Sunday Worship at Home

John 1 sermon 2021

SERMON (John 1: 1-14 and Hebrews 1: 1-4)

Here we are at the beginning of 2021 having just navigated our way through a very difficult year. You know as well as I do what the effects of the pandemic have been (and are continuing to be) on our national life – and on the life of the Church of England including our life here at St John’s. It seems to me that we are on a roller coaster which is swinging us from hope to despondency. We now have a vaccine being rolled out which is great news, but we also have a variant of the disease which spreads more quickly than the original virus. Another vaccine has been approved which is easier to store, but the numbers of people who are ill is growing and we are continuing to have to live under varying restrictions in the tier system.

When we first went into lockdown in March it was a situation without precedent, and we had to adjust to living very differently. Yet, it probably seemed to many of us as if it was a short term situation which would be resolved within a few weeks or months. But of course that hasn’t proved to be the case. This hasn’t been quickly over, and although there is a very definite light at the end of the tunnel with not only the original vaccine but also the new one from AstraZeneca, we are still not out of the woods yet.

Learning to cope with difficult situations which are long term is rather different to dealing with those which are soon over. We can probably cope with practically anything if it’s only for a little while. But when something that is hard to deal with stretches out over many, many months then we need particular qualities of courage and resilience to see us through. 

Our reading from the book of Hebrews was written to Jewish converts to Christianity who were struggling with the long haul. Their original excitement and enthusiasm for their new-found faith in Jesus Christ was hitting some road blocks and they were feeling the temptation to revert to their original beliefs. Exactly what their problems were has to be pieced together but some of their problems centred around their worship. They met in people’s homes, there was no central worship with the pomp and circumstance of priestly rituals and some of them missed that. They also found that they couldn’t always communicate what they believed to others in their communities; it didn’t make sense to their families and friends who couldn’t see the wonder that those early Christians saw. There were tensions, even hostility; their families gave them a hard time. Even despite the long term pressures the converts stuck with it, but some found that as time went on they weren’t quite so keen, the good news didn’t seem as good as it had done. People’s behaviour in the church wasn’t always in line with what Jesus had taught either. The routines of worship became rather dull and some drifted away from what had been very exciting. It wasn’t a crisis as such but the congregation diminished as people forgot what had inspired them in the first place. The demands of the long haul were proving too hard for many.

No-one knows for sure who wrote the book of Hebrews – possibly Barnabas, possibly Appollos (both leading figures in the early days of the Church) but whoever it was what he wrote was about the ‘supremacy and sufficiency of Jesus Christ as the revealer and mediator of God’s grace’. Or in other words he wrote to remind those struggling early Christians of who Jesus is in order to keep them steady and hopeful during the long haul; to re-ignite their faith which was going through such a hard time.

Our hard time is not the hard time of the original hearers of the letter to the Hebrews (although we might sympathise with them about their difficulties in not being able to communicate the good news to their families and friends) – yet we too need to keep steady and hopeful as we look out over the coming months and wonder what they might bring, hoping that they will be different.

What difference does it make to us to have faith in Jesus?

Our reading from Hebrews (short as it is) speaks to us of the wonder of Jesus. He is the radiance of God’s glory, the exact representation of God’s being. He is not simply a good teacher or healer. He is the one who brings the divine light into the world. Here is the one who makes visible the very being of God, which was otherwise invisible.

Then we are taken on a journey which follows Jesus from death to glorious life. Jesus goes from making purification for sins through his suffering and death to a place above the angels. I’ve been talking a lot about living our faith in the ordinary and the everyday recently, but here for a moment (in this reading) we are taken out of the ordinary, and the everyday, as we follow Christ on his journey into the presence of God where we too are drawn (through our worship, different as it currently is) – an experience which reorients our perception of the situations in which we find ourselves.

Not only do we have the reading from Hebrews this morning we also have the well-known and well-loved reading from John’s gospel which is saying the same sorts of things. It talks about Jesus’ life being the ‘light of men’. What that means is that the life of Jesus reveals God to us, communicates his glory. (Jesus said, ‘When you have seen me you have seen the father.’). The Israelites had seen God’s glory in the lightning and thunder of Mount Sinai, but in the unfolding story of the Bible it is now Jesus who reveals God’s glory, grace and truth. By the light of Jesus Christ’s presence we are able to see our way to God. And what we see is a God of love – a God who knows us all by name, who loves and cares for each one of us, who has plans for us; plans to bring something of His love into the world by the way we live.

Both these readings remind us of who Jesus is – which is something out first song also does. The song imagines asking Mary if she knew what her baby would grow to be. I love its words:

Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy would one day walk on water?
Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy would save our sons and daughters?
Did you know that your Baby Boy has come to make you new?
This Child that you delivered will soon deliver you.

Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy will give sight to a blind man?
Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy will calm the storm with His hand?
Did you know that your Baby Boy has walked where angels trod?
When you kiss your little Baby you kissed the face of God?

Mary did you know.

The blind will see. The deaf will hear. The dead will live again. The lame will leap. The dumb will speak. The praises of The Lamb.

Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy is Lord of all creation?
Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy would one day rule the nations?
Did you know that your Baby Boy is heaven’s perfect Lamb?
The sleeping Child you’re holding is the Great, I Am.

(You might want to listen to this on YouTube. The Pentatonix version is very good).

To have this reminder of who Jesus Christ is at the beginning of the New Year is really timely and important because to have faith in Him changes the way we understand the world, changes the way we live and changes the way we look to the future. We have just celebrated Jesus’ birth on Christmas Day and remembered, through our carols and readings that God stepped into the world when Jesus was born; that he came amongst us and lived as one of us. When we look at what Jesus did and how he lived we know that God is there with us throughout it all. I don’t know how each of us is feeling as we begin this New Year together. Perhaps some here are feeling anxious or lonely; perhaps some are struggling to find hope. But God is with us even through this pandemic offering us his love and friendship, calling to us to take his love, compassion and kindness into every situation we find ourselves in and giving us courage and steadfastness for the long haul.

The pandemic has made demands on us which we couldn’t possibly have forseen in March – and it has been hard. But as Christians, whatever life brings both in the short term and the long term, Jesus Christ is with us for always and everywhere – shining his light onto the path ahead of us, that bright light through which we see the world.

And that world is God’s – and as for us we are here now made in his image to reflect his glory and to keep his love alive.

A question to reflect on – what do you need from Jesus as we begin this New Year?

Amen

This is a God who is our Saviour and who reaches out for our friendship! He is the most precious gift in the world who needs each of us to keep his love alive. We – like Mary and Joseph – are not going to be defined by power, possessions, position or prestige. We are human because of the way we live, love and serve one another. As bearers of the Christ-child, we learn compassion, forgiveness, kindness and the sheer recklessness of God’s love.

Those early Christians had started off with such high hopes, but now had pretty much lost interest. Many of them were still going to church, but without any particular sense of engagement. How would it be possible to get the people back to the high point where they had started? How could those early Christians be reinvigorated in their faith?

But what about eternal hope? A hope that doesn’t just see us through one crisis (bad as it has been) but is for always and through everything.

Both our readings speak of that hope because both talk about Jesus.

Hebrews talks of the wonder of Jesus. He is the radiance of God’s glory, the exact representation of God’s being. He is not simply a good teacher or healer. He is the one who brings the divine light into the world. Here is the one who makes visible the very being of God, which was otherwise invisible.

Then the writer of Hebrews sketches out a journey. He follows Jesus from death to glorious life. Jesus goes from making purification for sins through his suffering and death to a place above the angels. I’ve been talking a lot about living our faith in the ordinary and the everyday recently, but here for a moment (in this reading) we are taken out of the ordinary, and the everyday, as we follow Christ on his journey into the presence of God where we too are drawn (through our worship) into the presence of God – an experience which reorients our perception of the situation in which life is lived.

Our reading from John is well known and well loved, but not straightforward to understand.

In the briefest of summaries what it is saying is that MORE

And finally, our song ‘Mary did you know’ is straightforward and easy to understand. It reminds us of what Jesus grew up to do and to be and as we step out into the New Year with all that it will bring remember its words because they remind us of all that Jesus grew up to become and to do with his life – and in that for us as Christians is our truest hope. DEFINITION OF HOPE

Mary, did you know
that your Baby Boy would one day walk on water?
Mary, did you know
that your Baby Boy would save our sons and daughters?
Did you know
that your Baby Boy has come to make you new?
This Child that you delivered will soon deliver you.

Mary, did you know
that your Baby Boy will give sight to a blind man?
Mary, did you know
that your Baby Boy will calm the storm with His hand?
Did you know
that your Baby Boy has walked where angels trod?
When you kiss your little Baby you kissed the face of God?

Mary did you know. Ooo Ooo Ooo

The blind will see.
The deaf will hear.
The dead will live again.
The lame will leap.
The dumb will speak
The praises of The Lamb.

Mary, did you know
that your Baby Boy is Lord of all creation?
Mary, did you know
that your Baby Boy would one day rule the nations?
Did you know
that your Baby Boy is heaven’s perfect Lamb?
The sleeping Child you’re holding is the Great, I Am.