When I was a kid, my favorite television show was Superman. Understand, this was in the 1950s, when every home had only one television set, received only 2 stations, and all shows were in black and white.
Superman of my childhood was a low tech show with simple special effects.
But he was dependable.
Every episode, he fought for truth, justice and the American way and at one point in the episode, the bad guys could be trusted to try to shoot Superman.
This was the most exciting moment of the show.
The criminal would aim his pistol, fire off six bullets, while Superman stood there looking bored. Bullets would bounce off Superman’s chest.
Then the bad guy would realize with some surprise that the gun was out of bullets, and without fail, he would throw the empty gun at Superman.
That’s when Superman would duck.
We could never figure that out as kids – this man who was never afraid of bullets would be afraid of a simple, empty gun that was tossed in the air.
What does Superman have to fear? He’s the man of steel.
Well, as an adult I know now what was going on. As an actor, it was easy for George Reeves of the old Superman shows to bravely face the bullets bouncing off his chest. There were no bullets. The sparks of the bullets on his chest were added later, as an early special effect.
But when the gun was thrown, that was real. And the actor would, for just an instant, get out of character and duck so he wouldn’t be hit by the fake handgun the other actor had thrown at him.
As an actor, it was easy for George Reeves to ACT like Superman, even though there were times when reality would creep into the series. And then he would step briefly out of character.
As Christians, it is easy for us to ACT like Christians, who believe in Christ, especially at Christmas time.
But now that Christmas is over, the world around us sets in and it is hard for us to stay in the Christian character. And sometimes we are not acting like Christians. We are acting out of character.
It is easy to act like we believe
when we are singing songs of Christmas carols,
decorating the tree,
setting up the manger set.
It is hard to stay in that character of belief
when we have to go back to school to face the tests and lectures;
or when we have to pack up the decorations in the attic
and go back to work to face the boss and the routine.
It is easy to act like we believe when we are surrounded by words and symbols of faith and Christmas.
It is hard to stay in that Christian character when we have to face the world of health problems, work frustrations, and family fights.
And sometimes at this point of the calendar year we find ourselves thinking, “What did we celebrate Christmas for? What was it all about?”
John’s Gospel starts by telling us “what it was all about.” The Gospel of John doesn’t start with a Christmas story. It doesn’t start with Christ in a crib. It doesn’t start with the birth of our Lord. It starts by telling us what our faith is all about.
Jesus is the Word
John’s Gospel begins with a poetic description of Jesus. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
“What’s the good word,” is something we often ask and hear.
With a word, I can make you laugh, or cry.
I can draw you closer with words of love and grace.
And I can push you away with harsh critical words.
I can discourage you with things like, “What a stupid thing to do,” and “you’ll never amount to anything,” “loser” “quit now and avoid frustration.”
Or I can encourage you. “Yes you can, I’ll help you. I will never quit on you. You can count on me to be in your corner.” “I WILL love you NO MATTER WHAT!”
If I can speak properly, I can stir up almost any emotion –
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
And what are the words that the Word of God verbalizes?
Back on Christmas Eve, it was easy to believe these words of love and grace.
Can’t we stay in the Christian character all year long, and continue to believe. Not act like we believe, but truly believe.
Jesus is God
One of the most important messages of John’s Gospel comes at the beginning. He is poetically talking about Jesus as The Word. “In the beginning was the Word – Christ. And the Word, or Christ, was with God. And the Word, or Christ, was God.”
At Christmas time, we sang carols that proclaimed that Jesus was God.
But as we move away from Christmas, it is easy for us to step out of our Christian Character and to be more like the rest of the world.
The rest of the world would say, Jesus was a good man.
Which he was.
The rest of the world would say, Jesus was a good teacher.
Which he was.
The rest of the world would say, Jesus a real person who certainly in fact lived.
Which he did.
However, the rest of the world would feel more comfortable leaving out a statement that said that Jesus was the Son of God and was himself, God.
It is easy for some to step out of the Christian character and act like Jesus was just a good teacher who lived long ago.
John’s Gospel reminds us that Jesus was – and is – God.
When we step out of that belief, we have completely stepped out of the Christian character.
Jesus is unchanging
John’s Gospel goes on to say, “He was with God in the beginning.”
Nothing brings home how much our world is changing than Christmas, and nothing produces a greater nostalgic longing for the world to STOP changing than Christmas.
At Christmas, we see changes all around us.
Children are growing up.
