“Tipping Point” Mark 1:14-20

There seems to be a fascination with looking back in history and trying to figure out the events that triggered major events.

This past Christmas the movie “Selma” looked back at the beginning of the Civil Rights movement, and chronicled the stepping stones that led up to the march from Selma to Montgomery.

Heavily advertised, complete with a Rolling Stones soundtrack is a new feature for the History Channel looking back to see the forces at play that triggered the American Revolutionary War, the “Sons of Liberty” examining the personalities of revolutionaries.

Another Ken Burns film on PBS recently took a look back at the Roosevelts, Teddy, FDR, and Eleanor to understand the forces that shaped their policies and public service.

Almost all of these have in common a “tipping point” moment, if not done for dramatic effect, then at least to show when the course chosen and the action taken.

Selma is the tipping point for the use of Non-Violent protest by the Civil Rights workers, it will be their course of action, no matter what.

The call for Independence is the tipping point for the Colonies.  Not just better representation, but self-determination.   That will be the goal for the Founding Fathers, no matter what the cost.

A call to greatness is the common element in the story of “The Roosevelts,” whether it is Teddy launching the nation onto the world stage with his “big stick” and bully pulpit, or Franklin and Eleanor championing recovery from the Great Depression and launching a New Deal for the American People, or guiding the ship of state through a World War, there is a sense that the United States will grasp it’s greatness, and all be included in that greatness, no matter what.

The tipping point is reached.

As I read the Gospel today, I wonder if we haven’t overlooked that “tipping point” in the story of Jesus.

We don’t have a lot of background to Jesus’ development.   We have sparse birth narratives, some exposition on him being a precocious child at age 12 in Matthew’s Gospel as he gets left behind at the temple and astounds the teachers.

In John’s Gospel it is a reluctant Jesus who at age 30 performs his first sign of Water turned into wine.

“Where was Jesus for those first 30 years?” we wonder.   Did he have a life?  Was he just quietly working in Joseph’s carpenter shop?  Was his only interest in crafting tables and chairs?

He is called “Rabbi” by his disciples, does this hint at Jesus perhaps being more widely known at the time than we might have assumed?

We know from Luke’s account that he was regularly in the Synagogue, and has no trouble at all reading from the Scroll of Isaiah when it is passed to him as the appointed reading for that day.

The Pharisees seem well acquainted with him, and now only begin to question his teachings and actions when he goes beyond the standard interpretations to introduce the arrival of this Kingdom, or reign of God in the present, or when as a sign of that reign he dares to forgives sins and performs healings and exorcisms.

So, when I read this Gospel and hear the phrase, “Now after John was arrested…..” and “The time is fulfilled….”  I begin to wonder, is the announcement of John’s arrest the tipping point?   Is this the event that launches Jesus into a ministry that he has been preparing for his whole life?

I have always been puzzled by the call of the disciples.   What makes a person just up and drop their nets to follow Jesus?   We assume it is Jesus’ charisma, or the power of his teaching, or his magnetic personality, and maybe it was!

But, maybe it was also a decision born of much thought and preparation.

Was this the first time those disciples had seen Jesus, met him, or heard of him?

Or is the arrest of John the “tipping point” moment?   Simon and Andrew, John and James had heard of Jesus, perhaps listened to his teaching in the synagogue.   Maybe they have been in the Synagogue with him week after week, but now in the arrest of John, comes the moment of decision.

Now we announce that the Kingdom of God has come near.  We can wait no longer, court no more of Herod’s whims; and stand no more of Rome’s occupation.   Now we announce that God has other plans for this world, no matter what.

I think there is a particular power in seeing that as what happens here, because it makes Jesus and this matter of a Kingdom breaking in upon us somewhat more accessible.

I can’t imagine just dropping everything to follow Jesus, and I don’t think you can either.

I can however, imagine frustrated fishermen seeing in Jesus a glimmer of hope for a different world.  I can imagine them listening to Jesus’ words and thinking, “If he ever does more than build benches, I want to be a part of that.”

