|Walking near the Columbia River|
Mattawa/Desert Aire, WA
Tuesday, November 29, 2016
The Incarnation - Speak to Me, Baby!
Preached on the First Sunday in Advent, November 27, 2016
Scripture readings: Genesis 1:1-3; John 1:1-2
There was a new baby in the family: as normal and as perfect a baby as you could hope for. The problem was, after the end of the first year, the parents noticed that he wasn’t talking. In fact, except for crying and laughing, this was a strangely quiet baby.
They began taking their little son to the doctors for testing, but the doctors couldn’t find any signs of anything wrong. The baby passed all the physical and cognitive tests for his age with flying colors.
At the age of four, the boy still hadn’t spoken a single word. Then, one day, at lunch, the boy looked straight at his mother and clearly said, “Mom, this soup is way too salty.” “Oh son, my son, you talked? You’ve never talked before. How come you’ve never talked until now?”
And the boy said, “Well, up till now, everything’s been just fine.”
Even if we couldn’t talk, we are made to express ourselves. It can be with a look, a sign, a sigh, or an expression. It can be with our actions, with gardens, with art, with music, with making things, or making things happen.
We express ourselves through what we do for others, or through what we do to others. The list goes on and on.
We’re made to express ourselves, and to receive what others express, because we are all made in the image of God. The God who speaks in the Bible is the God who expresses himself, from all eternity, and the Gospel of John calls God’s self-expression “The Word”.
Since God never changes, our God has always been a God who expresses himself, and so “The Word” has always been with God. Since “The Word” expresses what God is, “The Word” is what God is. “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)
I know this is deep. But I can’t help going on with it. The New Testament Letter to the Hebrews starts out like this: “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.” (Hebrews 1:1-3)
If I said nothing more than the words “Jesus is awesome” (with all the power of that misused word “awesome”) then I would have done my job. Jesus is awesome. There!
But, going on from that, in our preparation for Christmas, over the next few weeks, I want us to look at the first eighteen verses of the Gospel of John. There are no Christmas stories in the Gospel of John, but these first eighteen verses tell us the meaning of Christmas. They tell us the heavenly side of what happened when Jesus was born as that baby in Bethlehem.
Before Jesus ever spoke a word with those sweet little lips of his, Jesus was God’s eternal self-expression. Jesus was, and is, God speaking to us. When we put up our Christmas decorations, if we have a Nativity set and the child in the manger, we should look at it and say, “Speak to me, Baby!”
As Christians, we often connect the word to the Bible, and that’s a fair thing to do. The Bible is the written word of God.
But Jesus is the Living and Eternal Word of God. Jesus speaks through the written word. In fact, the disciples and writers of the New Testament believed that all of the scriptures were all about Jesus.
But Jesus also speaks through his life and actions. And Jesus speaks through us, his disciples. And, since Jesus speaks through us, he also speaks to us through others, especially through other disciples. And Jesus speaks to us through our lives. The truth is that Jesus speaks to us from everywhere and through everything and through everyone.
When we meet Jesus as the God who expresses himself and speaks to us, we need to see how he does it. The written word shows us how he did it and that should give us a clue as to how he does it now.
Jesus spoke by meeting people and relating to them. Jesus told people to do something. Jesus told people to trust him. Jesus did wonderful things for them, whether they asked him or not. Jesus asked people questions. Jesus answered questions with strange answers that left people with more questions than they had before. Jesus spoke by challenging people who didn’t want to be challenged. Jesus argued with people.
More than the other Gospels, John shows us Jesus in conversation with others. The Gospel of John shows us that the Eternal Word of God is interactive. John shows us the conversational and relational God.
When John says that the Word was with God, he uses a particular Greek word for “with” that doesn’t mean “side by side”. It means something more like “face to face”. The Word who is God is also face to face with God. I’m only telling you what it says.
God himself is an eternal interaction, face to face: which may be a part of what it means to say that God is love. God was, and is, never alone. It’s the eternal nature of God to be a relationship, and this is what he has made us for, in his image.
The Word whom we meet in the baby of Bethlehem is clearly not about information or even instructions. The Word is about relationships and conversations. Even the work of the Word, in creating the universe, was about relationships leading up to us.
Because of the issue that we call sin, the issue that has damaged the image of God in us and damaged God’s expression of himself through us, what we have in this world is a vast system of broken relationships: some of them horribly broken. This brokenness seems to feed on itself and multiply itself; and it brings ugliness, and fear, and anger into our world.
Sometimes it seems to make the world into a place where God is absent. But God, who is all about expression, reached into a world that couldn’t see beyond itself so that it could see God again, and hear God’s voice, and be healed by God’s work: as a baby, and a carpenter, and a condemned man on a cross.
The words “in the beginning” are John’s way of reaching back to the very first words of the Book of Genesis and the story of the creation. He tells us that God first expressed himself in time and space by means of creation. The Word spoke, and everything happened. Everything came into being, step by step.
Jesus is the unchanging Word of God, and he is still in the business of expressing himself by creation. Creation isn’t something that was done a long time ago. Creation has never stopped, because God has never stopped being himself.
This involves you, and me, and every human being. The fact that Jesus is the self-expression of the unchanging God means that, when we see him come onto the scene of our world of history, and time, and space, he comes to be the creator, as always.
The Word of God isn’t just about words. In the Bible words are nothing if they don’t have the integrity of making something happen: and it better be something good.
For us, the cross, where Jesus died, is just as powerful as the word that said, “Let there be light.” (Genesis 1:1) The baby in Bethlehem, the man on the cross, and the empty tomb are the Word of God to us. They are messages, acted out, and given to us, that have the integrity of making something new happen. God wants to make that creation happen to you, and to everyone you know, and to everyone on earth.
God wants to be known because, if we can truly know him, then we can truly love him, and by loving him we can receive him, and by receiving him we can live. We can be a new creation. We can be born again.
In the second chapter of Genesis, the story pictures God making us out of clay. God still expresses himself by close and even messy actions and relationships. That’s what he wants to do with every one of us, and with everyone in the world.
Genesis shows us the picture of a God who gets his hands dirty in order to be involved in his universe; and in the lives of people who are created to be his living images in this universe. The cross was a dirty and bloody business that left its mark and stain upon the hands of God. God loved doing that because he loves his world and those who live in it.
Being a Christian is not about the right information, but about God expressing himself to us so that we can be his new expressions, in his image, for a world that needs to hear from God. This world needs the creating, and healing, and life-changing Word (the Word that comes to our rescue, which is what “saving” is all about). We carry that Word as we carry Jesus with us in this world.
We are called to be the Word of God in this world because we are called to be like Jesus and follow him. We are to share Jesus with words, but the Word of God is more than words. The Word of God spoke through his birth in Bethlehem, through his life and actions, through his healings and his care for others, and through his death and resurrection.
I saw a posting on Facebook the other day that asked this question: “Want to keep Christ in Christmas?” It said: “Want to keep Christ in Christmas? Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, forgive the guilty, welcome the unwanted, care for the ill, love your enemies, and do unto others as you would have done unto you.” (possibly written by Sarah Benchley, in a photo on Facebook)
This is a message. This is the expression of the Word of God. We live together in a mission field that needs us to carry this Word to others.
The baby does speak. The baby of the Word is God invading our world so that we can see him and hear him again. This is the baby we meet at Christmas time. This is what the Baby came to give to our world, and he wants to give it through us. He wants to give himself to the world through us.