Sunday, September 17th's fantastic message “The Birth of the King” by Rev. Toni Carmer continuing week 22 of a 31 week study of “The Story – The Bible as One Continuous Story of God and His People.”
The Birth of the King
First United Methodist Church, September 17, 2017
Pastor Toni Carmer
Here we are in the New Testament, and our reading over the next few weeks focuses on the Gospels—which means Good News. The writers of the first 4 books of the Bible—Matthew, Mark, Luke and John—focus on Jesus. Each from their own perspective, they write about his life and ministry.
This morning's chapter from The Story takes us through the first 12 years of Jesus' life. We read about how the angel Gabriel appeared to both Mary and Joseph—each who were understandably uncertain—but who, in faith, chose to trust.
We read about how the couple traveled from Nazareth in Galilee to Bethlehem in Judea—a trip of about 90 miles—one on foot, the other with the option of riding a donkey—over challenging terrain, with one of those travelers great with child. Scholars think the trip might have taken somewhere between 4 days and a week and a half (I'd go with the greater length. I didn't ride a donkey when I was greatly pregnant, but I did go 4-wheeling in a Jeep CJ-7, and 37 years later still remember the experience. J)
We read that Jesus was born, that angels appeared, that shepherds came to see, that Magi/Kings/Wise Men from far away came from the East bringing gifts. We read about how they foiled King Herod's attempt to learn from them the location of Jesus because of what he had heard about this one born to rule (in his place he surmised). At their lack of cooperation and his inability to kill Jesus, Herod ordered the death of every baby boy in Bethlehem under the age of 2, in order to eliminate the competition.
There's a brief reference to Jesus being brought to the temple when he was 8 days old, and how the family was greeted by Simeon and Anna, who recognized that this infant was the Messiah, and celebrated that they had seen him with their own eyes. They blessed the family, blessed the infant…and yet Simeon's final words: "…and a sword will pierce your own soul, too," certainly had to trigger some dis-ease in the young parent's hearts.
The Story then concludes with Jesus as a 12 year old, in the temple having a conversation with teachers there, asking questions, and talking with them—almost as a peer…at 12. The only issue with all that is that he had been missing for a couple of days, he hadn't told his parents where he was and they had headed home, not realizing they were leaving him behind after the Passover Feast. "Didn't you know I'd be in my Father's house," he asked them, which I think is one piece of evidence that Jesus was fully human as well as fully God. Sounds like a 12 year old comment to me. J
The birth story in the Gospel of John is told in a little different way than it is in the other 3 Gospels. There aren't angel visits or angel choirs or the news that there is no room at the inn. There isn't a sweet little baby or shepherds out in the fields who come to the stable for a visit, or Magi who come bringing gifts.
The writer of John is speaking to a different audience—to non-Jews, or Gentiles as they're called in scripture, after the other Gospels were written, about 70 years after the birth of Jesus. John is writing to people who aren't familiar with Jewish law or practices or holidays, but he knows that the story is so important, he wants to speak with words they'll understand…with words that will catch their attention…with words that are compelling and that they will be more inclined to hear.
That's an important word for us, something for us to think about. If we want a new generation or even the next generation beyond ours (no matter what generation that might be)—if we want the next generation to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ, then we need to think about the way we communicate our faith, the tools that we use: our worship times, our language, our hymns, our liturgy and practice. You and I might love singing the old and great hymns of the faith, reading the biblical translations that we grew up with, and following an order of worship that makes sense to us—but do these make sense to the next generation? Do our words translate to this generation? Just as I have to always be thinking about the words that I use with our children who come up for the children's message, to make sure that they're age-appropriate, are our words and examples and methods of communicating the faith to a new generation today-appropriate? Do they make sense to someone who has never been a part of a worship experience before? Do we communicate in a language that makes sense to someone to whom this is all new?
John knew that the story of Jesus was too important to take the chance of limiting its access. Because of him and others like him, who we'll be reading about along the way, who would become missionaries to the Gentiles, you and I have come to know Jesus.
In the beginning was the Word, John says, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. To the Greeks, Word is LOGOS, Word is reason, Word is the rational principle that governs all things. To the Jew, the Word is God, but that doesn't translate to the Gentile, so John offered them this possibility, this way of thinking…a way that they could wrap their brains around.
