Tuesday, December 6, 2011

God Speaking: A Love Story

Preached Sunday, Second Sunday in Advent, December 4, 2011
Scripture readings: Psalm 19:1-15; John 1:3-5

The first lines of the Gospel of John take us to a time before time, and a place before space. Only God was there. There was only God.

Before time and space God was not lonely or empty. God was full. God was full of love, and joy, and peace.

God’s fullness was like a message, like a speech, like a song that never got tired, or stale, or old. It is as if, before time and space, God was speaking himself, expressing himself, singing himself, out of his own fullness. John gives this fullness a name and calls the fullness of God “The Word”.

John describes it in this way. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.” (John 1:1-2)

John says that the word was “with God” and there is more than one word in the Greek language (in which the gospels are written) for saying “with”. This concept of being “with” does not mean being side by side. And in the time before time and space, there was no space or room for being side by side.

The way “the Word was with God” was to be “toward” God. But this way of saying that “the Word was toward God and the Word was God” is not so much a location as a relationship. It can mean “face to face”.

But being face to face is a thing that doesn’t really occupy space at all. Two people can sit with their eyes wide open and their faces pointing at each other, and nothing happens. It is only a certain kind of relationship that makes you face to face.

Here we have the Word, who came into our world in human history, and who walked among us in this world, as Jesus, and who spoke to us of his Father. In those days Jesus said, “I and the Father are one”. (John 10:30)

He spoke of a relationship that does not need to occupy time or space. There is a sense in which you have a relationship with yourself. Have you ever come face to face with yourself? What space does that meeting occupy? Could you locate it with an x-ray or a microscope? Maybe a brain-scan could locate some brain cells lighting up when that happened and, yet, would that really be the meeting place, where you came face to face with yourself?

Our relationship with God is something that we live out in time and space among other people, but where does that really happen from God’s point of view, and in God’s time? When we come face to face with God, our meeting can take us outside of time and space when God, the Word, speaks to us. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

And then, suddenly, John brings us into the world we know. He says this. “All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.” (John 1:3) Light, and dark, and time, and space, and stars, and planets, and plants, and animals, and beings made from the stuff that the stars and the planets are made of (along with the gift of being living souls) all these things were made through the Word (who was with God and who was God).

And this God so loved what he had made that he joined this world of time and space and people and things. He came into human history as the baby in the manger who became the man we call Jesus.

All things in time and space have been made through the Word. They began, and came into existence, out of nothing, through the Word. Through the centuries, Christians who studied the Scriptures have always noticed that John does not say that “all things were made by him”. John says that “all things were made through him”.

Christians have understood that all things were made by the fullness of the fullness of God: the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. In the first chapter of Genesis, in the first story of the creation, we begin with the words, “in the beginning, God.” Then we are told about the presence of the Holy Spirit hovering upon the unformed creation, and we hear God speak his Word. There we find the Father, and the Spirit, and the Son all together in the first chapter of Genesis. The first centuries of Christians would say that we were created “by the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit”. (Cyril of Alexandria, “Commentary on the Gospel of John” 1.5)

Remember that there is something about God, as a being or a person, who is also like a message, or a speech, or a song. Remember that what we call “the gospel” is a message that becomes part of us.

The message is the good news of Jesus; the good news of God in Christ. This message takes the form of a story; a very long story. It is the story of our creation, and about our fall into separation from God through the disobedience of Adam and Eve in Eden.

Then it is the story of God calling a family of faith (the family of Abraham, the people of Israel) and using the history of that family to tell his message and make it come to life in the world. It can be seen in the story of how he saved that family from slavery and destruction in Egypt. It can be seen in how God made them into a family that could nurture him and mold him into the Savior he intended to be. He was born into a family living in a time and a place where it was the most normal thing in the world to give a baby boy the name “Yeshua” (which we translate as Jesus).

The story would be about God, in Jesus, growing up to set the world free from the power of sin and death. The baby who was God would carry our sin and death, in his own flesh, on the cross. The baby would grow up to defeat death by rising with a body that would forever bear the marks of his execution; the nail holes in his hands and feet, the spear wound in his side.

