I love reading John’s prologue, in fact John is my favourite gospel. His prose is majestic. But, in some ways this is the problem with John. We can get lost in the beauty of the language. Whereas Mark has an immediacy and writes in what one of my tutors described as ‘estuary Greek,’ John is poetic.
And yet in the middle of the prologue we have just heard we read the line:
‘He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.’
The prologue, in all its majesty and beauty, contains within it a cold and cruel message of rejection and desolation and, in doing so offers a nuanced and gentle challenge: ‘will we accept him?’ The challenge isn’t offered blind, instead it comes with a promise, or guarantee, ‘but to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave the power to become children of God.
Our Christmas challenge then is simply this: ‘will we choose to reject him or receive him?’
If our choice is to receive Him we must do so on His terms. And the good, or in Isaiah’s terms, ‘beautiful’ news is that his terms are somewhat easier and gentler than the conditions set by the conservative religious class of Jesus’ day.
The religious elite of Jesus’ day didn’t want a vulnerable God they wanted a strong, decisive and alpha God. They didn’t want their Messiah to appear as a baby, work as a carpenter and mix with all manner of folk. They didn’t want their Messiah to transcend civilized boundaries by befriending fishermen, women, Samaritans, publicans, Greeks and tax-collectors. They didn’t want their Messiah to go anywhere near women with gynaecological problems, epileptics or lepers; they were far too concerned with their purity codes and religious protocols. They had forgotten the straightforward message that God exists for all. They had actually thrown away their foundational Scripture with its instance that all of human-kind is made in the image of God (Genesis 1, 26).
So, when we talk of receiving or accepting Jesus what we are also talking about is our willingness to accept, relate to and include each other. Jesus came for all, so our only authentic response should be to welcome and include all in our festivities. To do otherwise is to commit the sin of trespass.
My hope, for the Church both the world wide church and the Church of England this Christmas is that in looking to Jesus as the Messiah we will follow in his footsteps, relating to others as he related to them. As I look around the world it is clear to me that the church needs to model a new way of behaving and relating. The world needs a more Christ-like mode of engaging.
The beauty and genius of the Christian faith is to be found in the simple fact that God cares for all, came for all and is, if you will excuse the terrible pun, the present for all, and that in a nutshell is the real meaning of John’s prologue!
So, in receiving Jesus this Christmas let us simply allow ourselves to be fascinated, challenged and inspired by His story, so that we, in the words of the prophet Isaiah may too be the sort of people who ‘announce peace,’ ‘bring good news’ and, with absolute integrity proclaim salvation’s song.