More than Meets the Eye (John 1:1-4)(Silent Night)
Passage: John 1:1–1:4
Behind the Music
I. Ah, Where to Begin?
If you were telling someone the Christmas Story, where would you begin?
Would you begin with Mary and Joseph's journey to Bethlehem? Or would you begin with angel's announcement to Mary that she would be give birth to a king? Or would you begin with Joseph and the angel's message to him? Or like the Gospel of Luke, maybe you would begin with the story of John the Baptist's birth. Or maybe like the Gospel of Matthew you would begin with Jesus' lineage, specifically his family connection to king David and to Abraham. Or maybe you would begin by telling your listener or listeners about the prophecies that foretold the coming of the Messiah, and how Jesus fulfilled all of these perfectly.
Where would be a good place to start?
I would like to suggest an answer to that question this morning. But before I do that, let me remind you about what we've been doing the last couple of weeks. We’ve been taking some time to look at several of the most-loved, most-sung, and most-broadcasted Christmas carols of all time. And when I say “look at”, I mean we have been trying to go behind the song and find out how God's word, how the Bible, informs these songs; how the content of these songs give them their real power.
This morning we are taking a closer look at the song we just sang, “Silent Night”.
II. Behind the Music: "Silent Night"
What do we know about this song? Well, actually, quite a bit.
The story of “Silent Night” begins in 1818 on Christmas Eve, in Austria, on what was unfortunately shaping up to literally be, in some sense, a 'silent night' at the small catholic church in the town of Oberndorf. The church organ had broken down and Jospeh Mohr, who was the assistant priest at St. Nicholas Church, was scrambling to come up with some special music for the midnight mass.
Only hours before the service, Mohr rememberd a Christmas poem he had written two years earlier. Digging it out, he rushed to the home of the church organist, Franz Gruber, and did several things: he told him the organ was broken, but then asked him to write some music for the poem, teach it the church choir, and perform it on guitar...and all in just a few hours.
Well, Gruber embraced the challenge and the rest is history. The poem was “Silent Night”.
But the story doesn't end there. We know about and sing this song today because the man who came a few weeks later to repair the broken organ, Karl Mauracher, he heard the whole story from Mohr, learned the song, and over the next several years, as he repaired organs, Mauracher shared the song with dozens of churches all over Austria.
From there, several Austrian families that worked as traveling folk singers took the song throughout Europe and even to the United States in 1839. By the time the Civil War was raging, “Silent Night” had become the most popular Christmas carol in the country, and today, according to some sources, it has the distinction of being the most recorded song in history.
If you think about the lyrics of the song, each stanza of the song progressively reveals more and more about the significance of this child who is sleeping in heavenly peace. In the first stanza is he described as a “holy infant”. But in the second stanza, the heavenly messengers of Luke 2 are described, and this holy infant is identified clearly as “Christ [the Messiah], the Savior.”
But it's the third stanza that reveals the full significance of the Christmas story:
Behind these words is the truth of God's word. And I believe the best place to study these truths is in John's Gospel, chapter 1. Turn with me to John 1:1-4.
III. The Passage: "And The Word Became Flesh" (1:1-4)
While the gospels of Matthew and Luke may contain the classic elements of the Christmas story, while they may be the Gospels we think of when we think about what we know of the life of Jesus before His public ministry, it is John's Gospel that has the distinction of being taking us back to the true beginning of the Christmas story.
Listen to how John begins his gospel and what he tells us here about the life of Jesus before, way before His public ministry. John 1:1-3...
A. The True Beginning of the Christmas Story
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.
While Luke may take us back to the promise and prophecies of the Old Testament, and Matthew may take us all the way back to Abraham through the genealogy of Joseph, John's Gospel takes us straight back to the very first verse of the entire Bible.
Didn't that sound familiar to you... “in the beginning”? Yes, John is very deliberate on his choice of words here. He wants to take us right back to Genesis 1:1. How do we know? Because in addition to the famous phrase of Genesis 1:1 in John 1:1, John 1:3 points us to the rest of Genesis chapter 1.
John is telling us here that even though the man Jesus was born at a certain time and a certain place, born of Mary, the Word existed at the very beginning of the universe. In eternity past, this Word was not only with God, a preposition suggesting relationship, but that this Word was God.
And why is this Word called “the Word”? Because in some sense, when God speaks all throughout Genesis 1, it is the Word who is the instrument by which creation takes place: All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.
But the bridge from eternity past to the recent past (at least for John's first readers) only comes in verse 14: And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us...