We may be reminded once again that someone we loved has died and is no longer with us to celebrate the holiday.
We remember the way things used to be when we were children and we miss the past.
We may feel overwhelmed by the changes.
And we may long for the world to stop changing.
I don’t think we are opposed to changes in our lives. We need change. We’d be very bored otherwise.
But we need something, or someone, who is consistent in our lives. Who never changes. And Christ is that unchanging consistency.
The Gospel of John says, “He (meaning Christ) was with God in the beginning.”
The Book of Hebrews tell us that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (13:8)
The Character of Christianity is to trust that Christ never changes. We need to stay in that character. The world may change. Christ does not.
Jesus is the Light of the World
John’s Gospel also tells us that Jesus is the light of the world. John goes into great detail here, explaining how John the Baptist came to announce the arrival of the light of the world, and how John the Baptist was not the light, but was announcing that the light would soon arrive.
Jesus is the light of the world.
And light is a comforting thing.
All parents know that the best defense against the monster who lives in a child’s closet or under a child’s bed, is light.
Turn the light on!
Darkness is a frightening thing.
Light is a comforting thing.
I remember when I was 13 years old, I had a frightening experience.
I was in the shower and I was washing my hair with a new and different shampoo. Some of the shampoo got into my eyes and it burned. I mean it was really very painful. I rinsed my scalp and my eyes the best I could and when I was finally able to open my eyes, they still burned.
But more than that, I had actually lost my eyesight. I was totally blind. I couldn’t believe shampoo could be so strong that it could literally blind you.
I didn’t want to call out for help because I was standing in the shower without any clothing on, and 13 year old boys are sensitive about stuff like that. So inspite of the fact that I am now totally blind, instead of calling for help, I grope in the darkness until I find my robe and put it on.
Just as I am about to yell for help, the electricity comes back online.
I can see again.
You see, while I had my eyes closed, the power had gone off for just a moment, and standing there in total darkness – I assumed the worst.
Of course, I was ONLY 13 years old at the time and those of you who are 14 years old or older know that is the time when your body grows faster than your brain.
But darkness – it is a frightening thing, and nothing dispels the fear like the light.
To live in spiritual darkness is to live in loneliness and despair and fear – and nothing dispels that spiritual darkness better than Jesus Christ, the light of the world.
At Christmas time it is so easy to be in the Christian Character and to sing songs about Jesus being the light of the world. We love to light the candles on Christmas Eve in the candle-lighting services. But then it is so tempting to go home and get out of the character of Christianity and to step back into the darkness.
We need to live throughout the whole year as people of the light.
Through Jesus, we have a relationship with God
Now, John is making several points here, but he is moving all of them into one single, important point.
Jesus is the Word.
Jesus is God.
Jesus is unchanging.
Jesus is the light.
All of these points converge into one most important point – Jesus is someone through whom we can have a relationship with God.
During Christmas it is easy to sing those songs of Christ’s birth and of his salvation he brings.
But with the Christmas season coming to an end, it is easy for us to listen to the voice of the world. And the world insists that all roads lead to God, and that there is no difference between Christ and Mohammed or Buddha.
Actually, the world has a point in saying that all religions lead people to God.
That is a biblical statement. All roads do lead to God.
Matthew’s Gospel tells us this is true.
In chapter 25 of Matthew, Jesus tells us, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him…”
See – the world is right. All religions, all roads lead to God.
However, Jesus continues… “All the nations will be gathered before him and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.”
What happens after that is judgment. Some are blessed with eternal life. Others are not so blessed.
All religions lead to God, but when I face God on judgment day, I don’t want to face God the judge. I want to face God the father. It is through Christ that I enter that relationship and become a child of God. John’s Gospel says in the opening verses, “to all who received him,” (that is to say, Christ), “to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”
This is the real difference of Christianity. It means that when we find ourselves on judgment day and all of the nations are gathered together – Christians already have a personal relationship with God. Christians are forgiven. Christians stand ready to receive the blessing of eternal life.
Everyone else – well, that’s God’s business and He will deal with them as a judge.
But he will deal with us as a loving father who deals with his children.
That is what Christmas was all about. And while Christmas is past, and the decorations are coming down, and the gifts may soon be forgotten, the character of Christmas and Christianity survives throughout the whole year.
W. Maynard Pittendreigh
All rights reserved
Ministers may feel free to use some or all of this sermon in their own ministries as long as they do not publish in print or on the Internet without ascribing credit to the author.