Reading: John 1: 1-14
I was in Auckland a week or so ago and had a few hours to catch up with some of my family. In the drive from the airport I was briefed about the exploits of my grandson Archie (age 6). His parents are sending him to one of our church schools. He starts next year. It seems the family attended an interview and a tour of the school with the headmaster: at the end of this process they were asked if they had any questions. Archie did. He asked the Headmaster (1) Who made God; and (2) who made the man who made God. It was reported that the Headmaster (clearly thinking on his feet) promptly referred Archie and these questions to the Chaplain for first term next year. I am very proud that Archie asked such searching questions and I would love to be a fly on the wall when the chaplain has that promised discussion with him; and, to be honest, there is a part of me that is rather thankful that Archie has not asked his grandfather those questions - yet. These are questions that our gospel this evening engages.
I have always loved this gospel for the midnight mass at Christmas. It is one of the most famous passages in the New Testament. It is about the mystery of the universe and why anything exists at all. You could say that, for a moment, it has us gazing into the vast darkness of the cosmos while the gospeller tells an old story in a new way. He tells us of this unimaginable absolute reality that he calls The Word and that this summons the cosmos into being – forming matter, space and time – and all that is. Only from the action of the Word can we speak of a beginning and from there on all time exists and the world is full of beginnings, full of creation, of causes, and consequences. Where scientists have suggested ‘the big bang’ as the point of creation, time and space, John speaks of The Word and of a universe formed and sustained by purpose and (ultimately) by what we may describe as love.
We come to the Christmas midnight service for all sorts of reasons and, underlying all the reasons, my hunch is that we come because we are drawn by this light the gospeller talks of. We are drawn by a thread of love sensed in the world and deeply embedded in our memories, traditions and intuition. We come because this is the service where despite the darkness of the world and the darkness of our minds, despite our uncertainty and questioning, there is the promise of light and understanding. The gospeller says: “In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome[a] it.”
This is a night charged with hope and promise; a night when we are invited to contemplate the awesome and outrageous proposition that the gospeller grasped: that this cosmic reality, source of all that is, the Word, is not just an abstract philosophical concept for debate, but has entered human experience and more than that, has taken on our flesh and shared our life in Jesus Christ. This breaks all the philosophical boundaries and is such a staggering claim that we can’t conceptually quite see it – it “blows our minds.” Yet behind this claim there stands a memory and an experience, the experience of the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus. John sums it up in these words: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
This is a night when we come with our anxieties for ourselves, our loved ones and our world. Against all those fears stands the gospel’s firm statement that in Christ is “the light of all mankind and this light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” This may be a night when we come with mixed feelings – because along with hope and joy we may miss loved and familiar faces from the table or there are issues that trouble and distract us. Truly, the joy of the season is never quite untouched by sadness but still “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” At the heart of all there is, is a purpose and a love beyond all our imagining.