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Sermon for the First Sunday after Christmas – December 26, 2021

John 1:1-14

Dear friends, grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

My family and I watched “It’s a Wonderful Life” this past week, and I had forgotten how the movie begins. If you haven’t seen it, or haven’t seen it in a while, in the opening scene there is a starry sky with two heavenly bodies that look vaguely like mini-Milky Ways. You hear a bunch of prayers offered up for George Bailey – from his wife, his mother, his friends, his kids. George Bailey is in trouble, and they are all asking God to help him. The two heavenly beings then begin talking to each other, pulsing with light in the cadence of their speech. They call for the angel Clarence and tell him they have a job for him. In order to earn his wings, he is to go down and help George Bailey. “Is he sick?” Clarence asks. “No, it’s worse,” the heavenly being says, “He’s discouraged.”

This prelude is a cosmic conversation. It is a grand overview from a heavenly perspective before it gets into the nitty gritty of George Bailey’s life.

I think this can be a helpful way to understand what is often called the prologue in John’s gospel, which is our gospel reading for today. We hear the nitty gritty of Jesus’ birth on Christmas Eve, about Mary and Joseph and Bethlehem and the manger and the shepherds. But John begins his gospel by giving us a cosmic conversation. He gives us a grand overview. He helps us to understand Christmas from a heavenly perspective.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being…and the Word became flesh and lives among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

With these powerful verses from this prologue, John helps us to see Christmas from the perspective of heaven. It is as though instead of looking through a telescope out into space, we are out in space looking down through a telescope to see what exactly is happening on the earth through the babe born in Bethlehem. On Christmas, the Word which was with God before the creation of the universe, and indeed was God, became flesh as the infant Jesus. The Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, full of grace and truth.

John goes on to describe the arrival of Jesus as light shining in the darkness. Throughout scripture, darkness is symbolic of a world estranged from God. It is symbolic of sin, as it is where people go to commit sins they think can’t be seen. In scripture, darkness is symbolic of danger and vulnerability. It is symbolic of despair and death and desolation.

We might think of George Bailey, the man whose dreams were never realized, who felt trapped, who faced despair and financial ruin and the prospect of prison and even found himself contemplating suicide. George Bailey’s character still resonates all these years later because he captures the experience of life’s many disappointments and frustrations so very well. Hopefully we aren’t driven to George Bailey levels of despair, but as he stood at the top of the bridge, considering a jump, he was in a dark place both literally and spiritually, and that same darkness casts a shadow on all of us at one time or another, in one way or another.

But, John says, at Christmas a light shined in the darkness. John the Baptist testified to that light, but Jesus was the true light that was coming into the world. Jesus was the true light that no darkness can overcome. Jesus came to rescue us from the darkness and bring us into the light.

This is such powerful imagery for us who live in the northern hemisphere at this time of year. We have had an especially dark November and December this year. I remember last Sunday when the sun came out. Even though it was cold and blustery, I just had to be outside. That light in my eyes and on my face felt so very good and life-giving! Well, Jesus is the spiritual version of that sunlight. He has come to chase away the darkness and renew us by giving us his light and life. When we receive him, John says, when we receive this light, when we believe in Jesus and his grace and truth, when we trust him, he gives us power to become children of God.

Clarence the angel became flesh and rescued George Bailey from his sin, from his despair, from the darkness. Clarence the angel restored him by helping him see the virtues of sacrifice and compassion, by helping him see the value of life and marriage and family and friends, by helping him see the importance of faith. In the end, George Bailey was redeemed as a beloved child of Bedford Falls.

The parallels aren’t perfect, but there are some striking similarities here to what John is telling us Jesus has done and is still doing for us.

With his cosmic prologue, John is telling us that the Word that was with God and was God, the Word that was there at the beginning of creation, became flesh and lived among us, giving us grace and truth.

With his grand overview, John is telling us that a light shines in the darkness of our lives, and no darkness will ever overcome it, no matter how oppressive or crushing it may seem at times.

With his heavenly perspective, John is telling us the meaning of Christmas: that God has come into our world and into our lives to save us, to rescue us from our sin and our despair. God has come to restore us when we are sick, or even worse, discouraged, for lives of service in our communities and our families. God has come to redeem us through faith in Jesus, so that we would become children of God.

Merry Christmas and amen.

Rev. Jeffrey R. Spencer

Oak Harbor Lutheran Church