THE STORY OF US:
A Pastoral Message, January 3, 2021, by Rev. Dennis W. Foust, PhD, based upon John 1:14-18 for the people of St. John’s Baptist Church, Charlotte, NC
On this last Sunday of the Christmas season and the first Sunday of a new calendar year, my message title is ‘The Story of Us.’ Now, this is not a message about the 2011 song recorded by Taylor Swift referencing her relationship with ex-boyfriend, John Mayer. Nor is it about the 1999 movie starring Bruce Willis and Michelle Pfeiffer. This message is about an important emphasis in how John’s Gospel tells the Christmas Story.
Some people don’t realize John told the Christmas Story. We rely heavily on Matthew and Luke at Christmas who tell us about a baby in a manger and the supporting cast of Joseph, Mary, innkeeper, angels, shepherds, magi, Herod, Simeon and Anna. In the Gospel of John, we find the Christmas Story as ‘The Story of Us.’
Of the four Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, John was written last. The Gospel of John was written after almost all of the eyewitnesses of Jesus’ ministry had died. John’s Gospel reflects the reality that the Jesus movement was no longer a subset within Judaism. John’s Gospel presents the Jesus is more than a historical figure; Jesus predates history. Jesus is the Living Word of The Living God who spoke at creation. This is why John’s Gospel offers this sentence: “He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.”
John gives us this beautiful phrase:: “And the Word became flesh and lived among US…” Consider these questions: If you wanted to explain to someone how much you loved them, what would you do? Would you rent a billboard or send a tweet? Would you post an Instagram or buy an ad on TV, Facebook or Google? Would you send a video? Would you send someone else to explain how much you loved them? Or, would you go yourself? And, if you were to receive a message from someone of how much they loved you, would you rather read it on a billboard or in a tweet; see it on Instagram, TV, Facebook, Google or in a video? Would you rather hear it from someone else or be told by the one who loves you in person and be able to be in one another’s presence?
In Jesus, the transcendent God is not reduced to finite immanence. Instead, the transcendent God is revealed as One who transcends our understanding of transcendence. In Jesus, God dispels our limited understanding of divine revelation. In Jesus, God is revealed as The One who is tangibly present and active among US spiritually as compassionate love providing sustaining hope, transforming peace and contagious joy.
On one hand, to believe in the existence of The Living God is to believe in a world we cannot see or touch. We accept a reality beyond the tangible – a spiritual world. Yet, Jesus Christ makes God tangible for US. In the light of Jesus, through faith, we can see ourselves as characters in God’s Story of US. Jesus reveals US to US and Jesus reveals God to US. Jesus reveals to us the way God wants us to live and he reveals to us the characteristics of God which should shape our character. In Christ, we see ourselves as loved by God despite our sin. In the light of God’s love in Christ, we can boldly confess our sin to God in the assurance that God is forgiving, redeeming and reconciling. In Christ, we are called to worship God and serve others. Jesus Christ tells us God’s Story of US: We are loved by God with the choice to follow the ways of God or not.
During his travels to several Medieval churches in Germany and middle Europe, Richard Rohr learned it was common in the art of that period to present the Annunciation as Mary dropping a book out of her hands at the very moment of Gabriel’s proclamation. The symbolism in the art is this, “Do not conceive of God as merely an idea in a book; welcome The Living God into your life as a living Presence growing within you.”
Beloved, as we end another Christmas season, please understand that God came to US in Jesus. There is a great deal we cannot understand about God. Yet, as I said to you on Christmas Eve, “any god that can be fully understood is not The Living God. Jesus is the light in our search to understand God and ourselves better.
For the first 17 centuries of Church history, worship music involved chanting Hebrew Psalms or Christian scriptures. During the Protestant Reformation, a frail 15-year old boy started writing hymns. His name was Isaac Watts. He wrote more than 750 hymns. Born weak, he and was sick throughout his life. He grew to be barely 5-feet tall. In 1719, Watts wrote the hymn, .‘Joy to the World,’ It never mentions shepherds, angels or a manger. He wrote ‘Joy to the World’ to be sung on any day in any situation. He did not write, ‘The Lord has come.’ He wrote, ‘The Lord IS come.’
Joy to the World, the Lord did not merely come to visit. The Lord is come TO US TO STAY!
“the Word became flesh and lived among US.” Thanks be to God for not sending a tweet! Merry Christmas!