We Live on a Visited Planet
I heard recently that some scientists say there are as many as 400 million planets capable of supporting life as we know it. Millions if not billions of dollars have been spent in the search for life outside this world. But Bible translator J.B. Phillips already knew in the 1940s that "we live on a visited planet." Two centuries before that Lutheran Johann Gerhard said Jesus "was born an alien in a stall" (History of the Suffering, 251). Sixteen centuries before that Jesus Himself said, "I am not of this world" (John 8:23). Indeed we do live on a visited planet.
A visitor has come from a world other than this one, and earthlings can't get their heads around Him. As John puts it, "The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not." Jesus certainly is out of this world. He's eternal yet present in time. He is present everywhere yet located in the arms of His mother. He is true God who is Spirit, yet His flesh can be touched. He is creator and sustainer of all things, yet He is dependent on a creature to feed Him. A 5th century hymns says, "Upon a manger filled with hay/ In poverty content He lay; / With milk was fed the Lord of all,/ Who feeds the ravens when they call" (Sedulius).
When an alien arrives he usually brings new revelations - a 4th dimension, time travel, a parallel universe. Jesus brings a new revelation of God. That's what the Church has said in Her Proper Preface for Christmas for thousands of years: "in the mystery of the Word made flesh You have given us a new revelation of Your glory." That's what John says in the last verse of our text. Jesus is literally the "exegesis" of the Father. We don't speak "God." Trying to would blow our minds. Jesus being true God in the very bosom of the Father does. He puts into human words divine truth, divine revelation.
And what He reveals is startling. We were planted here by an advanced alien civilization. We didn't evolve from primordial soup and mire. An alien Being handmade our first parents and sent them forth to be fruitful and multiply. Our distant ancestors aren't apes and chimpanzees, but God Himself is our Father. We're like the boy raised by wolves or apes finding out we're a human not an animal. We're in the image of God not animals.
In science fiction, when a planet is first visited by an extra terrestrial being the initial reaction is an inability to comprehend what is happening. John uses the Greek Words ou katalambano for "comprehended it not." Then what happened, particularly in the science fiction of the 30s to the 50s, was a rejection of the Visitor. John says, "He came unto His own, and own received Him not." In Greek this is ou paralambano, and in any language it's a tragedy.
But it doesn't start with outright rejection. It starts with the Visitor being unfamiliar, but there is tragedy even here because the world did in the case of Jesus what even animals don't do. Isaiah 1:3 describes it this way, "The ox knows his master, the donkey his owner's manger, but Israel does not know [Me], my people do not understand." The people of the world didn't recognize the world Maker is how John puts it. "He was in the world, and world was made by Him and the world knew Him not."
Luther says, "In what stronger terms can you reprove the world than by saying that it does not know its Creator" (Sermons of Luther, I, 209). It's Pinocchio not knowing Gepetto; it's the monster not knowing Dr. Frankenstein; it's Frosty not knowing Karen. When men ascribe to Father Time, Mother Nature, and Lady Luck the creation of all things this is a sharp slap in the face to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
From not knowing a Visitor, earthlings move on to darker things. Science fiction has them doing experiments on the visitor or dissecting him. St. John has the idiots receiving Him not. Our English word idiot comes from the Greek Word in our text translated "His own." So after telling us the world didn't know its own Maker when He visited them, it goes on to say that Jesus came to His own and the idiots rejected Him.
I know using the word "idiot" is harsh, but if you want to talk harsh look behind the words "the world knew Him not" and "His own received Him not." Much harsher and darker things are hid behind these words. Ridicule, spit, whips, slaps, thorns, and nails are hid behind these words. In science fiction at least they come to believe the visitor is from another planet, and then proceed to do experiments on him. Jesus' enemies believed He was nothing but Mary's Son; no different than His sisters and brothers. Though they had seen Him do undeniable miracles the blind saw, the deaf heard, the lame walked, the dead rose they believed He was blaspheming by making Himself equal to God.
In science fiction your heart tends to go out to the misunderstood alien, but then quiet often in reaction to being poked, prodded, and tested, the alien strikes back. He has power and knowledge that earthlings can't begin to imagine, and he exacts vengeance. The Visitor from the realm of the Father, the God who was Man, was taunted to do just that. "Come down from that cross. Save Yourself. Then we'll believe in you." Yet even here Jesus didn't sin, didn't seek His due vengeance. He suffered it all until the Creator died at the hands of His creation.