It had to be a story that came true, in real time, so that it could come true in real lives like ours, but it was also a story that began before time and space, in the very heart of God. John, in the Book of Revelation, describes Jesus as the sacrificial Lamb of God. He describes Jesus as, “the lamb slain from the creation of the world”. (Revelation 13:8)

When “all things were made through him” they were all shaped by the nature of the message of this good news. The Word, the living message, put its stamp on our identity from our very beginning. He truly made us for himself.

Families raise their children by means of stories and messages. Families act out their messages in the form that their parenting and nurturing take. How do they really love a child, discipline that child, encourage that child?

Families shape their children by the family stories that they tell and repeat. Sometimes those messages and stories are not good ones. A child may need to create better stories when they grow up, to tell to their own children. They may have to write a new story of their own.

The truth is that I was shaped by some good stories and by some not so good stories. I think we all are. But there were some good stories about English ancestors coming to New England in the sixteen hundreds, and about Polish ancestors who were brave enough and angry enough to throw an egg at a portrait of the Russian Czar that was being carried in a parade, in the days when the Russian Empire ruled their part of Poland.

I was shaped by stories of ancestors who served their country in time of war, or who held their family together in hard times. I was shaped by stories of family values and family talents. Those stories played a big role in making me the person that I am.

We were created by a God who carried a story in his heart of what he was determined to do for us. The story was that he would create us as his free sons and daughters and, when we would go astray (as he knew we would), he would seek us out, by extreme measures. God would be born as one of us, and die for us, to recreate us as a new kind of sons and daughters.

He created us with the intention of making us his children not only by the grace of creation, but by the grace of his sacrifice for each one of us. Our lives are shaped not only by the story of his skill as our creator, but by the story of his humility and passion.

As Christians, our lives are shaped by a love story. We live in a beautiful but fallen world that was created, from the very start, to be a world where God would die and rise for us.

There are no exceptions to this. “All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.” Every person you know, everything that exists in this world, was created to be part of a love story.

Most of us know examples of stories of good families that have a son or daughter who would be called “the black sheep of the family”. They are sons and daughters who are always loved, and yet they never learn to trust that love. They never learn to enjoy a love that does not let them go. They never experience home as the place where they can be at home.

But God has created all these sons and daughters for home. No one is excluded from this creation; and behind this creation is the story of the cross, and the defeat of all sin and death, to build a new creation in their place.

We are called by the gospel, the good news of Jesus, to hear our invitation to the love story of God. We are called by the gospel to see every person, and every need of this world, as being addressed by God’s invitation to his love story. Every need, and every issue, and every human being is created by a living invitation to be set right and made new.

“All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men.”

“In him was life.” In God (the Word) was life. This has to do with the creation of all things, but modern people are often handicapped in their understanding of what life is.

I like science, but we are tempted to be much too scientific about life. We know so much about genetics, and biology, and medicine, and psychology, and even about the environment. We know so much that we don’t understand life as well as our ancestors did.

We see life as methods and machinery. There are scientists who see love, and joy, and inspiration as nothing more than biochemical processes. We don’t see life as a miracle or a wonder.

Here again, the writers of the Scriptures had more than one word in both Hebrew and Greek for life (Hayyim and Nephesh in Hebrew; Bios and Zoe in Greek). In Greek you have Bios and Zoe. Bios is the word for what we know as biological life.

In a sense, biological life is simply life as existence; cells replicating, muscles moving, digestion taking place. The other word for life is Zoe. Zoe is quality life. But even that is not quite right. Zoe is life as a gift. Zoe is life as a gift from God; rooted in God, nurtured by God.

As Zoe, life is holy. The Bible almost never (if ever) refers to Bios, because all life is supposed to come from God, all life is supposed to be holy.

Psalm nineteen gives us the picture of life in the physical world and life in the world of relationship with God but, in fact, both are absolutely connected. We only disconnect these two aspects of life because we (as modern, scientific people) don’t understand them.

The writer of the psalm looks up at the night sky and sees the work that the whole creation is made for. “The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the skies proclaim his handiwork. Day to day pours forth speech and night to night declares knowledge.” (Psalm 19:1-2) This isn’t only the work of the heavens. We were created to be telling the glory of God and his handiwork.

