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“In the Beginning: Starting Your New Year Right”

Jan.1, 2017 Jn.1:1-18


New Year’s is a time people often try to turn over a new leaf, start afresh – and that’s captured by the abundance of New Year’s Resolutions. Humorist Phil Callaway in a recent episode of Laugh Again gave some examples of resolutions that maybe weren’t quite the best. There was the fellow who told his friends, “My New Year’s resolution is to put the past behind me. Let bygones be bygones. So, if I owe you any money – sorry, I’ve moved on.” (Not recommended!)

             Someone else told their friend, “My New Year’s resolution is to be more assertive.Is that OK with you?”

             Then there was the sage who resolved to procrastinate more – but they decided to put it off til the next year!

             Resolutions reveal our priorities, what’s most important to us. When we start out on a journey, the direction we choose has a lot of impact on where we’ll end up. When John the gospel-writer begins his gospel, he sets forth certain themes and key-words that help shape his narrative, how he’s going to bring different emphasis to his retelling of the story of Jesus Christ in a way much different from the synoptics, Matthew, Mark, and Luke. These have to do with God’s resoluteness, His purpose in sending Jesus; the fullness of Christ’s grace and truth; and our muleness, our role in carrying this Good News to others.


The things people propose for New Year’s resolutions often are rather insignificant in the long run. Like the man who resolved to eat less ice cream so he’d have more room for cookies! More seriously – what ARE some common things people resolve to do? (eat less, exercise more, get out of debt, save up for some expensive holiday or new toy) Some of these goals are laudable, praiseworthy, reflecting wise stewardship. But some pale in the light of eternity. Our goals tend to be fairly short-term, passing in nature, subordinate rather than making a major difference in life. People may decide to try to forego pleasure in one area just so they can have more pleasure in another area. Which of your resolutions are actually going to be worth the pain or self-denial, are going to make a real difference even 20 years from now?

             The world has a habit of having blinders on when it comes to matters that are eternally important. John points out that the world did not perceive or accept God’s heaven-sent Son. John 1:5,10,11 “The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it...He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.” People in general were made by God their Creator, but they did not recognize Him in their midst in the person of Jesus (v10); when He came to His own people, the Jews, they rejected Him, they did not receive or welcome Him (v11).

             Paul writes in 2Cor 4:4, “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” Has Satan made you ‘blind’ so you can’t perceive how bright and desirable is Christ’s glory? Do your eyes get distracted elsewhere, by this world’s advertising or “teasers” popping up on your screen? What do you pick up to look at when you sit down to “crash” for a few minutes?

             In Jesus’ case, neither the Pharisees nor Sadducees, nor Pilate nor Herod, recognized Him to be the Son of God. Their vision was obscured by visions of power, position, wealth, influence, religious perfectionism... They needed their blindfolds removed. They were sadly “in the dark” rather than seeing clearly in the light.

             One ophthalmologist said that there were more nearsighted people in New York City than in any other city. His reasoning was that people were down among the sky scrapers, hemmed in by the walls of high buildings, which in turn limited their field of vision. For many the only opportunity for distant vision was to look up at the sky, which very few did. Thus, he said, the constant use of the eyes for short distances tends for nearsightedness and dissatisfaction. Our eyes can be so focused on the immediate that we lose sight of the ultimate.


What’s the solution to our blindness, our dullness? Paul told the Corinthians, 2Cor 3:16; 4:6, “But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away...For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.”

             This is God’s great project as recorded in John’s gospel: revealing Himself to humankind through Jesus His Son so people might see what (or rather, Who) is most important and orient our lives around Him, through faith. 1:1 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” “In the beginning” – Jewish readers would recall Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” But where one might expect “God” John puts this new term “the Word”. John wisely chose a term which would have special implications for both Jews and Gentiles. For Jews, God’s “word” is the railway track down which runs the locomotive of His power. Exactly HOW did God go about the business of creating? Gen 1:3 “And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light.” V6 “And God said, ‘Let there be an expanse...’” V9 “And God said...” Vv 14, 20, 24 “And God said...” God’s word is how the Almighty Spirit works His wonders. Meanwhile, for Gentiles, philosophy used the term ‘word’ or ‘logos’ (reason) for the rational principle that governs all things. So John the writer chose a term which carried useful baggage for both cultures.

