THE STORY – CHAPTER 22
Readings: John 1:1-14, Colossians 1:15-23, Micah 5:1-4, Luke 2:41-52.
Preached at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, MD, September 18, 2016
Back just after summer began we finished our study on the Old Testament section of “The Story” - a Readers Digest type of chronological version of the 66 books of the Bible. From this Sunday through to Advent we are going to explore the New Testament. If you are just joining the journey... welcome! Previous sermons can all be accessed through our church website.
One of the fundamental concepts behind Max Lucado and Randy Frazee's exploration of Biblical chronology is the idea that throughout Scripture there is a “Lower Story” and an “Upper Story”.
The “Lower Story” is the story of life as we experience it. The day by day circle of struggle and victory, joy and sorrow. Over and above that story, the Bible speaks to us of a different story, that is also constantly unfolding. The account of God's plan for our lives and our world. The secret to living biblically is to connect “Lower Story” life to the “Upper Story” of God's purposes, so that the Bibles message also becomes our story.
Chapter 22 of “The Story” titled “The Birth of a King” takes us through the events of Jesus birth, right through to the only story we have of His childhood, when He travels to Jerusalem. The chapter begins with this awe inspiring proclamation found in the Gospel of John.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
He was with God in the beginning. Through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made. In Him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.” (John 1:1-4 NIV)
Jump down to verse 14 and we find these words... “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14 NIV)
Chronologically and theologically that is the right place to start our journey through the New Testament. Often we begin with Matthew and Luke and think of the Christmas stories about the birth of Jesus as being the start of the Jesus narrative. John places the whole thing into the same framework as that with which the whole Bible begins. The Creation story.
One of the theories of the beginning of the universe, based on the ground breaking work of Edwin Hubble, is that of “The Big Bang.” The idea that out of nothing came something and the universe has been expanding ever since. More recently scientists such as Stephen Hawking and Neil Turok at “The Perimeter Institute of Fundamental Physics Research” have been theorizing regarding “What came before the Big Bang?”
Much talk of inter-dimensions, multi-verses (rather than uni-verses), String Theories and 4 dimensional mem-branes, alongside mind-boggling mathematical equations, are their daily bread.
The biblical answer to “What came before The Big-Bang” would be - the creative, beyond any known dimension, outside of time, multiversal energy that is the very substance of God. The first words of Genesis “In the Beginning... God.”
The genius of John's gospel is his telling us that, in an unprecedented and unrepeatable way, the energy that is God, came to us and walked among us, in the person of Jesus Christ. He links all of that to Greek concepts of reason and logic and the philosophy of Plato who offered up the possibility that a Word (a logos) may one day usher forth from God and birth something never before known.
The New Testament letter of Colossian's expands on these thoughts when the author writes “The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in Him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:15-17)
From the perspective of Scripture having within it both an “Upper Story” and a “Lower Story” John is telling us that in the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, the God of the “Upper Story” has stepped into the midst of our “Lower Story” lives, voluntarily come among us, with all the vulnerability and restriction and limitation that being human places upon us.
This is so well captured in lines from one of the great Christmas carols, “Hark the Herald Angels sing” as Charles Wesley writes; “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see; Hail the incarnate Deity, Pleased with us in flesh to dwell, Jesus our Emmanuel.” Our Savior. Our Redeemer.
The other remarkable revelation that unfolds throughout the New Testament is that this creative phenomena of God is not some impersonal, disconnected, uncaring mass of energy, but has a structure and a nature which can be defined in one simple word. LOVE. 1 John 4:8 gives us the divine definition. “God is love.” The love of God has implications that become implicit through the life and actions of Jesus. So John concludes; “Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (1John 4:11)
Here, maybe, is the deeper message of the Christmas story. Though everyone of us is capable of love, though we are all designed to be loved and to give love, though there is nothing in all of existence that gives to our lives any greater meaning than love, the hardest thing we try and attempt and fail to embody while dwelling on this planet is... .... love.
Lest you think I am over-stating or exaggerating the case,think about the two great commandments that came to us through the Old Testament. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and soul” and “Love your neighbor as yourself”. And, of course, Jesus really ramps it up later when He tells us to “Love your enemy” and to NOT love the world weary ways which define much of human interaction on a daily basis – love not the world... be in the world, but not of the world.. not limited by it or restrained by it's unloving ways!
How does all this unfold in the early stories of Jesus life?
God continues to act in the characteristic ways we saw in the Old Testament. God works through those who are faithful. Remember that long list of Old Testament Kings during the time before the Kingdoms fell? Whenever they expressed faith, they were blessed. Time and time again that became the pattern. And when an angel comes to a young girl called Mary, she humbles herself, she can't believe it... but ultimately accepts her destiny.
God continues to act through dreams and visions. A humble carpenter, Joseph, at first disturbed by events, then with faithfulness navigates the family through a journey to Bethlehem, through an escape to Egypt and eventually to settle in Nazareth.
The first to witness the birth of the King are folk some considered the lowest of the low... shepherds on a hillside. Not to any philosopher or celebrity or royalty is glory revealed, but to those who are honest people going about their daily tasks, with no hope, except God. A little later along come the outsiders. Wise men from the East? Who invited them to the party? God did! Because a lot of the so called 'Chosen people” haven't got a clue.
King Herod is totally shaken. If God was up to something, why hadn't he had the memo?It had to be a plot. It had to be a conspiracy. His megalomaniac reaction results in innocent bloodshed as he seeks to maintain his grip of fear over his unwilling subjects.
There is disbelief and a lack of recognition. Nobody has time for love! They have lives to live, demands to meet, priorities to take care of. As Joseph and Mary seek a place for Jesus to be born, all they hear is “No Room, No Room!” Is not that still the way of the world? No room for this message of love. Too much to do. To much too deal with. Get real! Move on.
Through an innkeepers act of compassion, the One through whom all things were created gets to enter the circle of human life in the lowliest of situations. As a stranger. Far from home. Passed by. Unnoticed except by a few rare souls. Not the most auspicious of beginnings. But a beginning it is!
And maybe the biggest hint as to what is to come is the brief account Jesus in the temple as a boy. Astounding the priests with His knowledge. Confounding His parents by not acting the way that was expected. Yet declaring... “Didn't you know I had to be in my Father's house?”
And we read... “His mother treasured these things in her heart. And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.”
The Birth of a King. But no earthly King. As one paraphrase of Psalm 23 phrases it; “The King of Love my Shepherd is, whose goodness faileth never, I nothing lack if I am His and He is mine forever”
The challenge. Can we make room for the creative energy and love of God to invade and encamp in our lives? Dare we believe that what took place in that lowly stable was truly the ultimate game changer, instigated by the One who created the game in the first place?
Mind boggling stuff. Yet it all comes back to love. God's first intention. Love that is found in relation to God and made gloriously possible through the life,death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Love that, through the work of God's Holy Spirit, can take what is broken and create something beautiful. Healing love. Powerful love. The love of God that calls us by name and invites us home.
Let us pray that such love may be born in our lives! And to God's name be the glory. Amen.
The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.