Here's where the tale of this visited planet differs from the ones in science fiction. Our Visitor didn't fail in His mission and He didn't go home afterward. John hints at this truth from the get-go. "And the Light shineth in darkness and the darkness comprehended it not." "Comprehended it not" ou katalambano can be used in another sense, a positive sense. The darkness not only failed to comprehend the Light, it failed to overcome it as well. You can't think that our Visitor failed when He died on Calvary. No that was part of the plan. Remember when He surrendered Himself to the mob in Gethsemane He said, "This is your hour and the power of darkness."
Darkness is a very great power. Think how just a little bit of darkness can poison our thoughts and even blacken our happiness. We are no match for it as little girl knew. After 2,061 consecutive nights of having blackout curtains over all their windows, Londoners were finally told in 1945 they could take them off. A 5 year old girl who had never known life without them said that it was very nice to let the light in but who would keep the dark out (Last Lion, III, 924)?
Yes, who will keep the dark out that is at home in our very souls? Who will pierce our dark nights, dark doubts, dark thoughts? Who but the One we confess to be Light of Light? Who but the One Scripture says is the True Light? Who but our Visitor from the realms of Light? Though Light of Light He handed Himself over to the powers of darkness to suffer in place of the world that had rejected Him. And suffer He did till every dark deed was wept for, every dark word bled for, every dark thought sweated for until God's deep, dark wrath against sinners was satisfied.
Our Visitor arrived; He was more than earthlings could comprehend. They didn't recognize Him as their Creator and finally rejected Him abandoning Him to the power of darkness, but it didn't overcome Jesus but Jesus overcame it rising out of the dark grave. And coming out of that grave what did He do? He didn't seek vengeance, but a voice, a voice to tell the world that the Father who left them here, the Father they had denied and rejected still wanted them. He didn't come out of the grave breathing threats and commands, but grace and truth. He came out wanting to baptize sinners into the realm of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, to absolve sinners from their sins, to communicate His Light to sinners in darkness.
Our text begins with how the Visitor was received, and ends with what we receive from the Visitor. It opens with light shining in darkness and the darkness ou katalambano not comprehending but not overcoming it either. It says the Maker came to His own and the idiots ou paralambano, didn't receive Him, but it ends with "Of His fullness the fullness of the Visitor we have all received grace for grace." "Received" here is lambano.
Paul in 2 Corinthians 6:1 says a strange thing about grace. He says, "As God's fellow workers we urge you not to receive God's grace in vain." How can you receive grace in vain? One, if you think you can, have, or do merit it, you're not receiving grace so you're receiving it in vain. Two, if you don't think grace is enough. If you think you need something other than God's grace for Jesus' sake before you can be at peace, be happy you are receiving the grace of God in vain. Paul prayed for His thorn to be removed and God called that thorn a grace and said he didn't need it removed. Three, if you think God's grace for Jesus sake doesn't fully cover every last one of your sins, you're receiving God's grace in vain.
Alien planets are often pictured as utopias. All the problems of a fallen world from disease, to racism, to poverty have been solved by technology. Technology is not what our Visitor brought to this fallen world. God's grace is. He brought it with Him and by living a holy life and dying an innocent death as a Man He won the right to distribute grace on our planet. He distributes regenerating grace in Baptism giving birth to new men and women. He distributes forgiving grace in Absolution making us so rich with forgiveness we have plenty to share. He distributes immortalizing grace to this dust and ashes by means of the Medicine of Immortality, Holy Communion.
We live on a visited planet. One that has been visited by redemption, salvation, and grace in the Person of Jesus. But He didn't come for just a visit. He came to stay. He came to conquer. He came to rule. And He does. He stays with us always in Word and Sacraments. He conquers unbelief and misbelief by forgiving sins. He rules even now in the midst of our enemies by preparing a table for us in their presence. The Sin, Death, and Devil who seem to rule this world invincibly watch helplessly as the Visitor feeds His children with Food and Drink from another world, a world without end. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Christmas Day (20131224); John 1: 1-18