I can imagine them just waiting with aching longing for when that different world might come about, and when they might see Jesus start to move.

I can’t imagine responding to an enigmatic call to “go and fish for people.”

But, I can imagine seeing in someone, namely in Jesus, the hope that he/we could fix the broken pieces of this world.

I can imagine having seen that, being willing then to tell others what I have seen in him, the hopes that I have for what he will do.

I can’t imagine, in other words, a Jesus who just comes at me out of the blue.

But, I can imagine a Jesus who has been weaving himself into my life all along, telling me that someday the time will be right.  Someday, what I hope will one day happen, will happen.

I can connect with that Jesus who has been encouraging me to believe that it is possible all along, and who finally one day looks at me as I’m working in my boat and says, “it’s time… it’s YOUR time.”

That would likely get me out of the boat.

Is that how Simon and Andrew, James and John heard Jesus that day?   The invitation was not out of the blue, it was “now is the time.”

This makes sense to me in the way the rest of Mark’s Gospel plays out, because this is one breathless sprint from here on out, from the Sea of Galilee to streets of Jerusalem.   Jesus has no time to waste, no dallying or delaying.   The time is fulfilled.  They arrested John.  This is the tipping point, now we have to move!

I can imagine that, because then it makes me wonder, and ask myself, “Just what is my tipping point with Jesus?”

Oh he’s been at work in my life all along, as he has with yours.

Jesus has been weaving himself into the fabric of who you are for quite some time now.  You have heard him preach, and teach, and argue with the Pharisees if you’ve been coming to worship, or if you’ve been reading the bible, or attending a study or gathering.

You’ve pondered this Jesus, from a distance, a little like the fishermen in the boat.

From time to time you’ve probably even thought to yourself, “I would go in for that.”   When he forgives, or when he heals, or when he accepts the outcast.  That seems right, or like what should be done, or maybe makes you suddenly startle and wonder if that is right.

Or maybe, as you look around in your week, in your world, you think you recognize things where you have a hint that Jesus might just be active there.   A place where God seemed to intervene on behalf of others; or you overheard a comment made by someone that seemed inspired by more than just general good will.

You think to yourself, “I wish I could have done that, said that, been a part of that…”

Oh God is weaving God’s self into your life, has woven God’s own self into the lives of others.   Into the life of Jonah, reluctant prophet that he was, who when the moment came knew what he had to do but just could not do it, because he knew what God all too well.  God will have mercy on those whom I would rather see burn.

God has woven God’s self into the lives of Mary and Joseph, and Anna and Simeon, using the taking on of flesh to get woven into the lives of Andrew and Simon and James and John, showing and inspiring and confronting and calling, and to each in turn comes the time when he looks at them and says in one way or another, “Now is the time…Your time.”

Sing, Simeon.   Prophesy Anna. Follow Andrew. Be known as Peter from now on, Simon; and thunder John and James…. Now is your time!

God has woven God’s self into the lives of many since them, Dr. King, and the Founding Fathers, and wittingly or unwittingly into the lives of elected officials, and maybe, just maybe into your life as well.

Maybe, like all those whom God has called before, you are just waiting for the right moment, for the sense of call to have clarity, for you to experience the tipping point in your own life.  The moment when with absolute clarity you understand that it’s time to throw off what you have been doing and launch into the opportunity that presents itself because THIS IS YOUR TIME, AND THIS IS WHAT YOU HAVE TO DO, HAVE BEEN CALLED TO DO, NO MATTER WHAT!

Could that be the Gospel for us today?

I don’t know what your tipping point is.

I don’t know what you have a passion for, or what gnaws at you, or what you can’t stand to see happen anymore.

I don’t know what you want to throw your life into, what you feel is worth whatever the cost may be, what you will be willing to work for, suffer for, die for, and give everything to see through.

I can’t tell you what to take up, the Cross before you is the one that God presents, and it’s not one of pointless suffering, but rather one that will get you moving and pull you inexorably toward your own destiny.

