." This is a theme that Jesus explored with
Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman.
The Old Testament resounds with the steadfast love of the Lord,
now revealed and shared in the Son, through whom we have received
grace upon grace. John writes of the Word's dwelling, or pitching
his tent, among us. That recalls God's presence in the tabernacle,
as his people journeyed through the wilderness (Exodus 25.8), and
the prophets' words that God would again pitch his tent among the
people (Ezekiel 37.27, Zechariah 2.10). Jeremiah glimpsed this when
speaking of God's leading and gathering his scattered people.
Another Old Testament theme repeated in this overture is that of
glory (Exodus 24.16, 40.34-35). "We have seen his glory," writes
John. He does not, like the other Gospel-writers, record the
revelation of that glory in the transfiguration, but instead,
locates the revelation of God's glory in Jesus's signs (John 2.11),
and ultimately in the crucifixion (John 12.23, 13.32, 17.1).
This theological overture serves a similar purpose to that of
the (quite different) prologue to Job. Both tell the reader more
than the people in the subsequent story know, who have to discover
it for themselves as it unfolds. John does not name Jesus until the
very end of the prologue, and immediately says that no one has ever
seen God, not even Moses (Exodus 33.18-23), through whom the law
was given. The Son, however, has made him known, and this is the
lens that John gives, through which his readers can interpret what
they read (John 20.31).
In the light of all this wonder, we pray to walk in God's light,
and to dwell in his love. One way to do this afresh, before
Christmas ends, is to read through John's Gospel, soaking up the
wonderful themes with which he tantalises us in the prologue.
Writing what we notice by hand (dare I suggest, on good quality
paper, with a fountain pen?) slows us down, and allows us to absorb
what we record in a way that typing on to a computer screen cannot.
Take time to savour God's Christmas gift to you, then perhaps write
your own version of Ephesians' outburst of praise.