Sunday, December 27, 2015
Sermon: 1 John 1: 1-10 Fuller Fellowship
Now that it’s all over for another year, you might be wondering what it’s all about. The food has been consumed, the relatives packed off home again, and you’re already planning to get the decorations down and the house back to normal. And as the dust settles, you’re left wondering what it was all about. The stress, the frantic cleaning, the cooking of far too much food fade away, and you’re left with the memories. Things that will live long after the tinsel is tucked away for another year.
As those memories linger, you might wonder, what’s it all about. If you were to stop people in the street to ask them what Christmas is all about, I wonder what they would say. Is it just for the children? All about Santa? A day for turkey farmers and brussel sprout growers? Just a little distraction from the winter solstice and the shortest day of the year? Or is there something more, something deeper? Something really worth celebrating and holding on to as the old year passes and the new year sweeps in?
For the Apostle John, he boils it all down to five words. The booklets on the pews sum up Christmas in three words, but we’ll allow the apostle five. They’re there in verse 2. What was Christmas all about? ‘The life was made manifest.’
Forget the stars and angels and shepherds and wise men. John gets right to the point when he says the life was made manifest. Life, eternal life, was made manifest, appeared, was made visible, became something you could see.
And that’s what John claims he did - not just see, but ‘have heard, have seen with our eyes, looked upon, touched with our hands.’ Almost every sense is referenced. This is full, extensive evidence. And it’s not just an isolated experience. This isn’t just John making stuff up by himself - he speaks about ‘we’ and ‘us’. He’s part of the group which saw and heard and touched life.
But you might be thinking - how do you see life? How do you hear life? How do you touch life? Well, look a little closer. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle, with some of the pieces mixed up. Or a murder mystery where the clues come separately and you have to put them together. Verse 1 - that which was from the beginning... concerning the word of life. So the word of life is from the beginning - which sounds a bit like the way John starts his Gospel (and how Genesis begins - in the beginning God). Verse 2 - it’s eternal life; life that was with the Father and was manifest to us.
Put that all together, and it’s clear that John isn’t speaking about a concept or an idea, but a person. As John says in 1:14 in his Gospel ‘The word became flesh and dwelt among us...’ He’s saying that Christmas was all about ‘the life was made manifest.’ When the shepherds hurried to the manger, they saw a baby, but they were looking at the life made manifest. The wise men came, brought their gifts, to the life made manifest. Jesus is life made manifest.
And when you think of it, only a small number of people could have said what verse 1 says. Sometimes we pass over the wee words in sentences looking for the big words, but in this case it’s a very wee word that’s key - the word we. W E we. We heard, we have seen, we looked upon, we touched. Over the past few days we hosted family in the rectory. The chat got round to older family members, grannies, great-grandparents and so on. It was only the elders who could tell us about them - we were with them, we heard them, we touched them. I couldn’t say that about my great-grannies - they died in 1963 and 1973.
It’s the same with Jesus. None of us could say that we have seen, heard or touched Jesus in the flesh; that we have seen the life made manifest. That’s true right through the last two thousand years of Christians, except for the first apostles. They are the ‘we’. They experienced it all - but we haven’t missed out. Look at verse 3. ‘That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you.’
John and the first Christians don’t keep it to themselves. They share it, they proclaim what they saw, heard, touched, this life made manifest, in Jesus Christ. Why? So that they can claim to be more important than us? To boast in their experiences? No, it’s there in verse 3. ‘so that you too may have fellowship with us;’
Groups based on shared experiences can sometimes become exclusive, even cliquey. A long time ago, far far away, I ran a church youth group. Some young people went on a youth weekend, and others didn’t. Those who went had a great time, grew closer together, and ended up with a lot of ‘in jokes’ only they understood. The few who didn’t go hadn’t a clue what was being talked about, and some in the end drifted away, feeling excluded, left out.
But that’s not what is happening here. John shares his experience in order to bring others in to share it with him. It’s like telling someone about your best friend, telling lots of funny stories, talking about them all the time. Your relationship with them is deepened, but even more, they also want to get to know your friend.
‘We proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.’ Fellowship with us (John and apostles) becomes fellowship with God. No one need miss out. Just because we weren’t around to see Jesus doesn’t mean we can’t have fellowship with him. It’s through the eye witness testimony that we hear of him and get to know him.
And that’s what John wants to happen. It’s why he wrote his gospel, but it’s also why he sits down to write this letter. It’s not for his benefit, but for ours. Perhaps it’s at Christmas that we can understand this best of all. Do you know that moment when you see the perfect present, so you buy it and already anticipate their excitement? Then you wrap it, and can’t wait to see their face when they open it? And then on Christmas Day your joy is complete? John wants us to have what he has. John’s joy is complete as others are brought into fellowship with the Father and the Son. And that’s what the whole letter is about - fuller fellowship with God and one another.
Fellowship with God who is light - not lying by claiming to walk with him but walking in darkness. Not saying we have no sin, or have never sinned - as some people were claiming in the churches John was writing to. But fuller fellowship by stepping into the light - and being cleansed by the blood of Jesus. Fuller fellowship by confessing our sins and finding forgiveness, and walking in his light together.
What is it all about? Eternal life has been made manifest in the Lord Jesus. John has seen it. John knows it. And he wants us to know it too, by coming to know Jesus through his witness. Fuller fellowship as we are drawn in, and drawn closer together to he who is life, and light, and love.
This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 27th December 2015.