In John we read about the light of the world. We know the light to be Jesus. John tells us that the light shines in the darkness and the darkness will not overcome it. No matter what's happening in the world: hurricanes, floods, unrest…the darkness will not overcome it. The light and life come to us in the gift of Emmanuel: God with us. God is with us. God has always been with us.
This prelude to John's Gospel takes us back to the very beginning—back to the Old Testament book of Genesis. In the first few sentences of our Bibles it tells us that God created the heavens and the earth: "The earth was formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. And then God said, "Let there be light", and there was light. And God saw that the light was good…"
And in John, "A light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it."
We remember how throughout the Old Testament God spoke through prophets. God guided, God instructed, God corrected. God's people listened and followed, and then they took wrong turns and went their own way. They tried to listen (sometimes), they tried to understand (sometimes). They were a lot like us in a lot of ways. They thought they were pretty smart. They thought that if they were (basically) good, if they were doing what they pretty sure thought was right, then things surely would go well for them. But things didn't. God saw how lost they were, how they were stumbling around in the darkness (which came about as a consequence to their own misbehaviors)—and at the right time—God gave them a Savior.
What we read here in the Gospel of John is really a second creation story, one that tells us of the cosmic pre-existence of the Word—that the Word was with God, that the Word was God. Then, we read about John the Baptist, about how he came to testify to the light. The true light was coming…and all who receive him, all who believe in his name (that's "all" as in everybody), (was/is given) the right to become God's children—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God.
And then in verse 14, we're given this amazing revelation: 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…
The Word is Jesus. Full of grace and truth, the Word/Jesus came to us. In the flesh. And lived as one of us. In the world. In this world. In this broken world.
The Word became flesh through Jesus.
We've been reading and talking these last 21weeks about God's people and about how far astray they have gone. We've seen how much they needed a savior because they couldn’t do it on their own. They didn't seem to listen to God very well, they ignored the prophets. They ended up in exile…and then they came back home to rebuild. They were given the opportunity to start again.
For the next 400 years, there were periods of time when the people of God lived in relative peace under foreign rule, and there were times of great oppression. When Jesus was born, Israel was under Roman rule, with Herod on the throne.
I think it's good, helpful, interesting to talk about Jesus coming into the world in the middle of September. This is an ordinary time. None of us are distracted this morning thinking about the things that we need to get around for tonight's big family gathering, or about the shopping that needs to be done, or how the Christmas tree sitting over there seems to be a bit "off" at the bottom. I thought it was fun having Mary and Joseph and baby Jesus sitting in the chancel for the architectural tour on Friday evening, wonder what the first response was about these crazy Methodists who apparently have their seasons turned around a bit.
I like the unexpected of talking about Jesus coming into the world in September. I think it makes it a little more like what it must have been for those who experienced the prophesy of Christ's coming being made real the first time around.
We know about Gabriel and how he came to Mary saying, "Don't be afraid." The beautiful song she sings in Luke, "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior" isn't new to us, but it is hauntingly familiar. Never before had a sky-full of angels announced to unimpressive shepherds in the field that a child had been born. Never before had a star risen, guiding foreigners to the place where a newborn baby lay sleeping.
It was an ordinary day. It was an unexpected time. An unexpected place. But the Word became flesh through Jesus. He pitched his tent among us. Lived among us. As one of us. And showed us God's ways. Offered us new life. Gave us hope. And gave us a mission/a ministry/work to do in his name.
And so, here and now, today in this place, at this time: The Word becomes flesh through us.
We, as Christ's Church, are his Body in the world today. We are his hands, his feet, his workers in this world. And together, as Christ's Body, we are all over the world, we have the potential to have amazing impact, to make a difference so much beyond what any one person could ever do. Jesus began with 12 disciples and they went out…and they went out…and they went out…and we carry on and go out in his name.
Every time you speak a word of love and grace in this world where there is too much hate and division, you are a part of the second incarnation: The Word becomes flesh through you.
Every time you care for the needy, offering something to eat to those who are hungry, something to drink to those who are thirsty, clothes to the naked, welcome to the stranger, when you visit the sick or the imprisoned, you are a part of the second incarnation: The Word becomes flesh through you.
The Word becomes flesh through you. You are a part of the second incarnation: The Word becomes flesh through you…through me…
Sometimes we can't see it…sometimes the results aren't obvious…sometimes we'll never know what good our actions might bring…but what we do in Jesus' name will not be in vain.
The Word became flesh and lives among us.