             His point: in Jesus, God is revealing Himself, expressing Himself, unveiling and disclosing Himself, making Himself known, showing what He’s really like. John 1:18 “No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.” Has exegeted Him, explained and unpacked Him - the verb means to draw out in a narrative or to recount. How did Jesus at the close of His earthly life sum up what He’d come to do? John 17:4,6a (praying) “I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do...I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world.”

             As you look ahead into 2017 and make plans, are you BEGINNING with God? Does He factor at all into your plans? Are you carving out priority time with Him each day to study His word and pray, seeking to find out what He’d reveal to you? Is getting to know Him better at the top of your list of priorities? If not, what’s crowding Him out that can be shunted down the list or even eliminated?

             John shows God’s agenda is to reveal Himself in order that people might put their faith in Him. 1:7 [John the Baptist] “came as a witness to testify concerning that light, SO THAT [note: purpose clause!] through him all men might believe.” 1:12f “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” The divine goal is that people receive Jesus, put their trust in Him, and so become born over-again, born “from above” as Jesus describes to Nicodemus in chapter 3.

             Christ didn’t come to give us more INFORMATION – today with the internet, we have all kinds of that! Jesus came to show us who God really is, what He’s actually like, so we might trust Him and commit our entire lives to Him.

             As you look over you calendar or datebook for 2017, is there anyone you’re mentoring in the faith, meeting together with to encourage them and hear how they’re doing in their walk with God, and to pray with them? Real disciples of Jesus are “makers of disciples who make disciples” – we are ‘born to reproduce’! How are you making it a priority to transmit the faith, share your walk with another person?


A major theme in John’s gospel is LIGHT. Jesus will announce to the crowds in 8:12, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John introduces this theme prominently in the prologue: v4 “that life was the light of men.” v5 “The light shines in the darkness...” v7 [John the Baptist] “came as a witness to testify concerning that light...” V9 “The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.” This light transitions into other terms: glory, grace, truth, as a prism refracts pure white light into its multicoloured components. V14b “We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

             The gospel-writer emphasizes the FULLNESS of Jesus’ goodness; borrowing from the Gnostics one of their religious terms, showing that Jesus’ fullness outshines and outweighs anything that any lower spirit-being is capable of producing. V16 “From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another.” A better translation would be NRSV’s “grace upon grace” – like manna for each new day that replaces the previous day’s manna, continually fresh and re-supplied.

             Is that the style or atmosphere people note in us as believers – that we are full of grace, praising God for His faithfulness expressed to us anew morning by morning? Or are we more inclined to be grumpy, discontent, dissatisfied, never quite in a good mood? Could our attitude stand some adjustment in this area, perhaps taking time to meditate more on the many blessings God has already given us? Could we come up with a tally of “one thousand gifts” along the lines of author Ann Voskamp?

             Take care that your New Year’s resolutions do not arise out of a bent form of legalism. The gospel-writer makes a sharp distinction in v17: “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” Law is a mirror given to help us see the grime on our face, but it doesn’t do a thing towards helping us get cleaned up. That’s where the forgiveness and cleansing from Jesus’ blood on the cross come in. Law comes through in “should” terms – I “should” do this, I “should” be on that committee – whereas grace manifests itself more in outflow of the gifts God has given us. Religion LIKES laws because by them we can measure ourselves relative to others, keep score, judge others because they’re not doing as good a job of keeping the rules as we are. But that’s the trap the Pharisees fell into.

             As you review your list of resolutions, do they scream “law” – OR echo God’s grace, bubble up from blessings received from Christ ‘one after another’?


God is resolute in revealing Himself through Jesus so people might believe and have life. Jesus shows us the Father, shining forth God’s glorious love, living out His grace and truth, so other people are blessed. What’s our role, then? Being mules.

             That may sound strange, but I remember Tim Hughes (songwriter, author of Here I am to Worship) talking at a conference once about Jesus entering into Jerusalem on a donkey. Suppose the donkey had a big head and got to feeling sorry for himself - “Why are they cheering for this man? Don’t they know I’m really the star of the parade?” Tim Hughes’ point was that, as a worship leader / song writer, his goal was to facilitate people being able to worship Jesus as a sort of reliable but unobstructive donkey: the focus is on Jesus, we in the congregation are just magnifying Him by using the gifts He’s given us, the unique way He’s shaped us. To use Rick Warren’s phrase, “It’s not about ME!”