That's the Christmas story, isn't it? “The Word became flesh...”. The “Word” wrapped himself, He wrapped our humanity around His deity. The instrument of God's creation become a part of the very creation He created.
If you were telling someone the Christmas Story, where would you begin?
We see where John begins, don't we? He begins at the beginning, at the beginning of everything. The most important truth about the Christmas story is not that Jesus came as the fulfillment of prophecy, or that Jesus was born a king from David's line, or that He was born of a virgin, or even that the angels of God declared His birth. The most important truth about the Christmas story is the truth contained in the name “Immanuel”: God with us.
The baby of Christmas was God in human flesh. From John 1:1 to John 1:18, the writer helps us to understand that Jesus is the son of God. This Word is not the Father, but he is nevertheless still God. And since there is only God, we understand that God must exist as more than one person. How else can the Son, the Word be with God, and also be God.
You see, when we begin the Christmas story where John begins it, we are able, from the start, to explain the absolute 'bigness' and uniqueness of that baby laid in a manger.
B. The True Meaning of the Christmas Story
But look at how John continues in verses 4 and 5 of chapter one. He has shared with us the true beginning of the Christmas story. Look here at how he describes the true meaning of the Christmas story:
In him [in this Word] was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
When John says that the Word was “life”, he is drawing out what he's already said in verse 3. The Word is the Creator of all life because He is life. But look at the second half of verse 4: “the life, this life was the light of men.” What exactly does that mean?
I think verse 5 can help us. Notice verse 5 is another clear allusion to Genesis 1. Remember the opening verses of Genesis:
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness.
But the darkness that John is describing in verse 5 is spiritual darkness. Therefore when John says that this life was the light of men, He seems to be pointing to the reality of spiritual darkness being spiritual death. Thus, the light that shines through God's Word is life.
It's so appropriate that Christmas is a festival of light. We hang lights on our houses and on our trees. We have parades of lights and create sculptures of light. We hold candlelight services. And for those who understand, all of those lights, every incandescent and every LED should remind us that the first Christmas was like God turning on a huge spotlight and shining it into a world of spiritual darkness.
Listen to how John concludes the opening section of chapter 1; listen to how he explains the true meaning of Christmas:
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth...16 And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known.
This is where the carol “Silent Night” is so helpful. The writer of the song makes it clear that he's not writing about, nor is John writing about real light. Jesus was not born with a compact florescent halo around his head, in spite of what certain paintings depict. No it was “love's pure light” that radiated from Jesus' face, because His birth was the “dawn of redeeming grace”. And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.
Jesus was not simply “a” lord at His birth because of some hereditary connection. No, He was THE Lord at His birth, the Word made flesh, the Son of God making God known.
I think it's fair to say that no matter how many Christmases you've celebrated or will celebrate, no matter how many gifts you've given or received, no matter how nice those gifts were or will be, you cannot know the true meaning of Christmas, the true fullness of Christmas, until you receive the gift of God's grace that comes through Jesus.
Do you remember what grace is? Here's a working definition of what God means by grace:
Grace is the favor that God freely gives in order that we might get the exact opposite of what we deserve and God might get all the credit.
Our turning from God has led us into the darkness. But the gift of Christmas is the gift of light. It's the gift of life. I pray that new life is yours. It can be through faith.
IV. Seeing with True Christmas Eyes
But as we think about this passage and this song, I think there is another truth that comes out here loud and clear.
As I thought about this truth, it took me back to childhood and to some of the toys I played with as a boy. Of course, most of the toys that I played with have all come back to the stores, redesigned and repackaged for today's kids. One of those toys is Transformers, you know, the robots that turn into cars and airplanes. Do you remember the slogan that went along with those toys. “Transfomers: More Than Meets the Eye”.
I think that phrase describes “Silent Night”. If you think about the lyrics, the song begins with the viewer looking at and describing Mary and her sleeping baby, maybe sitting in front of a brightly burning candle, bathed in, surrounded by its warm light.
But the song ends up saying, in effect, there's more here than meets the eye. As we've already talked about, the song writer seems to go from the real light that surrounds the baby Jesus to the spiritual reality of his radiance as God, and as the perfect revelation of God's love and grace.
John chapter 1 is saying the same thing, isn't it, except that its starting point is the “more” and not just what “meets the eye”. John shows us the incredible spiritual reality of Christ's identity as God in order to eventually bring us back to the man Jesus.
