It is a season of hope and expectation,
a time set aside in the church calendar for prayer and reflection.
It is a time to focus on what is to come with the birth of Christ into the world,
and how Christ’s coming has and will impact our lives.
In the wider culture, the holiday season is very much the opposite.
It is the season of expectations – high expectations for ourselves and others,
as we try to create a perfect Christmas for family and friends,
as we are encouraged to buy more and do more,
so that all may be perfect when Christmas day comes.
But the perfection the culture looks for is superficial and sentimental –
visions of sugar plums that dance in our heads,
even when we know better.
The images all around us, the songs blaring from every radio,
speak of family and romance and happiness and perfect white snow,
and “the most wonderful time of the year.”
But for some of us, Christmas is just the opposite.
It is the season when grief rises, when depression deepens,
when loneliness that we usually push to the backs of our minds
comes to the forefront.
It is the season when our expectations of ourselves and others can become so inflated, that we are bound to end up disappointed.
The Gospel of John gives us a different idea of what it is we hope for at Christmas,
and speaks in a particular way to those of us who struggle with the season –
whether from grief and sadness,
or from anxiety of too high expectations for ourselves and others.
John echoes the opening lines of Scripture – In the Beginning
Genesis says – In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth
John say – In the beginning was the Word, and the Word with with God,
and the Word was God.
John reminds us that this is the God who has always been involved in human history – the God who created it all, who has spoken through the prophets,
who has been in relationship with God’s people through law and covenant.
Yet now, God is getting more personally involved, as the very Word of God takes human flesh and dwells with us in our own human form.
This offers a new vision of hope for us.
That at Christmas God fulfills God’s promise to be Immanuel – God with us.
That God does not hold out expectations of perfection or performance,
but rather comes to us with a promise –
“Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age”
And this promise was given and fulfilled not just ages ago – not just with the physical birth of Jesus, that one moment in history when God took on human flesh –
but now, here in New Mexico in 2015,
God still promises to be Immanuel, God with us.
John focuses our attention not on a baby and a birth,
but on the eternal Christ, who has always been in the world from its creation,
who continues to be in the world as light shining in the darkness.
That phrase in verse five, The light shines in the darkness, can also be translated as:
The light shines on in the darkness
The light continues to shine in the darkness
and the darkness cannot overcome it.
And that is the promise of Advent, and the gift of Christmas.
That no matter what has happened or has not happened in our lives,
no matter our griefs and disappointments, our mistakes and unmet expectations,
the light of Jesus continues to shine in our darkness.
The light of Jesus is stronger than our darkness.
Seminary Professor David Lose writes about this lesson from John,
Perhaps this is why John gives such scant attention to the details of Jesus' birth. He is, ultimately, more interested in our new birth as children of God. According to John, Christmas is not really Jesus’s birthday at all; rather it is ours. Christmas is the day we celebrate our birth as children of God, the keeping of all God’s promises, and the beginning of the restoration of all creation.
John tells us that God has seen the darkness in the world,
and has come into the world ready to shine light in that darkness.
Ready to struggle against that darkness.
Ready to wrestle with the darkness in our lives and in our world
until new life is possible.
Re- birth is not easy.
New life doesn’t come easily, or quickly, or in quite the way we expect it.
But Jesus promises that his light does shine,
that his light can penetrate even our darkest places,
and that if we are willing to stay in that light a new way will come clear.
So, however you spend Christmas this year,
I invite you to look at your expectations in the light of Christ,
and let go of the ones that hold you in the darkness.
I invite you to remember, on Christmas morning, that you celebrate not only the birth of Jesus 2,000 years ago, but your own re-birth-day as a child of God.
The light shines on in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it.
Thanks be to God.