by: Denise Robinson
Christmas at John’s House
Isa. 43:1-7; John 1:1-5, 14
For the past three weeks we have been on a journey visiting the homes of each of the Gospel writers. The purpose of our journey is to experience what Christmas means from that Gospel writer’s perspective and how Christmas is celebrated there. This week we have been invited to John’s house for Christmas. (This sermon series is based on the book, “Christmas in the Four Gospel Homes,” by Cynthia Campbell).
Before we get on our way to John’s house, let’s first take a look back. Three weeks ago, we visited Mark’s house. Mark’s house, we saw, was sparse and simple. No trees, no decorations, no Christmas music, nothing whatsoever relating to Jesus’ birth. And yet, when we left Mark’s house we were filled with hope. Because even though there wasn’t much of Christmas to be seen, there was a message of good news – not in the birth story but in the resurrection. Mark reminds us that we have hope because God’s love conquers death.
Two weeks we visited Matthew’s Victorian-style house for Christmas. It’s big and old and has rooms of all shapes and sizes. Matthew’s house was one of chaos and clutter. What most caught our attention were the photographs on every wall, shelf, and available space. As we moved from room to room and listened in on the conversations, we heard a message of good news that began thousands of years before Jesus’ birth, going back to a man named Abraham – and a promise made by God to Abraham. Unlike Mark, Matthew brings us the story of the birth of Jesus. Matthew’s message for us is one of joy. Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promise made long ago. Jesus is God himself, come to be with us.
Last week we visited Luke’s house. Every bit as big as Matthew’s, but much more orderly. Christmas explodes in Luke’s house. Trees, fancy ornaments, carols, decorations, angels, shepherds, Mary and Joseph, the baby in the manger. At Luke’s house we see the image of Christmas we know best and love the most. When we left Luke’s house, we left with a feeling of peace. We heard the good news: that God has not forgotten us or abandoned us and that one day the whole earth will be restored and us with it – with no more pain or suffering or death.
Today, we come to John’s house – and John’s house is nothing like any of the others. First, getting to it is proving a challenge. Our GPS can’t find it. The directions are sketchy. We’re driving down a winding road and there are no lights – no street lights, no other house lights. Nothing. And then we go around a curve and come up over a hill and there it is. It’s hard to make out what the house looks like at first because light is streaming out from all the windows. The house looks like it’s made out of light; a light that shines in the deep darkness. As we walk up to the house, something tells us that although it’s well-built, it’s old. The house itself, with that bright warm light, coming from inside seems to be welcoming us in. As we open the door to John’s house and step inside, no Christmas carols greet us, no Christmas decorations catch our eye. It seems strange, but it’s as if the house itself is telling us to come in and look around and see what it has to offer. In John’s house many of the rooms have pictures on the walls that remind us of an art gallery – each picture seems to be painted by the same artist and each tells a story. Other rooms have people inside – and from what we can see, in those rooms one or two or more people seem to be telling a story to a group of others who are listening. We could spend years in this house, a lifetime in fact, studying the pictures, hearing the stories, and considering the message. So, what is the message John offers about Christmas?
First, John’s house is by far the oldest. Up to today it was Matthew’s house – going back thousands of years to Abraham – that was the oldest. But listen to how John’s Gospel begins. (READ John 1:1-5). John’s Gospel begins before the creation of the world – “in the beginning.” These are the same words that open the book of Genesis, the first book of the Bible. This is no accident. It is a reminder that John’s house stands outside time and it begins with God. John transports us back through time and space to the very moment when time and space began. John doesn’t care about the birth story because Jesus was with God in the very beginning and Jesus was working with God from the very beginning to save us. The birth story is just another event that happens in the middle of a much larger, grander story.
Second, John’s house has as many windows as can be fit into a house and every window in this house shines light out into the darkness. In Genesis, God’s first words were, “Let there be light.” According to John, what came into being in this world with the birth of Jesus was light – light that shines in the darkness and cannot be overcome. John 1:9 and 14 tell us all we need to know about that first Christmas: “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world … And the Word – Jesus – became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory of a Father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” The Greek word that is translated “living among us” literally means to pitch a tent. We might say, God moved into our neighborhood to live with us. John 8:12 promises us that with God in the neighborhood we will always have light. It says: “Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life.’”