             Look at the lack of pride and vanity and selfishness in John the Baptist. 1:8 “He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.” Again in 1:15, “John testifies concerning him.He cries out, saying, "This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’"” John is quite willing to not be centre stage, to let Jesus have the spotlight; he knows he’s the friend of the bridegroom rather than the bridegroom. He willingly accepts a subordinate role. He rejoices that his brief preaching ministry is preparing the way for the ‘main attraction’.

             Look again at your list of resolutions, or your goals and priorities that are shaping how you’re carving up the precious time in your day planner. Is it “all about ME”? Are you using your time in a way that’s serving as a faithful mule or donkey for Jesus? How are you taking special steps to bear Him into walled-off areas amongst your relatives, your acquaintances? Is He leading you to quit doing something in order to be more available to that neighbour who needs you, your in-law who would appreciate you running an errand for them (with sweet demeanour rather than grumbling!), that Sunday School class or church group where you suspect your giftings could shine? Being a “mule” may not be glorious, but it could be just what the Lord’s looking for to advance His Kingdom in a household, in a community, at your workplace.

             I’ve been reading Dr Mary Aiken’s book The Cyber Effect. She’s a criminal psychologist specializing in internet-related activity. You may have heard of drug “mules” – people that drug lords use to transport their wares across borders. Dr Aiken describes a new role in the cyber world, that of the “money mule”. Remember those ads you’ve seen – “stay at home and earn money”? It’s basically becoming a cog in a money laundering operation. “The job entails receiving money from customers, deducting a commission, and then wiring the balance overseas...” Dr Aiken notes of these ‘money mules’ or ‘smurfers’, “Many are not aware they are doing anything illegal until the police knock on their door.When the crime operation goes down, the mules are often the only ones who get caught and punished.By then, the money is in the hands of the cybercrime ring.”

             Another example is that of the “storage mule”. Default settings on file-sharing (peer-to-peer / P2P) sites make a folder on your device shareable – thus your device can potentially become an invisible storage site for encrypted content a cybercriminal wishes to hide and find later.

             Whose ‘mule’ will you be? I’d rather be a donkey for Jesus to ride into people’s lives on, than some unseen dark lord’s money mule or storage mule.


In closing, here’s a story about some young children who, like John the Baptist, invited others into a living relationship with the Lord. And so a family discovered more of God’s grace and truth.

             Marion Bon West writes The Gift that Kept Giving (The New Guideposts Christmas Treasury: Augsburg, 1989). “Eleven years ago, on Christmas Eve, our little girls gave us a unique gift—so unique that it keeps on giving, year after year.

             Julie and Jennifer were six and eight. Our twin sons, Jon and Jeremy, were not yet two. I remember I was tired. The boys had required constant attention. Still, I'd done all the things that I always did at Christmas. The tall tree was decorated, the gifts elaborately wrapped. The cooking was done. The door was decorated. Presents for the children had been carefully selected.

             I was tired but happy. Julie stopped me in the kitchen. "Mama, Jennifer and I have a present for you and Daddy.It's not something you can wrap up.We want you and Daddy to sit on the sofa and hold the boys, so we can give it to you." I had a few more last-minute things to do, and I really didn't want to sit just then. "Please, Mama," Julie pleaded, "it'll only take a few minutes." I relented and called my husband. It took some doing to get the boys settled in our laps. Finally, though, we were ready for the gift. Julie and Jennifer stood nervously on the hearth, holding hands. They wore red flannel granny gowns with little matching dust caps. "First, we have to turn out the lights," Julie said in a hushed voice. "We just want the Christmas lights from the tree to shine," Jennifer explained.

             Looking straight ahead, they sang "Silent Night." Then Julie recited a poem about the love of God. After she finished, Julie asked her Daddy, shyly, "Will you please read us the Christmas story from the Bible, about Jesus getting born? Our Sunday school teacher read it last Sunday.”

             Jerry got his Bible and read the story, leaning toward the tree so he could see. We all listened. Even the twins were quiet and sat still. When he finished, Julie asked so softly we could barely hear her, "Now can we pray together?"

             We'd never really had family devotions and we weren't sure how to start the prayer. But, nevertheless, a little self-consciously, we prayed, each of us, one at a time. I knew then that something very special was happening to our family. From our daughters' gift, we had learned that we could pray together. So, through the years we continued having devotions, not just at Christmastime, but all through the year.

             Our little daughters' gift to the family, on that long-ago Christmas Eve, was the gift of faith. It has grown and supported our family ever since. It's a gift that keeps on giving.

[Let’s pray.]