First Reading Jeremiah 31:7-14
Second Reading Ephesians 1:3-14
Gospel Reading John 1:1-18
Sermon: “Grace Upon Grace”
On this second Sunday of Christmas, we continue to ponder and wonder at the mystery which has been revealed to us – The “Word made flesh”, Jesus Christ, God made manifest in a human life. In Jesus, God entered into his creation so that we can begin to comprehend the great love that God has for us and the great gifts given to us through the grace of Jesus – God with us.
The prologue to the Gospel of John is a wonderfully dense, poetic and compact declaration of who Jesus really is. It begins with the simple, but profound statement “In the beginning was the Word”. In Greek, the word “Word” is Logos – it means both the literal spoken word but also conveys the idea of mind, plan and intent. So we might read it this way: ‘In the beginning, God had a plan, an intention’. From the very beginning, before he spoke creation into existence, God knew and God planned. The Spirit of God that moved over the waters of chaos already saw the day when a savior would be sent into the world that was not yet formed. The Son of God was the very agent through which everything was made.
Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior was not a backup plan, but God’s original intent. John says that “Through him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that was made”. That Word accomplished creation. That Word gifted us with life. That Word illuminates and drives away darkness. And that Word became incarnate, that is a flesh and blood human, with a purpose: To unite the creator with his creation. That is what we still ponder and wonder at this Holy Christmas Season, the “Word become flesh”.
John goes on to describe the function of this Word become flesh as light in the darkness. We talked on Christmas Eve about the essential role of light – how we need it to function well, how we are dependent on it to gain perspective on our environment. What is literally true is also spiritually true as well in this case. When we see the world in God’s light, we begin to see thing differently. The love of God, shown to us in human form by Jesus Christ, exposes the darkness that has corrupted God’s beautiful creation. It shows hate and selfish greed for the darkness that they truly are and judges them simply by its very existence.
No wonder, John writes next of grace. The term Grace is used several times in this brief passage, and curiously not at all in the rest of the gospel – but more about that in a bit. Right now, I want to savor this word grace that we hear so often from Paul, but only in this rare settling from John. John 1:14 NIV says: “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. Grace and Truth now that is a bit of an odd couple isn’t it? Warren Wiersbe comments on this pair of terms this way: “Grace is God’s favor and kindness bestowed on those who do not deserve it and cannot earn it. If God dealt with us only according to truth, none of us would survive, but He deals with us on the basis of grace and truth. Jesus Christ, in His life, death, and resurrection, met all the demands of the law; now God is free to share fullness of grace with those who trust Christ. Grace without truth would be deceitful, and truth without grace would be condemning.”
So… Grace AND Truth! The truth is we need a Savior and God has provided for that need from the beginning of time through the grace of our Lord Jesus the Christ.
But John has more to say about Grace. In verses 16 and 17, he writes “From his fullness (that is Jesus’ fullness) we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” This fullness is richly abundantly, over flowingly full indeed. It is what Paul was writing about in our epistle reading – Ephesians 1:5-8 NRSV “He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace  that he lavished on us.”
Warren Wiersbe explains it this way: Much as our words reveal to others our hearts and minds, so Jesus Christ is God’s “Word” to reveal His heart and mind to us. Jesus described himself to his disciples this way at the last supper: “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (Jn 14:9). Wiersbe invites us to think of Jesus, the Word made flesh” this way: “Now a word is composed of letters, and Jesus Christ is the “Alpha and Omega” as John writes in Rev. 1:8, the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet (as they are displayed on the windows of this very sanctuary). According to Hebrews 1:3 NRSV “He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high…” in other words , Jesus Christ is God’s last Word to mankind, for He is the climax of divine revelation. Jesus Christ explains God to us and interprets Him for us. We simply cannot understand God apart from knowing His Son, Jesus Christ.
As was also foreseen, not all recognized the light when it came. John goes on to tell us that many of Jesus’ own people, whom God had led and formed for so many long years did not recognize their own Lord when he came in human form, nor did many others in the world at large either. Yet God made sure that the event of his entry into his world was recognized and pointed out in many different ways and by many different voices. From the Heavenly choir to the Shepherds that first night, to the faithful old prophets Simeon and Anna in the temple, when Mary and Joseph came to offer sacrifice for their first born male son as required by the law. Later, Matthew tells us, they were visited by those wise men from the east, with their royal gifts of Gold, Frankincense and myrrh. They all somehow understood that this child was unique and special. The season of Epiphany that we are about to enter is all about this revealing of who Jesus really is.
One of the most important things John tells us more about this “Word” is the simple declaration in John 1:14 “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” John reminds us that the enfleshed Word made his dwelling among us – literally the word used for dwelling is “tabernacle” – which recalls the Tent of Meeting that Moses was commanded to build. It was the place where God met with his people after the Exodus. The Ark of the Covenant was placed in that tabernacle and that was where the blood of the sin offering was sprinkled and where forgiveness of sins was pronounced. Jesus is the ultimate fulfillment of all of that. He is Emmanuel, God with us. Jesus, by his gracious Birth, his life and ministry among us, his sacrificial offering of himself through his death and his glorious resurrection makes our union with God possible.
The Old Testament repetitive cycle of sin, sacrifice and atonement has been completed once for all time. He has shown us God – “Full of grace and truth”. This is what John means when he says in verse 16 that “Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given.” Some of your translations render it “we have received grace upon grace.” Both readings are appropriate. He is the fulfillment of the Mosaic Law – an earlier demonstration of God’s grace. Therefore he is indeed for us “Grace in place of grace already given”. He is also Grace upon Grace – abundant, loving, inexhaustible grace!
John concludes the Prologue with verse 18 which says “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.” Here is the wonderful truth – Jesus Christ, born as a little boy in the manger at Bethlehem makes God known to us. What is God like? Look at Jesus. What does God want for us? Listen to Jesus. How does God want us to live? Look to the life of Jesus and listen to his teaching. How much does God love us? Well John answers that just a couple of chapters on “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”
Interestingly, After this intensive use of the term grace in the Prologue, John never uses it again in the rest of the whole Gospel. Instead John uses another wonderful word frequently: “abide” which illustrates that Grace being lived out: Chapter 15 of John is filled with this word such as in John 15:4 NRSV “Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.” What an invitation – come live in the light and love of God.
Prologues are beginnings – they set the stage and introduce what is yet to come.
This present moment is a beginning too. A new day, in a new year. What might this Word, this Purpose of God reveal in your life this year when you believe, trust and abide in Him? How will your life in the coming days respond and testify to that Word, it’s life and it’s light?
Do you make a New Year’s resolution? Here is a good one from our Lord:
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” We have received Grace upon Grace, it the least we can do to respond in love.
Now to the One who by the power at work within us is able to do far more abundantly than all we can ask or imagine, to God be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.