As we wander through John’s house, what do we hear in the rooms where people are gathered and talking quietly? If we’re counting, we notice that there are seven such rooms, each with its own theme. In the first room, Mary, Jesus’ mother is talking about the time the two of them were at a wedding and she convinced Jesus to turn water into wine. In the next room there’s some kind of government official and his son, and the father is talking about a time when his son was at home dying. Before moving on, we hear the father talk about making a trip to Jesus, begging him to come with him and heal his son. Jesus says to him, “Go; your son will live.” The son then interrupts his father with the rest of the story; how at that very moment he was healed. Next, we hear the story of the healing of a man who had been lame for 38 years. Then there’s talk of the feeding of the 5,000, followed closely by Jesus walking on the water on the Sea of Galilee to get to his disciples who were in a boat caught in rough seas and strong winds. In the next room a man is talking about how he was blind from birth, but Jesus healed him. And in the seventh room, a man and two women are telling a story that has the attention of everyone around them. The man’s name, we overhear, is Lazarus and the two women are his sisters, and they are talking about how Jesus came to the tomb and raised Lazarus from the dead. Seven rooms with stories of seven signs – signs that tell us that Jesus is the Son of God.
Now we come to another set of seven rooms, each with pictures that relate to a statement made by Jesus about his identity. Here’s just one of the pictures from one of the rooms. This is from the Good Shepherd room where Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd. I know my sheep and my sheep know me, just as the Father (God) knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep.” There are six other rooms with pictures illustrating other sayings Jesus made about himself: I am the living water; I am the bread of life; I am the light of the world; I am the resurrection and the life; I am the way, the truth, and the life; and, I am the true vine. Seven more rooms, seven “I am” statements, seven revelations that Jesus is not only the Son of God, Jesus is God. John 10:30 confirms this when Jesus says: “The Father and I are one.”
Well, we’ve gone into 14 rooms now and one thing about John’s house becomes clear. This is a house that’s much bigger on the inside than it appears on the outside. We could spend a lifetime in this house exploring what Jesus is trying to tell us about God, about himself, and about ourselves. As John himself tells us in John 20:21: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.” We have not even touched the surface of John’s house. But there’s still a Christmas message we take from John’s house and the message is about us and God – how God feels about us, what God has done for us, and what God wants from us.
First, the message is one of light. Jesus, who came to be light to a world in darkness, calls us to be light. In John 12:35-36, Jesus says: “The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going. While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.” In John 17, shortly before his crucifixion, Jesus prays for his disciples. In v. 18 he prays to God: “As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” This is a house where, when we leave, we take light from the house with us so that the journey back will not be as dark as when we came.
Second, the message is one of peace. Jesus reminded his disciples not to be afraid, but to be at peace. John 14:27 summarizes the feeling we get inside John’s house when Jesus says: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” This is a house where, when we leave, we take the peace of Jesus with us so that whatever darkness we face cannot frighten us.
Third, the message this house gives is one of love. Scattered around the house, everywhere we look, at verses about God’s love for us. But the one in largest print, right at the doorway so we see it when we come in and when we go out, comes from John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him shall not perish but may have eternal life.” Loves permeates John’s house. But as with light and peace, this is a house where, when we leave, we take God’s love with us and we give it freely to others. Jesus says, in John 13:33-34: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Finally, the message this house gives is one of life. In the room where Jesus says he is the living water, we read: “Those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” In another room we read: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. Because I live, you also will live.” And, in John 10:10, Jesus says: “I come that you might have life and have it abundantly.” This is a house where, when we leave, we have an invitation to take to the world, an invitation to come and see the house made of light that shines in the darkness that the darkness cannot overcome.
And there’s a final reason why John’s house is so big once we get inside. It comes from John 14 where Jesus says: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.” John’s house is the house where, when we leave, we know we’ll be back – not just for a visit, but to live in forever. Because this house is not just God’s house or Jesus’ house or the Holy Spirit’s house – for all of us who follow Jesus, who proclaim him as Lord and Savior – this is our house as well. And there we will be at home.