Midnight Communion 2011

Sermon Date: 
24 Dec 2011
Bible Base: 
John 1:1-14

David Jeans

On a dark night at the darkest time of the year it’s good to hear about the true light coming into the world. The light is the light of Jesus Christ, God with us, and God showing us God’s own true nature. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, full of grace and truth.
I was visiting someone last week, who asked ‘so what is grace?’. It’s a question which John in his gospel does not actually answer – at least not as a definition. He says that we have seen his glory and that is full of grace and truth. Those who have heard me preach before know that this passage and this theme is one I keep returning to. And it’s a theme which is at the heart of the good news of Christmas. The heart of the good news of Christmas is that it is good news about God. Jesus came to show us what God is like. And John says that the glory of God is full of grace and truth. He never defines grace (in fact he only uses the word 4 times - all in chapter 1). To see the grace of God, look at Jesus. To see the truth about God, look at Jesus, full of grace and truth. Grace is not something to define, it’s something to experience.
My understanding of grace as the true nature of God was strengthened this year when Viv and I went to London in August to celebrate a significant birthday. And many of you will know that we saw the wonderful musical Les Miserables. It’s from a Victor Hugo story about the underclass of France, those who were downtrodden and despised by the well-to-do with all the power. The central character is Jean Valjean; we first see him doing hard labour in prison, where he has been sent for stealing bread to feed his children. Much of the rest of the story is about his interaction with 2 characters.
The first character is called Javert. He is first a warder in the prison and then a policeman. Javert is obsessed with what he believes to be justice. For Javert, justice is about rules. If you keep them, fine. If not, you must be punished. There is no consideration of people’s circumstances and no question of mercy. Break the rules and you must be punished.
The second character is a Bishop. Unusually in modern drama, this Bishop is a hero! He shows hospitality to Valjean when he has just been released from prison. Valjean repays his hospitality by stealing some of his silver. When he is caught he is brought back by the policeman to face the accusation and his due punishment. But instead of accusing him, the Bishop says that he had given the silver to Valjean as a gift, and says ‘Oh and you forgot this candlestick – take that as well’.
As a result of the mercy he received from the Bishop, Valjean is a changed man. Again and again in the story he shows mercy to others, whereas whenever we see Javert he is trying to get people punished.
One character who is only interested in rules and punishment. The second character who values people and shows them mercy, and changes them into better people as a result.
Which of those characters is more like your view of God?
The good news of Christmas is that Jesus shows us that God is full of grace and truth. That God values mercy above punishment, that God is like the merciful Bishop rather than being like the jailer only interested in punishing people.
The stories John tell us about Jesus show that. Let me share some of my favourites.
The first one in his Gospel is about a wedding where the hosts run out of drink for their guests. Jesus does not say “serves them right, they should have planned properly for this occasion, now they will have to face the deserved embarrassment for being so incompetent”. Instead, in an act of totally undeserved generosity, he miraculously turns water into wine and covers their embarrassment.
The next one is when he gets into conversation with a woman at a well. Not just a woman (that would have been bad enough for a religious teacher to be seen talking to a woman), but a Samaritan woman and a woman who had had 5 husbands and is now living unmarried with a sixth. Jesus does not put her down, instead he talks with her about God.
Then he heals a man who has been paralysed for thirty eight years (and presumably had to beg). Rather than ignoring him or being embarrassed by his disability or chiding him for not helping himself – he heals him. And he does it on the Sabbath and gets the criticism of those around him obsessed with keeping the rules.
And my final one – the rule-keepers bring to him a woman caught in the act of adultery saying that she should be stoned to death. His response – those of you who never do anything wrong should throw the first stones. And when they all disappear he says that he does not condemn her but that she should go freely (but not do it again).
Jesus shows us a God who loves people (and only gives us rules for our benefit); Jesus shows us a God who wants to bless people; Jesus shows us a generous God; Jesus shows us God full of grace and truth. And tonight we rejoice that he dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, full of grace and truth.
If that view of God is new to you, take time in this coming year to look again at Jesus.
If you share that view of God remember to show it in your own mercy and generosity to others. May that word of grace and truth be made flesh in us in the coming year.