But this much I can tell you.  Whatever it is that you are called to do with burning passion God has already been weaving God’s self into you and into the task to give you the strength to see it through.

This is how the Kingdom comes.  One day Jesus comes along and looks at you in love and in confidence and says to you, “Now is the time, YOUR time.”   This is what you have been preparing for your whole life.

Can you sense that in the “come and follow me?”   It is not an “out of the blue” call to the unknown, but rather a burning desire to commit to what God calls you to do, here and now, with your whole heart, no matter what.

The Age of Wonder. John 1:43-51

This is a wondrous time.  This is an age of unprecedented communication, and limitless travel, where the world literally greets you every morning as you walk down a busy street and hear the banter of foreign language.

This is a time of deep spiritual hunger, where people are seeking something that will breathe new life into old, stale forms.  Or, they are looking for new ways and open up connections to God and to the mystical or the spiritual.

This is the 1st century A.D., the time of Jesus.

The 1st century?   You probably thought I was talking about our 21st century, about our time, weren’t you?  Well think about it.  The Roman Empire had brought to Palestine all of the wonders of the far flung world.   The machines of the Greeks, concrete for buildings and monuments.   The Romans brought refinements in writing, indoor plumbing, the discipline and peace of the Roman “Pax Romanum kept by garrisoned Legions. To those first century Palestinians, the Roman occupation must have brought change and technological wonders here-to-for undreamed.   With their system of roads and dispatches, messages traveled freely in the Empire.   The roads also brought a mixing of cultures and languages unprecedented in the known world.  On any given morning as you left your house you might meet an Ethiopian, or a Mede, or any number of foreign nationals.

If everything old is new again, then this age we live in, and sometimes dread, and often times hope will be better, is very much like the time of Jesus.

Welcome to the 1st century.

Welcome to the 21st century.

If it’s true that these two times share more in common than we sometimes realize, then this Gospel lesson has something important to tell us about Jesus, and about how Jesus reaches people in an age of unprecedented communication, travel, and spiritual hunger.

You see, this gospel story is about one thing that we know a great deal about and that we have deeply in common with the first century.  It is about skepticism, and how it is that you reach skeptics.

Philip is energized by what he has found in Jesus.   “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.”

Philip is someone who has had an encounter with the living God.   He has met Jesus, face to face, felt the presence of God’s spirit transform his life.    And now, he is eager to share that life transforming message, he runs and tells Nathanael.

Despite Philip’s obvious enthusiasm, Nathanael’s response is to be cool and skeptical.  “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

We say to ourselves, “back then it was easier to have faith.”  It was easier to believe.  It was easier to invite people to come and see what Jesus was all about.

Nonsense!   Not if this gospel lesson is true.   The world in the first century, like today, was full of skeptics.  It was full of people ready to say, “Can anything good come out of a church?”  It was full of people eager to poke holes in your enthusiasm.

If this gospel lesson tells us anything, it tells us that from the very beginning Jesus and his disciples had to deal with skeptics.     So what to do about them?

Well, first and foremost the text says, you invite them.    “Come and see.”    Philip says to his skeptical friend.   This is no small thing!  How many of us would do that to the skeptic?   Do that with our skeptical friends?    You hear them around the water cooler at work, in the bar at the end of the day, snickering in the hallway at this religious nut or that.   They are criticizing this church or that, scoffing at belief in Jesus from afar.   It’s pretty easy to do that, you know, criticize from a distance.    When we hear that, every fiber in our being says, “Oh, just let them be that way, we can’t change them.”

But the gospel says something else.  The Gospel says “invite them.” “Come and see!”

We can use that skepticism as a tool in our outreach.   We can say, “Listen, if you’re going to make fun of Christians, then let me give you some really good first hand material.   Come to worship with me.  Come meet my Pastor. Come to this bible study with me.  You might get a laugh out of it, if nothing else.

What do you do with skeptics?   You swim against your natural instinct to exclude them, and instead you invite them!

