Some of you will have seen where I’m going with this, I suppose. There was a time, and maybe you can say the same, when the story I carried around in my head, and with which I interpreted the world, excluded God. The result was that when I was granted the occasional glimpse of God’s presence, I used to squeeze that data into the existing framework: ‘Obviously it’s not God. The genuine article is not possible. It must be a look-alike, or a sound-alike, or a feel-alike’. And I dare say I’m not the only here for whom conversion meant, in effect, abandoning an old story which had ceased to be adequate, which no longer did justice to my growing experience, in favour of a different outlook, one which made more satisfying sense, sense not just of the existence of God, but of myself in relation to God.
Well, I don’t know how far you identify with that. But the Gospel reading this evening suggests that that process, or some process like it, is not just a common one, but an inevitable one where God is concerned — inevitable because a relationship with God is not something within our grasp. It’s not easy for creatures like us, who dwell in time and space, to know an eternal and infinite Creator. It’s not easy for sinners like us to know the Holy One. Or (to use the terminology of our Gospel reading), it’s not easy for us to hear the Word of God.
Repeatedly in our reading there are little indicators that if we are to know God, we are utterly dependent on what Christian tradition calls ‘grace’: we rely on God’s initiative, his gift, his unmerited favour towards us. Listen again to these words: The true light which enlightens everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came into being through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God.
The true light which enlightens everyone was coming into the world. It had to because almost by definition, it is beyond our capacity to enlighten ourselves: enlightenment always does come to us. Though the true light came into the world, the world did not recognise him, because this enlightening Word is almost always contrary to human expectation. But to those who did receive him (since the true light is always something that to be received), he gave power (because this power is always a gift), to become children of God (because a relationship with God is not our natural state, it is always something // into which we must enter). This true light, the Word of God, became flesh, says John, and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.
Read it all.