It's this ability to see beyond the surface that should characterize God's people. This is what it means to see with true Christmas eyes.
For example, when you look at a nativity scene, what do you see? I think some people look at the statues of people and animals, they look at the stable and fences and trees and they see their childhood; they are transported back to the Christmases of their youth. I think other people look at a nativity and see a beautiful story, or maybe a fable, of simplicity and devotion and innocence, and that's it.
But if we have new eyes because of God's grace, we should see that baby and know that there is far more going on here than meets the eye. This baby is God in human flesh. “Jesus, Lord at thy birth.” His birth is, incredibly, “the dawn of redeeming grace”.
Of course, true Christmas eyes can see everything in a new light because of what God has revealed: True Christmas eyes see the gifts that are given and think of the gift of God's Son that makes real joy possible.
True Christmas eyes see the lights that adorn our houses and think of the light of the world that should illuminate every home and every heart.
True Christmas eyes see families coming together and think of the family that God is bring together from every nation, tribe, people, and language.
True Christmas eyes can see all this because “more than meets the eye” is God's modus operandi. “More than meets the eye” is God's 'business as usual'.
Has God given you the gift of seeing with true Christmas eyes? Of seeing, of remembering that He is always doing “more than meets the eye” in your life according to His word?
He says that when you look at one another, there is more than meets the eye, right? His word tells us that we are brothers and sisters in the blood of Christ. When you look at another believer, you see a son or daughter of the King of Heaven!
He says that when you speak about Jesus, there is more than meets the eye, right? His word tells us that you are not just releasing words into the air or simply sharing your point of view. You are sowing spiritual seeds that God can empower for the sake of eternal salvation!
He says that when you experience pain or challenging circumstances, there is more than meets the eye, right? His word tells us that God is using such trials to refine your faith and bring himself glory!
He says that when you give financially to God's work, there is more than meets the eye, right? His word tells us that you are part of a planting process that God wants to use to bring forth a spiritual harvest of transformation and grace and thanksgiving!
He says that when you open up the Bible, there is more than meets the eye, right? His word tells us that you are not simply reading words printed in black ink on paper, but that you are feeding your soul with the spiritual nourishment that only God can give, that you are hearing the voice of the God who made you, the God who made all things.
And He says that when you look at the cross, there is more than meets the eye, right? His word tells us that Jesus' death was more than just a tragic story of a misunderstood teacher or even just a noble picture of self-giving love. It wasn't just any other death. On that cross, Jesus' death was the death of Death. Jesus' sacrifice was an offering to God, for the sins of the world. His apparent defeat was, in fact, the greatest victory ever achieved!
When we consider his birth, there is more than meets the eye. And in the same way, when we consider his death, there is more than meets the eye. When it comes to Jesus, there is always more than meets the eye.
Jesus is asking us this morning, borrowing a phrase from a seasonal song, “Do you see what I see?”
Do you remember those 3-D Magic Eye books and posters? These strange patterns of tiny colored pixels are actually “autostereograms”. Listen to how one source defines this kind of picture:
An autostereogram is a single-image stereogram (SIS), designed to create the visual illusion of a three-dimensional (3D) scene from a two-dimensional image in the human brain. In order to perceive 3D shapes in these autostereograms, the brain must overcome the normally automatic coordination between focusing and vergence...the eyes have to be oriented as if focusing on an object behind the image, causing two neighboring repetitions of the dot pattern to merge and the seemingly 3-D image to appear.
You know what I'm talking about, don't you? It's like you almost have to cross your eyes to see something.
Like these “autostereograms”, Jesus wants to help us overcome how we normally see, and discover that there is “more than meets the eye”, there is a true spiritual depth when we see with His eyes. How does this happen? Only the Spirit of God, in connection with the word of God, can enable us to see in this way; to see with true Christmas eyes, every day of the year.
A hastily produced hymn sung in an obscure village that became the most recorded song in history. A sleeping baby, lying in a manger who was, in reality, the Maker of heaven and earth. A normal person sitting in a high school on a Sunday morning listening to a message from God's word who will accomplish...who will be...what?
Let's ask God to correct our vision, even this morning, so that our lives will be, by His grace and for His glory, “more than meets the eye”. Amen? Let's pray.
More in Behind the Music: Advent '09
December 20, 2009An Invitation to Adoration (Matthew 2:1-11)(O Come All Ye Faithful)
December 6, 2009From the Lips of Angels (Luke 2:1-20)
November 29, 2009Another Desperate Plea (Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 1:22, 23)