Then, you let them say their piece.   “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

That’s just as important as anything else.  Let them vent their spiritual frustration and disbelief.  Let them spout off, because quite often words of disbelief are belief at that moment.

Even the coarsest old sot who curses and swears a blue streak is at least invoking the name of God and his Son!  It’s not faith, it’s not belief, but it is an acknowledgement of the name, of something, someone greater than you with the power to bring harm and curse.   Calling on the name has a power of its own.  Using the name of Jesus will finally do something to you.

What to do about the skeptic?    Invite them, let them voice their skepticism, and then get out of the way.   Give Jesus a chance to say something to the skeptic!   After the invitation and Nathanael’s response to it, we don’t see or hear about Philip again in this story.   From now on, it’s a conversation between Jesus and the skeptic, your job is over.

What does Jesus say to the skeptic?  “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!”  Honesty is appreciated by Jesus.  No deceit.  No guile.  No pretense.  You don’t think I am who Philip says I am, do you?   You don’t think I have anything to offer you, do you?   Jesus says to Nathanael.   Your honesty is appreciated!

Jesus appreciates honesty.   He knows that for sophisticated, worldly people in the 1st century, who he is and what he has come to do is going to be a tough pill to swallow!     That hasn’t changed in 2000 years.

Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?”  Now at first that seems like a peculiar thing for Nathanael to say, but not for those of us who know how Jesus works.   We know that Jesus has a way of looking inside a person, and seeing right through them.  He is the one to whom all desires are known, from whom no secrets are hid, and Nathanael, skeptic though he may be, senses that somehow in this initial meeting.

It’s the same feeling that the Woman at the well gets, when she witnesses to her friends saying, “come meet the man who told me everything about my life.”

It’s the same feeling we get when we engage in confession in worship — when the mind races to cover the last week and remembers what has been done, and what has been avoided or left undone.  Jesus sees it all.

And so the skeptic’s first and last line of defense is to try to figure out where Jesus may have gotten his information.   Have we met before?   Have you been observing me from afar, interviewing some of my friends, putting together a dossier on me, lurking my Facebook page?

You have to see that defense mechanism at work to understand how what Jesus says next so deeply affects Nathanael.   “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.”

That was just moments ago, and no was around to see that.    Jesus, you don’t know me because you’ve been observing me for some time from a distance, you really do see inside me, and through me, and you know what’s in here, and you welcome me anyway.

That’s what gets to Nathanael, That’s what gets to all skeptics in the end.

It’s pretty easy to scoff from afar, but when you have that encounter with the living Lord, and his eyes of love pierce right into the depths of your soul, the time for scoffing is over.And this encounter, this life changing event for Nathanael, all began with a simple invitation, “come and see.”

Everything old is new again, in this century, where skeptics are plentiful and disciples are few.   You’ve got a job to do it seems.  You are the Philip that Jesus has touched, and if you aren’t, then you are the Nathanael, who is still skeptical. No matter which you are, Jesus knows you.

If you’re skeptical, feel his burning eyes, he knows you.

If you are the one on fire, then do not fear to say to others, “Come and see.”  Because you see, when you do, Jesus will take it from there.   That’s what he promised in the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Welcome to the 1st century.

Welcome to the 21st century.

Welcome to the age of discipleship.

Getting Down to It Mark 1:4-11

DSCF0075This year was not the fun year.   The Grandson is not yet a year old, still hobbling around with fists in the air, every step a teetering, tentative plop and headlong rush toward the next hand hold. This year when you place a package in front of him, he looks at it, and then looks up at you with a kind of “What they heck do I do with this?” gaze.  You tear a corner to help him get a start at opening the present, but there is no recognition of any kind that kicks in yet.  Paper tears, but he is more interested in the sound of the paper tearing than having any thought of what might lie beneath.

No, this is not the “fun year.”

Next year it will be a different story, when he connects the dots and concepts of gift wrap, presents, and the possibility of what might lie beneath that shiny paper.  Next year he will move with purpose from package to package as they appear beneath the tree.   He will admire, shake, wonder a bit, beg to open one early.  He will look with pleading eyes trying to ply all the necessary combinations of guilt, eagerness and outright cuteness to let him open a present early.

