And we beheld His glory, as of the only-begotten of the Father, full of Grace and truth. (St. John i. 14)
In Holy Advent you and I have been endeavoring to prepare our hearts and souls for the coming of our Saviour Jesus Christ on Christmas night. But in order to truly welcome Him, we must beware of missing Him, missing His coming Life which St. John tells us is the Light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world. (Ibid, 9). Tonight we shall learn that He shall be hidden from us if we continue to live in the darkness of the night. So on this night we must endeavor to be illuminated and enlightened by Christ the coming Light of God the Father. On this night we must endeavor to embrace the Holy Spirit of this Light, that this Life may not merely irradiate our minds with God’s truth, but may enkindle a fire of love in our hearts, so that Christ the coming Light may be made flesh in us.
But first to the darkness. St. John is one who has heard the call of Jesus in his fellow Apostle Paul: The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light. (Rom. xiii. 12) What Christ has told him in darkness, he must now speak in the light. (St. Matt. x. 27) For the people who sat in darkness have seen a great Light, and to them that sat in the region and shadow of death, upon them hath the Light sprung up. (St. Matt. iv. 16) St. John knows that the Light of God has shone into the darkness of man’s fallen world. He knows also that if Christ is to give Light to them that sit in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide their feet into the way of peace (St. Luke i. 79) the Light must shine from the heart of God into his own. He sees that those who follow Christ shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the Light of Life. (St. John viii. 12)
And so St. John reminds us that we are called out of darkness into Christ’s marvelous Light. (1 St. Peter ii. 9) To grasp this vocation, to heed this call, he will take us through the stage of spiritual conception in the first bright beams of the Light to fertility and maturity as the Life and Love of the same Light perfect our lives. But to begin to be touched by the Light, our minds must move out of primordial darkness to the space and place that is before all beginnings, into the source and origin of all that comes to be and passes away. St. John draws our minds up and into what is beyond and before all things. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The Same was in the beginning with God. (St. John i. 1) Before the possibility of any birth, old or new, earthly or heavenly, there is God, His Word, and the Spirit, one God who exists forever and without any change. With John we are invited to come out of the spiritual darkness to see God’s Word, Christ the Light, whose Spirit of Love binds Him eternally to the Father. So before we are spiritually born again we must see that Christ’s Divine nature comes from the Father and before all beginnings.
But as soon as our minds come into this Light, we see that this Life has a desire and Love to make all that is other than Himself. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was Life; and the Life was the Light of men. And the Light shineth in darkness; and the darkness overcame it not. (Ibid, 3-5) God’s Eternal Word is the Life that not only enlivens and quickens all of created reality, but gives Light or lends meaning and makes sense of all that He has made. He with His Word commanded all to be/ and all obeyed Him, for that Word was He! (Davideis: Cowley) This Light shines in the darkness and so calls us forward into the new birth of a knowledge that sees meaning, purpose, and definition as coming from God in order to be returned to Him. John knows that, the minds of the wise are lucid by reason of a participation in that Divine Light and Wisdom. So by the lack of it they are darkness. (T.A. Comm. John, 1)
Yet there is more to this Living Light of Love. This is that true Light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew him not. He came unto His own and His own received Him not. (Ibid, 9-11) The Light intends not only to be seen but to be embraced as the brightness of God’s Glory, the express Image of His Person. (Hebr. i. 3) The Word of God, Christ the Light, has never ceased to desire and long for His people. In His Light we come to see our vocation and calling. In His Light also we come to see our failure to indulge, envelop, and cradle His Love. The world knew Him not…His own received Him not. (Idem) In His Light we see that while we were made for intimate incorporation into God’s own life, our proclivity to sin prevents us from having it. This is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. (St. John iii. 19) In the Light of His Life, God is Love. In the darkness of sin’s death we reject it. These are wells without water, clouds that are carried with a tempest; to whom the mist of darkness is reserved for ever. (2 Peter ii. 17) Still, with John we realize that God has never ceased to desire for man’s new birth and new life in the Light of His Love.
So the birth of John’s new knowledge generates within him a deeper gratitude for the longing and yearning that is forever being reborn from this Life. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. (Ibid, 12, 13) He writes with earnest hope: A new commandment I write unto you, which thing is true in Him and in you: because the darkness is past, and the true Light now shineth. (1 John ii. 8) In this Light John sees that for the invisible, incomprehensible, and inconceivable Word of God to be born, man must welcome its Light from the depth of his heart with faith. For John sees that it does not emerge from appetites in the blood, nor desires of the flesh, nor even from the will of man. The generation of the sons of God will not be carnal but spiritual, because they are born of God. (T.A., idem) Thus John understands that he is born again by the Grace of God alone. And so in the everlastingly begotten Light of God’s Love, he realizes the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.( Ibid, 14) The reason or cause that compels his conclusion is that we beheld His glory, as of the only-begotten of the Father, full of Grace and Truth. (Idem) John looks back over a very long life and knows that the Jesus who first loved us and on whose love John makes a good return is the same Christ who has transformed him in Grace and given him new life with God. John sees too that the same Life whose Light has imparted nothing but God’s Love to him is the same Word of God from whom created love becomes redemptive desire in the heart of Jesus Christ.
John reveals to us the effect of his experience of Jesus Christ. This experience endured throughout the earthly life of his Master the Messiah. This experience persevered through the Lord’s Ascent back to the Father and into Pentecostal rapture and transformation. What John experienced was the Glory of God in Jesus Christ. What John experienced were signs and evidences that this Jesus was not merely another well-intentioned human prophet. Rather in Jesus he found the wellspring of eternally begotten new birth that was being imparted to all men as the trigger and catalyst of the love that would return them at last to God. He found in Jesus the desire to share new birth and new life, and to create and make anew through redemptive passion for the salvation of the world. In Jesus John discovered that the desire to create and the desire to redeem are but two names for that one uninterrupted and eternal ardor and longing of God for man’s union with Heaven’s home.
John traces the Glory of God through Jesus’ earthly existence back to Heavenly desire. Whether it be in the innocent suffering and death of Jesus as atonement for man’s sins, in the loving Resurrection, in the Glorious Ascension, or in the coming down again to be rebirthed in the hearts and souls of His newfound friends, John sees nothing but God’s Glory. He writes:
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life…that which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full.
The joy he shares with us is in the birth and persistence of Eternal Love, revealed in the span of Jesus’ life. The joy he shares with us is in a new birth brought out of the sterile cold winter’s night in the fertile fire of God’s unending day. The joy he shares with us is in the new birth of Heaven’s God made in the hearts of all faithful men of goodwill. In awesome wonder and with heartfelt thanksgiving, then, let us, on this Christmas night, with St. John and the poet, sing of this Light that even now intends to be born in our hearts and shine out from our souls:
Welcome to our Wondering Sight,
Eternity shut in a span!
Summer in Winter, Day in Night!
Heaven in earth! And God in man!
Great little one, whose glorious birth,
Lifts earth to Heaven, stoops Heaven to earth!