The Psalm tells us that we are carried in the arms of a message, and that we are witnesses of the message. We can see it for ourselves and be a part of it.

The sun, “like a strong man runs his course with joy.” I remember when I was in seminary and a few of us were going for a walk on a beautiful fall day. The trees were blazing with one of the brightest autumns I had ever seen in Dubuque. The weather was as mild as spring turning to summer. We were walking down the hill where the seminary grounds turned into the city golf course, and then into the woods where there were paths and a limestone quarry.

All of a sudden one of my friends took off running for the woods like a crazy person. I remember us laughing at him, but knowing how he felt.

Remember when you were young and just had to run or jump? That is Zoe-life. That is life as God gives it. That is the message of what the Word spoke into us when he created us. That is the life that the story of Jesus creates in us, even when we have to use a walker or a wheelchair. It is the story of a life that yearns to run.

Even the part of the Psalm that tells us about the laws of God is full of this running energy. “They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb.”

They are not just God’s rules, they are God’s ways. They are sweeter than a box of chocolates. They have the beauty of God in them. They are the beauty of a life when life is right, when life runs its course with joy.

Even when God’s way is hard it is beautiful. We have to realize that following Jesus can be like carrying a cross on which you will be crucified with him. (Mark 8:34) But Jesus carried you on his cross. That is his greatest beauty and sweetness.

You have seen what it is like for someone to carry another person in love. You have seen somebody live faithfully beside another person and walk beside them in love, even when it was hard. Don’t you think that is beautiful?

It is the life called Zoe. It is hard; but it is a miracle and a wonder. It is the place where Jesus joins us. And John tells us that, “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.”

There is a thing called darkness that tries to overcome the light of the love story that created us. Once upon a time the darkness tried to overcome the light of life when that light was born in Bethlehem. When Jesus was a baby, King Herod sent his soldiers to kill him, but they failed. (Matthew 2) They were the darkness that did not overcome him.

The darkness tried to tempt the living, breathing light in the hunger and thirst of the desert, and make him lose his way. (Matthew 4) But the darkness did not overcome him.

So the darkness killed the light of the world on the cross. But Jesus took the darkness in his hands and turned the nails of the cross into chains to bind the darkness. Jesus rose from the dead and he will protect those who trust in him, the darkest darkness will not overcome them.

We are not the light. It is not up to us to face the darkness alone.

Jesus is the light that shines even in the darkness. Jesus is the message of a God who shall not let us go, and who shall not be defeated, and neither shall we. He was born as an ordinary human being in order to bring his light to ordinary humans like us. This is the Word of Christmas. This is the life that gives us light.


  1. Hi, Pastor.
    I'll com back latter to read your text carefully!
    Now I've to make dinner and go back to school...running!(my pupils do not like to wait...LOL)

    See you tomorrow!
    God Bless you!

  2. Pastor Dennis, good morning,

    yet another inspirational post!

    most definitely something i needed it to read today. i also love the photos you paired with it.

    thanks so much for enlightening my day.
    i love Jesus so much! He's my rock.

    i'm ever so grateful for your wonderful comments on my blog.

    it means the absolute world!

    have a ggreat day!


  3. Hi, pastor Dennis:
    I am here for a while reading last year preaches, for example You Will Find the Baby in the Neediest Place ,Preached on Christmas Eve; or the one that ends saying “The story of the baby in the manger is the story of God with us in the needy places. This is one of the greatest lessons of Christmas.”
    I am completely overwhelmed...And again I am sorry because my written English is dreadful…and insufficient to tell you how grateful I am to have the possibility to read you Message!
    Thank you!
    “Light, and dark, and time, and space, and stars, and planets, and plants, and animals, and beings made from the stuff that the stars and the planets are made of (along with the gift of being living souls) all these things were made through the Word (who was with God and who was God).”
    So true! And yes, life is holy. We have a tendency to forget that!
    God bless you!
    Thank you again.
    Isabel /BlueShell

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  6. Pastor Dennis
    Thank you for your words on my blog.
    I do not speak or write English, but God is in everything and in all things.
    I believe ....