Oh, and when the moment comes to open presents at last?

Older men and women search for the tape at the seams, and carefully try to release it so that the paper might be saved and re-used, or at very least admired a bit longer.   The goal is to preserve the wrapping and the moment.  Nothing too violent, just try to slip the box out as quietly as possible.

Not so with little hands who know that the point is to get in there!   The seam will be found by scraping, clawing fingernails, ribbons will be popped off and cast aside, paper flung in all direction by the wild and furious handfuls to reveal what lies beneath.

Next year is the fun year, the one where with wide eyed wonder and manic purpose the child lets nothing stand in the way of getting to the goal, the gift and the prize.

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

We too often come at the Baptism of Jesus, at any baptism really like the proper adults that we are.  We imagine a serene scene, the baby in the white gown.   Like older adults slipping a finger under the tape we expect the baptism to unfold in an orderly fashion and for God to come down and claim the child.   Not much fuss or undo action, slip the gift of baptism from its sheath and then to get on to our Sunday Brunch.  That’s how we view baptism.  A rite and ritual well performed, with a photo shoot after.

But that is not the picture we get of Baptism from Mark’s Gospel. Those coming out from Jerusalem for Baptism are being whipped into a frenzy by the strangely clad prophet, who calls them to repent before he gets to do any splashing or dunking.

In Mark’s Gospel there is the projection of energy, urgency.  A fevered pitch is set in motion that says that things have to happen “immediately” once Jesus is on the scene.   Mark wastes no time in setting up the story of Jesus.   The Good News is proclaimed, John prepares the way and baptizes, and Jesus appears and is baptized.

In other words, God can’t wait to the get wrapper off this!  It is a fevered excitement that is mirrored in the Baptism of Jesus.

Genesis reminds us of how God packaged up this world.   Creation was wrapped up, not exactly with ribbon and bows, but with an orderliness, and measure of precision.   God separated the light from the darkness, morning and evening, and from that beginning goes on with the progression of everything put in its proper place with its proper purpose.

We know this story of the Creator God.    We recognize this God, the one who brings order into the midst of chaos and pronounces all things “good.”

But this picture of God in the baptism is different.

hands-cloudHere God is impatient, and more than just a little violent with what God has spent so much time creating.   God reaches in to rip open the heavens to get down to the creation, to get down to us.  God blurts out his excitement and approval, just as the child might after the paper is ripped off and the long desired toy is revealed.

“You are my son, the beloved, with you I am well pleased!”   You can practically feel God beaming at Jesus as he comes up out of the water.

“That’s my boy!   That’s just what I wanted!”

What if this is the fun year for God?   After long ages of being hidden and obscured behind pillars of fire by day and pillars of smoke by night, what if this is the year that God becomes real for us?

What if this is the fun year for God?   God, who after long years of appearing in burning bushes and booming from smoking mountaintops finally gets to sit down and have a conversation with us?

What if this is the fun year for God?  No more sending messengers.  No more Cherubim and Seraphim flying back and forth, just a pair of sandals, and the ability to take a walk through the countryside.  An invitation to come and dine with him, or to let us sit at God’s feet, and maybe even follow and walk with God along the way?

Could you get excited about that?

Because the heavens have been ripped apart and God has become flesh to dwell among us, God can feel the warmth of his mother Mary’s hand.  God can “ice bucket challenge” gasp in shock at the cold splash of water, and the rough hands of the Baptist as he is plunged under and then raised up again.   God can at last taste a piece of broiled fish, break bread and drink wine with friends and experience it all.

“You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased!”

Not everything in the “fun year” will be all that much fun, but you do get a sense in Mark’s Gospel that Jesus from this moment on knows exactly what he is supposed to do, and that he launches into it with his whole heart.  We are off, here, there, proclaiming the Kingdom come near, healing, touching the untouchable, casting out demons and engaging a world that has been under wraps for far too long.

