Real life is that sometimes in attempts to stay worshipful during Christmas by doing Advent readings and devotions you might not get to a devotional at all.
Yesterday, after a sleepless night and a 3:30 AM wake up call from my asthmatic son and his tight airway, I got ready for work and plodded my way through 13 hours of answering call lights and questions about why I looked so tired, along with the daily business that nurses do. By the time I got home last night I was good for nothing, especially writing an Advent meditation.
I did manage to read some of my Bible asking God to take the few minutes I had at lunch and feed my soul. I read this:
And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. – John 3:19
Not exactly one of those honey-bun verses that are sweet and delicious to devour.
It is sweet. Not that kind of sweet. It’s sweet like finding the cancer that’s killing you and the perfect surgeon to cut it out and save your life! Below I offer the goodness that I’ve been feeding on from it over the past hours.
That sentence in John 3 comes just a couple verses after the famous John 3:16 passage every person who watches televised sports knows by heart:
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” -John 3:16
That’s the good news! As I’ve heard John Piper say, Christianity is news! Not a way to do things, but news! It’s the incalculably good news that God loves, and he loves the people of this messed up planet so much that he would give his only Son to bear the judgment coming against them all if they would only believe that He has done such a crazy-beautiful thing! But there’s a reason there needs to be such news.
The words between John 3:16 and John 3:19 are a succinct message about what it means that Christ was born. It’s the good, the bad and the verdict on God and the human condition that required that there even need to be a Christ born.
The passage reads:
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.
One of my favorite Christmas songs is Joy to The World. “Joy to the world, the Lord has come!” the song announces. The message of Christ’s birth is joy. It’s joy because it’s oh so very good news. But the news that the Lord has come in the birth of that obscure baby laid in a feeding trough is only 2000-years-worth-of-Christmas-carols-good news because there is first such horrific bad news. And it’s so bad, most of us don’t want to talk about it. Especially not during the glimmer and glee of Christmas.
Over the summer my mother in law was very ill. She was in the hospital for over a month with complications from pancreatitis caused by a blockage a surgeon couldn’t just simply remove. Eventually though, the surgeon was able to expose the blockage that was causing my mother in law to be so sick and remove it. Even though we were all glad the blockage was removed, we had to face some even more scary news than pancreatitis. Cancer. The surgeon told her the blockage that was causing her pancreatitis was a malignancy and she would now need to endure 6 months of chemo treatments to give her better chances of being free of this cancer.
The joy that entered the world the day that Christ was born is the joy of the cure for the deadly cancer that plagues every human being. The Bible calls it sin. It’s a church word that most of us think means doing “bad” things (whatever your definition of bad is may vary). But the Bible doesn’t say sin is doing bad things. It says sin is a condition we are all born with. A condition that makes us not willing or able to glorify God (which is what we were made for).
So, what’s so bad about that you ask? Trying to answer that would require more than a short Advent devotion, but in a sentence: The unwillingness and inability to adore and treasure and enjoy and live like the One who made us creates a relationship between us and God where he must condemn and we must die.
God cannot abide with just a little bit of sin. A little bit of sin is a cancer that kills the relationship of love, intimacy, worship and family God intended to exist between himself and humankind.
If my mother in law looked that doctor in the face after telling her she had cancer and the treatment she would need to rid herself of it, and said, “Who are you to tell me what I need?!!!” And stomped out of his office offended and unwilling to accept the gift of life he was offering her through cancer treatment, she’d be crazy!
Now I know the analogy between my mother in law’s cancer and the sin problem of humanity can only be taken so far. Doctor’s make errors. There are arguably many options for treatments of cancer. And a person hearing they have cancer may not want the treatment being offered them for reasons that don’t qualify them to be judged as crazy. But when you stop to think about the atrocities human beings do to each other and the fact that we all know there is ultimate right and wrong and that there is a perfect, good God who made us and knows all things. And then you think about how He cannot just live with us like this, he has to judge and somehow, bring the evil that permeates our lives to an end or he wouldn’t be good, you can’t just write off his good news cure and his bad news diagnosis:
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
So, Joy the world, the Lord is come… and everyone lived happily ever after, right? Well, one day yes, for everyone who believes, but that is also another blog or 20.
In John 3:16-19 Jesus tells us that good news that believing he is the Savior that God sent into the world saves us from the bad news that we are all condemned to eternal separation from God without him. And he also tells us that not everyone will believe. Many countless souls have heard this news and still hear this news and either reject it or attempt to not deal with what it really says or say they believe it but their words don’t match their life.
In verse 19 Jesus gives us the verdict as to why so many of us hear the Christmas message of Joy to the world, the Lord is come and walk away counting such lyrics a myth: We like our darkness.
It’s boggles me even as I write and try to pull back the focus and think about those words:
And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.
Jesus is the light of the world. He is the only person ever to have walked this earth who can show us what life is really about. And He is the only man who exposes the truth about our love affair with evil. We all have judgments about what is evil and what isn’t. Most of us would agree about the obvious evils: murder, stealing, lying, cheating, abuse, greed. But that’s where our “light” is really darkness. In another place Jesus said, “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” Jesus is the only man who has the ability to tell us what evil really is. We are blind. We don’t see the cancer microscopically growing in our heart of selfishness, anger, lust, and insatiable appetite for bigger and better.
The reason we don’t all really feel an unspeakable joy at the thought that Christ has come into this world is because he exposes us for who we really are. His life is inextinguishable light. Our crafty arguments and excuses can’t hide from his presence. We love our darkness. We love our evil ways. So we don’t fall to our knees at his incarnation because we don’t want to be seen for who we really are.
Oh Lord! I don’t want to hide from your sin-exposing light. I want to be who you made me to be! I want real life, eternal life! Thank you for coming, humbly and powerfully as you did. Cause many of us who are reading these words from John and hearing the songs at this time of year that speak of your coming to see! Cure us of our blindness. Let the light of the world become our cure and life!