When Love Comes to Town
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It’s a wonderful point in your life when you’re able to differentiate. I remember watching children’s television as a child thinking how wonderful that the woman on Romper Room could see me through her magic mirror – imagine! I also remember about learning how to differentiate between four things in videos like this one.
Watching it now I’m thinking that the whole “one of these kids is doing his own thing” really explains a lot about my development. It resonated with me somehow.
When we consider the four Gospels, we might well say the same thing. One of these Gospel writers is doing his own thing. Matthew, Mark and Luke are known as the “Synoptics.” A lot of the same stories, events, parables. Without getting too deeply into source criticism, let us just say that they’re quite similar in structure. John, however, is doing his own thing. It’s been said that the Gospel of John is deep enough for an elephant to swim in and accessible or shallow enough for a child to wade in. We talk often about the mystery of our faith and we know that we never get to the bottom of it on this side of the mirror in which we see dimly. We never come to an end to plumbing the profundity. At the same time, you know that the message is simple enough for a child to understand, just as I (and many of you) understood it when we were children of Sesame Street age.
When you read through the Gospel of John you see that there is a depth there. You see that we are working on more than one level. When Jesus talks about living water with the woman of Samaria at the well, we know that he is talking about something more than water. When Jesus talks about the bread of life we know that we are not simply in the realm of bread and eating. John often takes an everyday situation and suddenly it turns into something else – something far beyond the everyday. We’re going to go through John’s Gospel in the weeks leading up to Easter and we’ll this played out again and again. We pray that God will encounter us as we do.
When we’re studying a Bible book, one of the big questions that are asked is “Why was this book written?” What is the authorial purpose or intent? In John it’s very handy that John tells us quite plainly in 20:30-31 – “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”
That you may come to believe. Whether for the first time or that you may continue to believe and come ever more to a deeper knowing. That our lives might reflect this knowing.
However, we’ve begun near the ending. Let us begin at the beginning. If John tends to take an everyday event and then expand it into something that is up here, he does the opposite at the beginning (and this is his prerogative after all!). To begin, John takes us all the way back to the beginning. We can’t read these words without thinking of Genesis. We can’t think of the beginning of Genesis or John without thinking of the creative nature of God. It’s thought that these opening 18 verses once made up a hymn. Part of proclaiming Christ with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. The word for what John is doing here is Christology. What we believe about Christ. Someone has said that Christology was born in praise and I would say that our Christology is affirmed and encouraged by praise. It’s why we still sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. To attempt to get our heads and heart and minds and wills around the wonderful truth of Christ. Look at these words and you almost want to have Morgan Freeman or James Earl Jones read them. The gravitas of these words.
I want to say something about the Word here. The word is Logos here and you can study Greek philosophy and read all about Logos if you are that way inclined. What we need to know about it is that the Word to many in Pauls’ day represented reason or what made sense. The thing that make the universe make sense. The thing in which ultimate meaning was to be found. The same word was used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament in Psalm 33:6 – again going back to creation. Another way it’s described is as “wisdom” as in Proverbs 8:29-31.
The Word was in the beginning. The Word was with God. There’s a great double meaning in the word “with” here which not only means “exist with” or was with God in the sense of I’m with him or her. There’s also a meaning here that the Word was face to face with God. Living in loving communion with. Close to the Father’s heart as John will put it in v 18.
“All things came into being through him, and without him, not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.” Wonderful! We have the hint of everything not being so wonderful. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” or understand it. We’ll come back to this though.
It is at this point that the 500,000,000 kilometer view zooms in like Google earth. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. No need to differentiate John the Baptist from other Johns here as they’re not mentioned in John’s Gospel. Just John walking through the Judean wilderness with the camel clothes and the locusts and honey and he came to be a witness to the light. He sees Jesus walking toward him or walking by him and he says “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” or “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” This is his whole thing. We stand in a long line of succession of witnesses. The task before us is to witness to the light in our words and in our deeds. The true light which enlightens everyone was coming into the world.
It’s a world in need of grace. We are a people in need of grace. He came to what was his own and his own people did not accept him. I don’t think we who are hearing these words this morning are meant to hear them and think they apply solely to history. In what ways do we not accept him? So that you may come to believe does not simply mean believe for the first time. The thing about light is it can illuminate things we’d maybe rather not see. We have a brighter light in the hall and vestibule on the east side of the church which is great. It also illuminates how worn the carpet is! The Psalmist prays for an undivided heart in Ps 86:11. If we examine our own hearts we find them divided. The world is in need of grace. We are a people in need of grace.
We’re not left there of course. But for all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God. Members of God’s adopted family who were born not of blood or of the will of the flesh or the will of man – not through anything that we had to do, not through something that we had to find within ourselves – but of God. What does it mean to be born of God? We’ll be looking at that over the coming weeks. We look at that throughout our lives as followers of Christ. How are any of these things even possible?
Let us never lose the wonder of this my friends. No matter how many times we hear it. No matter how long we spend pondering it in our hearts. Let us never lose the wonder of this.
The world is in need of grace. We are a people in need of grace. I am a man in need of grace. Here comes the grace! “And the Word became flesh and lived among us...” This one who from the beginning is face to face with God. This one who is close to the Father’s heart. The one who pitched his tent among us. The eternal Word who moved into the neighbourhood. Love came to town. Everything changed. “We have seen his glory,” writes John, “the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” These words were written down so that you might come to believe. We heard those words from Revelation 21 last week – “write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” This is our invitation this morning. Believe this. Trust this, for these words are trustworthy and true. The Word is worthy of trust and is true. His story is what we’re going to be looking at over the next two months and may we say with the hymn writer “More about Jesus would I know” – in other words, I want to know more about him. Do you want to know more about him? Then come and see. That was the invitation given so long ago and it remains our invitation today.
John takes it from the 500,000,000 km view and zooms right into everyday life. A wild prophet in the Judean wilderness. The Son of Man. God in the flesh. God in the neighbourhood in the person of the Lamb of God. Things like bread and wine are part of everyday life too. When Christ is involved they take on a whole new significance. The one full of grace and truth invites us to this table. The only Son makes God known. The only Son makes himself known as we gather around this table. His Spirit is with us too. Face to face with us. Drawing us close to God’s heart. May these things become ever clearer to our hearts as we gather around this table and as we go through the journey of Lent together.