This is what I see in the Baptism of Jesus this year, a God so excited to get at us that he rips the wrapper off this world and reaches down not with power or might or fearful lightning bolt, but with a hand wrapped in flesh and extended in greeting.

“This is my Son, my beloved, and I am well pleased!”

This is what I sense in every baptism, in every splashing of water and proclaiming of Word.    I get requests to do baptisms privately, and if I have to I will, but they really belong here in the midst of worship because this is just too good a thing to keep to ourselves.   Here in giddy delight God reaches in to claim us as God’s own.

Here God proclaims to you, and you, and you what God proclaimed about Jesus.  “You are my beloved, and I am well pleased with you!”

It’s going to happen to Parker today.

It has happened to many before, and many after, to you whether you remember it or not.  God tore back the heavens to get to you because God just could not contain God’s self any longer.

This is the fun year, where you connect the dots and concepts of water and Word and the gifts given of everlasting life, the forgiveness of sins and salvation.   This is the fun year where you begin to see the possibility of what might lie just beneath these promises, for God was so excited to get Jesus into this world and to see him baptized that he ripped the heavens open to see it happen.

If God gets that excited for Jesus, God gets that excited for you as well.

God is this day ripping open the heavens still, that nothing may stand between you and God.   No distance, no curtain veil, no sin or disappointment. In Baptism, God is just so excited to call you God’s own child, that God can’t contain God’s self.  The old separations are flung far and wide so that God might at last hold you for God’s self with Jesus’ arms.

This is the fun year, the year of Mark.  Get ready to walk on the wild side with a God set loose at last upon this world, who invites you to join along.

John’s Christmas Story John 1:1-18

It is still the Christmas season.  I think that fact is hard for us to hold onto given the way the world wants to rush on to the next holiday.  Carols have largely faded, displays are coming down in shops and in neighborhoods while we had a little warm weather to do it on.  We’re pretty much done with Christmas.

The Gospel reading today doesn’t help much because the Prologue of John’s Gospel, while it is always read at Christmas just doesn’t feel very “Christmas-y”   Themes of light and dark, and “In the beginning was the Word.”  John is doing high theology and that doesn’t quite have the same visual impact of the babe in the manger or cattle lowing.

I have to thank Karoline Lewis, New Testament professor at Luther Seminary and scholar with particular interest in John’s Gospel for insight into the Gospel for today, and what makes it a Christmas story.

I struggle with John.

Yes, I know, it was Luther’s favorite Gospel.   I know, I know, it’s arranged in terms of seven signs.  It’s different in its approach to the story of Jesus from Matthew, Mark and Luke.   I should appreciate it on its own terms, but I have to confess that the Jesus that I meet in John’s Gospel is often just a little too self-aware.  All of the “he knew what was to take place” references tend to get on my nerves.

When it comes to a touchy-feely Christmas-y kind of story it isn’t John’s Gospel that I run to.

But Karoline Lewis’ comments have changed that for me.

Her first comment that changed my mind was just on the nature of a prologue.   She asks us to consider what a difference a prologue makes?

We tend to focus a lot of our preaching attention on what a text says”  Professor Lewis  writes, with less concern about what a text does. …..This week, let’s think together about what these opening verses do. How do they function? They orient, introduce, ground. They provide perspective, a default position, a direction. They set the tone, set out themes so we know what to expect – a lens through which to view what comes next.

            I wonder if perhaps we all need a prologue — a prologue for our lives, even our believing, our discipleship, our relationship with God.”

A prologue functions to orient us, introduce themes, set tones, provides a lens through which to view what comes next.

How many of you made New Year’s Resolutions?   Isn’t that a little like writing a prologue to the year?  This is what I want to do, these are the things that are important to me, losing some weight, being a better person, spending more time with my kids, my spouse, learning a new skill, improving my grades… etc, etc.

We write prologues for ourselves all the time.

