Recently a friend of mine left from Brisbane and drove to Melbourne and then onto Pillip Island. They were glad to arrive at their new home. Along the way they had passed huge areas of land that had been blackened and destroyed by wild fire.
My friend said even some of the large road signs had been twisted and destroyed by the intense heat of the fires. But to their surprise they saw a creamy white tree all on its own standing tall. It had survived both the fires and the bulldozers attempting to push fire breaks through the land. The single solitary tree seemed to say something just by its presence in the blackened landscape. Perhaps it is to remind us that light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome the light of God.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.
What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
John 1:1-2, 3b-5
Because we are right on the very edge of the drought here on the coast the worst of the drought and the fires have not overwhelmed us. But I think all of us have some sense of the depth of the drought and the terror of the wildfires. We feel for those who have lost loved ones, for those whose homes have been destroyed and those whose livelihood have been devastated by fire and drought. For them it will be hard to see joyful life-giving light this Christmas. Perhaps they will catch a glimpse of the light when they see that the nation stands with them in their grief. As we rejoice in the rain this Christmas let’s remember in the years ahead to buy locally produced food etc. supporting and standing alongside the farmers and graziers as they rebuild. (We were delighted as it poured rain as we sang the Christmas Carols.
In a way that is an important part of the Christmas message that God loves us, and calls us to love one another. We are called to show that love with action that lifts up our neighbour.
So that we can capture the breath and depth of the love of God expressed in this strange poem or hymn at the beginning of John’s Gospel we need to explore a bit more. John in writing this wonderful passage was trying to capture the significance of the birth of Jesus at Bethlehem. John doesn’t mention Mary and Joseph. He doesn’t care about angels and shepherds or stars and wise men. No in a way he has rewritten the first chapter of Genesis using the same phrase, in the beginning. But instead of “In the beginning when God created…”, he has “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God.” John goes on to say in verse 14, “And the Word became flesh and lived among us…”.
In other words, for John the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem was as important if not more important than the creation of the world. John wants us to hear that somehow God dwells with us, became fully human. He rolled out his swag right in the middle of our camp. Later, in John chapter three we hear that God is here in our midst because he loves. God wants us to have life and have it in abundance. For John, stories of angels and shepherds etc pail into insignificance once we see at the heart of this birth is the love of God for us.
Again to get the significance of this passage let’s glance for a moment at the psalm. Psalm 98 was the psalm that inspired Isaac Watts to write the beautiful Christmas Carol, Joy to the world. The carol picks up the theme in the psalm. God is coming bringing life and joyful freedom. This is so momentous that all the nations can rejoice, even nature itself will clap and shout. We realise both the psalmist and John have a sense that Jesus’ birth is not just for the people of Israel, but it is for the whole of humanity and in deed for the whole of creation. That is why John composed his prologue to express this as a new creation equal to or even better than the beginning. God has come, is present, because God loves us. God calls us into life.
As I said, a part of this life that we are called into, knowing that we are loved is to show that love to our neighbours. The people left devastated and vulnerable by the bush fires and the drought are our neighbours. Just like the Good Samaritan we pick them up from that place and in our own little way walk with them to a time of restoration.
Yet the Psalm and John’s Gospel invite us to have a bigger vision of God’s love and our part in that love. The birth of Jesus was never just about the people of Israel. It is certainly not just about the people of Australia. God’s love is for the whole of humanity and for the earth itself and its wonderful creatures. This means we are called into a life that embraces all nations and all people especially the most vulnerable. We are also called to care for the earth. This Christmas let’s try to break out of our own little worlds that include our family, our friends and people like us. Let’s accept the invitation to see others as our brothers and sisters. I know many of us struggle at times to love people in our families let alone to see others as family that we are to love. But if we close our world into just the people we like then we become prisoners in our own little world. Christmas invites us into a spacious world with an abundance of love and joy.
I want to finish with a poem we had at our Carol service a few weeks ago.
It is called “Sharing the Light”
On the Eve of Christmas Hatred will vanish
On the Eve of Christmas The earth will flourish
On the Eve of Christmas War will be gone
On the Eve of Christmas Love will be born
When we offer a glass of water to a thirsty person
it is Christmas
When we clothe a naked person with a gown of love
It is Christmas
When we wipe the tears from weeping eyes
it is Christmas
When the spirit of revenge dies in me
it is Christmas
When in my heart I no longer want to stay apart
it is Christmas
When I am buried in the being of God
it is Christmas
Sabeel Liberation Theology Centre (Jerusalem),On, Star of Bethlehem
Let’s look for the light shining in the darkness this Christmas, know that it can’t be overwhelmed by the darkness. Know that in that light is a love beyond our wildest dreams, embracing us and inviting us into a joyful, abundant life with the whole of humanity.