I was asked by some out of town followers to share this week’s sermon. So, here goes …
May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.
I shared a different Christmas story a couple of weeks back, but I thought it was appropriate for this morning. I’ll be paraphrasing.
I don’t know where it came from or who wrote it. In fact, if anyone knows, please let me know.
There was this man, a good, honest, upright soul, well respected for his integrity. But he was having a problem believing all this incarnation stuff about Jesus the churches were preaching. He just couldn’t understand.
Christmas Eve, he told his wife he wasn’t going to midnight services with her. He said he didn’t believe and didn’t want to be a hypocrite.
He told his wife to be careful since it was snowing as his wife and the kids left for church. He settled next to the fireplace to read.
All of a sudden, he heard a couple of thumps by his picture window. He thought it might be some kids throwing snowballs so he got up to investigate. Instead he saw a group of birds sitting and shaking in the snow. A couple must have run into the window, seeing the light and sensing the warmth.
He thought about it for a second, and remembered the barn where his kids kept their pony. So he put on his coat and galoshes and went out to the barn to open the door and turn on the light. Then he went to the birds, still shivering in the snow, but they didn’t recognize the light.
The man thought, maybe he could coax them by feeding them, so he went back inside and gathered some breadcrumbs, then laid a trail from the birds to the barn. Still nothing.
Then he thought he could persuade them to go to the warmth of the barn by circling them and gently swooshing them. But he quickly realized all he was doing was scaring the birds. They did not realize he was there to help, not hurt them.
So, he thought, if only I was a bird I could assure them I was a friend, not a foe. If only I was a bird I could communicate with them and lead them to the safety, security and warmth of the barn.
Just then, the church bells throughout his little town rang out. The man fell to his knees and said, “Now I understand.”
I’m a horrible reader. I don’t enjoy reading. It’s too tedious. I find myself trying to get into the mind of the writer, figuring out just why he or she wrote what he or she wrote. How could the sentence be restructured? Did he or she make her point with that phrase? How can I incorporate that phase or style into my writing?
I can’t simply sit down and curl before the fire and read for pure enjoyment sake. Reading is just too tedious a task.
Of course, sometimes, you have to read … like the passages needed for a sermon.
When you read the synoptic gospels, the birth of Christ generally opens the body of work. While John is not considered part of the synoptic crew, he is no different, although he generally forgoes the nativity. His starting point is more direct. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
No birth story, but rather the declarative statement, In the beginning was the Word, followed by and the Word was with God, and punctuated with and the Word was God.
Those 17 words stopped my train of thought (see it’s hard for me to just read). What was he saying and, more important, why?
Scholars are not sure the Apostle John authored the gospel, but he certainly influenced it. He lived a relatively long life, estimated about 94 years, and was the only apostle not martyred. The gospel was the last of the four written, probably in the latter years of the first century.
Which leads us to the why. By the time quill met parchment, the followers of Jesus had a pretty good idea about Jesus’ birth. John never specifically mentions the virgin birth. I’m guessing he assumed followers had three accounts — Matthew, Mark and Luke — plus a plethora of tradition, some fact, some fiction. As Christianity grew, misconceptions grew. All sorts of splinters surfaced, including gnosticism, adoptionism and docetism.
As a non-scholar, I suggest John hit the pages running with his opening statement to establish first and foremost Jesus’ divinity. Jesus was the Word, which was with God from the beginning. I suspect this beloved apostle had heard the rumblings about all the Incarnation stuff about Jesus the early disciples were preaching. I mean. A virgin birth? What about that night in the barn, he he? And Nazareth, well it was more like Podunk than Paris, even in early Biblical times.
In the Gospel of John, Nathaniel asks, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” [1:46] The meaning of this cryptic question is debated. Some commentators and scholars suggest it means Nazareth was very small and unimportant, but the question does not speak of Nazareth’s size but of its goodness. In fact, Nazareth was described negatively by the evangelists; the Gospel of Mark argues Nazareth did not believe in Jesus and therefore he could do no mighty work there [Mark 6:5]; in the Gospel of Luke, the Nazarenes are portrayed as attempting to kill Jesus by throwing him off a cliff [Luke 4:29]; in the non-canonical Gospel of Thomas, and in all four canonical gospels, we read the famous saying, a prophet is not without honor except in his own country.
To combat these, John opens with In the beginning was the Word, followed by and the Word was with God, and punctuated with and the Word was God. From the first words he dispels any rumors. He establishes who Jesus is … God Himself.
John made point of noting John the Baptist’s role. There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that Light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the Light; he came only as a witness to the Light. We know some felt this John was the Messiah and had a following, but the Baptist himself testified … “This is the One I spoke about when I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because He was before me.’”
See that connection?
Jesus was younger than John by a few months, but John adamantly says He “was before me.”
So, just like our friend in the story, the Incarnation was misunderstood and caused doubt and division. He — we — just couldn’t understand through the ages.
I have to confess, I don’t understand the mechanics of the Incarnation … but I don’t have to. By faith I can accept is as a mystery that will be revealed in due time.
Back to our story. Replace the man with us and our birds with Jesus. He comes and attracts our attention. We want to respond … but we just don’t how.
We might go through the mechanics of preparing a spot for Him (the barn), turning on a light … joining a church … reading and studying Scripture … doing Christian “things”. But the birds (Jesus) don’t respond.
Then we might think we can coax them (Him) into the barn and our lives. Our breadcrumbs might be offerings or mission support. But the birds (Jesus) don’t respond.
Then we might think we could persuade them to go to the warmth of the barn by circling them and gently swooshing them. A little bit like prayers. But the birds (Jesus) don’t respond.
If only we were birds. We could communicate with them and lead them to the safety, security and warmth of the barn … our heart.
And then it hits. Jesus came to communicate with us … not as a bird, but as a flesh and blood human. He came to lead us to the safety, security and warmth of His heavenly barn. He could not have come any other way. We can join a church, read all we want, do “Christian” things, give our offerings and mission support and pray … all good, honest, upright tenets. But we cannot understand the ways of the Lord if we can’t communicate with Him.
I think that’s what John is telling us.
The true Light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through Him, the world did not recognize Him. He came to that which was His own, but his own did not receive Him. Yet to all who did receive Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God — children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
God came into our lives through Jesus. Jesus does not need us; we need Jesus. He is the communication tool that links this life to the next. Are we prepared to listen?
Just then, the church bells throughout his little town rang out. The man in our story fell to his knees and said, “Now I understand.”
So, too, Lord, may all the faithful fall to our knees and confess, “Now I understand.”
THOUGHTS TO REMEMBER: To multiply your happiness, try dividing it with others.