“From now on……” we say, and whether we follow through and do it, or accomplish everything we intended to do, or anything at all, is not as important as the fact that we had a sense of possibility.   We could do this.

Prologues end up being intensely personal, when you think about it.   We pack into them the hopes for the coming year, the values that we say will guide us, the beliefs that lie behind our reasons and assertions.

It never occurred to me just how personal the prologue to John’s Gospel is until I began to think of it in those terms.  This is John laying out for us everything he holds to be true about Jesus.  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God….”

That’s intensely personal!  It’s an “in your face” kind of assertion, and just one of many found in the beginning of this Gospel.

For John, this is the Christmas Story.  It is about how personal God intends to get with us, how intimate God intends to get, as God, as Word, takes on flesh.

This is intensely personal, what was before unseen and unable to be beheld now comes to be made known, and not just to be made known but to live among us!

This God who was already in this world, but unrecognized now takes on great risk to become as one of us, and the first thing that is acknowledged is that we still don’t recognize God, or at least we don’t accept God.

Maybe that is different.

Maybe a part of our prologue is that we almost always “miss God” when God shows up.  It isn’t until much later that we begin to think back and to recognize.    If God is constantly showing up somehow enfleshed… in the presence of Christ in my neighbor, then I do indeed miss God more than I behold God.

I must confess that it is not the “Word of God made flesh” that first comes to mind when the person walks into church looking for assistance.   I doubt it is for you either, judging by the number of times that the person gets shuffled on to me.   “Let me find the Pastor, he’ll know what to do with you.”

It is not the “Word of God made flesh” that comes to mind when I am irritated with someone.  I do not see a “child of God” at that moment.  I see only an irritation, a repeated disappointment, maybe I even utter a heavy sigh at a repeated offense.

Oh yes, frail flesh does disappoint!

But that only serves to make it all the more interesting that this prologue asserts that the Word has to take it on.

Does Jesus have to disappoint us a bit, in order to connect with us?

“He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.”   That’s an intensely painful and personal admission, is it not?  It’s like going back to your high school, your college reunion after making something of yourself only to be treated as the same loser you were in high school.  No one sees you any differently now.

How it must have pained God to come, expecting to be seen for the sacrifice this is, only to be rejected for making it.

“But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

And here is where another of Professor Lewis’ comments suddenly connected with me, this matter of being made a “child of God” by Jesus.  Jesus who gives to us the power to become what he is.  This is what he was, and what he ever shall be as God’s Son.  This matter of being a Child of God which in verse 18 is described like this:   “No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.”

“Close to the Father’s heart” is not the best translation.   The word is not “kardia” (Heart).  The word there in Greek is “Kolpos” which is “bosom.”   John describes the fold of the arms, the place where you cradle and hold.

Again, this is an intimate visual image.

This is the place Jesus knows, the Only Son has rested cradled in the Father’s arms for that is where children are held.   And, if you now have been given the power to become Children of God, guess where you are given access?

You are welcomed to the bosom.

Picture the infant sleeping, safely cradled, loved, cherished.

Picture the infant at the breast nursing, receiving everything needed for life.  We have all received, grace upon grace, John affirms.

Picture the child held close, the look of love on the face of the one who holds the infant, the warmth radiating from the bosom.

This is John’s Christmas story, and what he invites us to behold.

There is no manger, no stable, no shepherds or angels, no mother Mary meek and mild or Joseph.

There is only this, a child cradled in the Father’s arms, and John’s assertion in the prologue that this is where God the Father welcomes you.   The Son is sent to bring you here.

If a part of our prologue is that we always seem to be missing God, then it is John’s assertion in his prologue that this you cannot miss.  Those who received Jesus are made children of God, and this is your destiny, not because of blood, or your own desires, or by trying hard enough to get there, but simply because it is God’s will, and God will not be denied!

This is John’s Christmas story.  See, it is about a child cradled lovingly in someone’s bosom.

The child is you.

The arms are God’s.

This is what the coming of the Son of God in flesh has opened up for you, for me, for us all… and it is grace upon grace.