Last Sunday evening one of the readings at Evensong was from the Gospel of John. We heard about the trial of Jesus before Pilate, the Roman Governor. We heard Jesus say: “For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice”. (John 18.37)
This was one of those moments which brought me up short. But `If truth be told` this happens quite a lot; and more especially just prior to Christmas and Easter. … The Lord always rather kindly seems to say something which I can`t help taking personally. In other words, he gets me thinking in a way which colours the whole season for me.
I`d really invite you to ponder them yourself over the coming weeks… Because, as I`m trying to say, “I think the Lord wants us to”. You see it almost goes without saying that nowadays we are surrounded by all manner of assumptions and notions about what `Christmas` is all about… You know what I mean…. Christmas is, “A time for giving”… or “a time for the children”… or whatever. But this passage started me thinking “None of us seem to be asking the Lord what HE thought his birth was about”….. And here in this verse it`s almost as if he gets in first and says: “Look, whatever else you`re hearing remember this: “For THIS I was born, and for THIS I came into the world, to testify to the truth`”.
If you hold onto those few words… you can`t help concluding that Advent really is a time in which to brace yourself….. Let me stress this: Jesus is telling us what he is about. He says, “For this I was born, and for this I came into the world”. In holding these words in front of us he`s giving us at the very least, an invitation to think of Christmas in a rather different way…..
An authentic Christmas will be one in which we have our eyes opened…… Celebrating his birth is about embracing this sense that there`s a lot of stuff about which we`re either ignorant or would rather avoid…. It`s about facing the truth. And this isn`t very easy or comfortable… The spirit of the world knows this. That`s why folk have made it a basic principle that we should be sceptical about what are called `truth claims`. No, our preferred posture is what we call `relativism`….. It was summed up beautifully by the pop group who entitled their *Album “This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours”.
And when the world sneezes the Christians always catch a cold…. So, for example, rather than take him at his word we`re acutely embarrassed by the Jesus who says: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me”. (John 14.6) We know deep down that Jesus doesn`t do `Relativism` but for the sake of an easy life we go along with the cosy consensus; the confused secular mindset; we keep our heads down… because we wouldn`t want to be thought cranky or intolerant…. After all it gives religion a bad name if you start claiming things are actually true.
But the snag (again) is that you simply don`t find that kind of timidity in Jesus. He says that he has come to `testify` to the truth. He has come to declare how things actually ARE with the world, with God and with us. I think we often miss it …….but this after all is the real significance of that meeting between Jesus and Pilate. Pilate stands for the might of Rome itself… the superpower of the day… and Jesus unflinchingly announces the presence of a new world order beyond anything blind Pilate could ever conceive. And there can be little doubt that St. John recounts this meeting because he wants to strengthen the arm of Christians….. not least our forebears who were themselves dragged before Synagogues and Governors to justify their allegiance to the truth about God and the world.
In his play `Son of Man`, the writer Denis Potter imagines Pilate removing a blindfold from the captive Jesus`s eyes… (ironic really!)….. But Jesus says to him.. “Don`t be frightened”. And this is it you see. We are such frightened creatures. Human kind devises all manner of rouses to insulate us from the truth of our condition…. These two agonising truths… our wretchedness….and the grace in which we stand.
We`ll try to make up our own story of what we think our life is for… We`ll even bring God in our side. I mean it`s far easier, for instance, to assume that this God is as we say, “Always there for us” like some kind of supporting actor in our story ….. than accept the truth that it is we who are caught up in His”. No, elsewhere John says: “In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. (1 John 4.10)
He has in other words, come to deal with and rectify the tragic truth of our lives… that other unfashionable word: Sin. Yes, of course, to say that this this is the truth for ALL people in every place is deemed arrogant and absurd… and yet THIS is the truth to which Jesus testifies. Pilate, of course, failed to understand the importance of his meeting with Jesus. He mocks Jesus with his Question “What is truth?” and as Francis Bacon said… “he would not stay for an answer”. But what we learn from Jesus is that we`re not talking theory here. Jesus not only testifies to the way things are… He embodies it. He says, “I am the way, the truth and the life”. (John 14.6)
Jesus is what it looks like when a human being is truly alive… in relationship with the Father and living the truth about God and the world. And so notice, he goes on to say…. “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice”. Those who are in tune with the truth, this deeper reality… who are not running away into illusions, falsehood and lies… are those who `get it`. They `belong` to the truth and they, like Jesus will embody it… make it clear for all to see.
And these if you like, are our marching orders….. We are called to be those who `belong` to the truth. We are called to live out and embody this unapologetically `Universal` truth; the truth about the world and all people in all places.
We are called to live out and embody this singularly `judgemental` truth. An unfashionable word… but if you live the truth, if you therefore live differently; yes in some curious way it makes people uncomfortable… But it`s not about condemning. Jesus says “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him”. (John 3.17)
You see we seek to embody this wonderfully `Saving` truth. The truth that we are not abandoned to make up our own story but to live out what St. Paul calls “The glorious liberty of the children of God” (Rom. 8.21).
Jesus says elsewhere “‘If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.’ (John 8.31-2) He says, “For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth”. This is what`s going on at Christmas… this is what`s bursting into the world…. This is the shape our own lives are meant to take. Christmas is coming… brace yourself for the truth!
*The Manic Street Preachers