by Elaine Maust
John 1: 10-18
December 26, 2004
By now all the presents are unwrapped, the best of the cookies are eaten and the day off is burned up. For most of us, it’s time to pack up Christmas until next year about this time. But before we do, this morning I invite you to reconsider the Jesus whose birthday we celebrate. The grown up Jesus who lived among us.
This holiday season I heard a fascinating commentary by a Christian writer, John Boykin on public radio. He said that, “Christmas has no time for what the adult Jesus said and did. Christmas keeps him safely shut up as a baby in a manger, where he can’t make his usual noise about people repenting and living a godly life.” He went on to say, “Well, compare Christmas with Martin Luther King’s birthday. On his birthday, nobody ever pays any attention to his birth. Instead, it’s ‘I have a dream’ and his impact on society. We mark Dr. King’s birthday by focusing on what he said and did as an adult.”
So this morning, that’s what I want to do: take Jesus out of the manger, that is. After all, his name was also Emmanuel, which means ‘God with us.’ God, come to live with us. God come to eat our food. God come to skin his knee on our rocks. God come to save our souls.
Let’s take a look at our text for this morning, John 1. Now if you are more familiar with the fast-paced action-packed story of Jesus as told by Mark, you will need to be patient with John. John is much more of a poet. Think about it, this is the man who, through the Holy Spirit’s direction, gave us the book of Revelation. So turn to John 1 and think poetry. Are you with me? Maybe we would read it something like this:
God was present everywhere in the world
in this world He had made
in the pine trees and people and blowing wind.
But though God made the whole world
the people in the world didn’t notice him.
The world said, “God, who is God? Where is God?”
So Jesus came to his own people, the ones he had made,
to people just like us – farmers and teachers and mamas
and they didn’t recognize him or welcome him.
But anyone who did receive him,
who dared to believe he was who he said he was,
to anyone who believed he was God
He gave them the privilege and the right to become God’s child.
Boys and girls, daughters and sons of the God who started it all.
Children not born through the usual flesh and blood ways,
but children born from the hopes and dreams of God.
Jesus was the Word.
The idea of God, spoken into living
And he came and lived with people.
He pitched his tent here with us.
He moved into our neighborhoods.
So that we could see what God was like.
He was the One and Only
whom God sent
And when we recognized him
we discovered that God was dynamic and amazing,
True hearted and generous.
John Boykin also said, “As a Christian, I believe Jesus was God’s way of walking the earth. If that’s anywhere close to true, then he’s really the wrong person to trivialize… He was not born to be the patron saint of fourth-quarter earnings.”
So if Christmas is to be about what Jesus did after birth, about God being with us, what does that mean? What does it mean to have God living in the world? Living here with us? He was born in a stable, right? And laid in a manger… then what?
We don’t have many records of Jesus’ earliest days. Luke 2:52 says, “And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” So, I suppose that means that Jesus got bigger and fatter every day. And that the old women were delighted at how he grew, just like we are over Zoey Clymer. Mary gave him baths and washed the folds of his chubby arms. God with baby fat.
I suppose it means that Jesus got taller. That male cousins and uncles, the men in the neighborhood, tousled his dark curls. That the other kids chased him and that he chased them down the streets of Nazareth. God with sand on his knees and dirt under his toenails.
And the Bible also says he grew in wisdom. I suppose that means he started to learn. Maybe Mary taught him the names for things: table, blanket, cup. He learned to read. God sounding out the words.
And he began to understand. I wonder when Jesus first knew that he was God’s son? Did Mary tell him? Was there another angel like Mary saw? Another miraculous dream like Joseph had? But by the time he was 12, about the age of Peter Opel, he knew.
His parents and friends and relations went to the temple in Jerusalem every year for the Passover holiday. Actually it was called the Feast of the Passover. This is in Luke 2:41-51 if you are following along. Well, this particular incident happened the year Jesus was 12. They stayed for the feast and you know the story. When they started home, they discovered Jesus had gone missing (God lost in the mall). Well, long story short, when they found him back at the temple, stunning the teachers with his questions and answers, Mary scolded him. “How could you do this to us?” God with an exasperated mother.
Jesus said, “Didn’t you expect that I had to be in my Father’s house?” By then, only by 12, just big enough to play ball well, he already understood. In fact, according to Luke 2:50, it was Mary and Joseph who didn’t understand.
God, come to live with us. God with parents and kinfolks. God dealing with a family misunderstanding. God sitting cross-legged on the stone floor of the temple court. God with us.
We really don’t get a glimpse of Jesus again until he is grown. Well, past college age even: 30. Why did he wait that long to start preaching? I’m not sure. Some commentators speculate that Joseph died and since Jesus had four little brothers and several younger sisters, he stayed at home until he was 30 to help Mary raise the family. Who knows? But what we do know is that Jesus came to live with us, true hearted, brilliant, and amazing.
We know because of stories like this. Turn to Luke 7:11-17 to follow along.
Jesus traveled with an entourage. It’s likely the 12 disciples, the women who funded the effort, the arounders, the folks who hung around Jesus but were not the 12. Jesus and this large crowd were coming up on the city gates of Nain. You get the picture? From the distance, it might have looked like a parade coming up the road into town. Sometimes hundreds, even thousands of people crowded around Jesus. God with too many expectations. God with too many people demanding too much of him. God with never a minute to himself.
Well, like I said, Jesus and the crowd were coming into town. Nain was a village about 40 miles southwest of the Sea of Galilee. And what did they meet but another crowd coming out of town. And it was a large crowd, too. But this was no holiday parade. This was a funeral procession.
A young man had died, the only son of a widow. This woman had lost her boy. But she had also lost her living. Without a man in the family, she would be destitute. Can’t you picture her stumbling along in the crowd, sobbing?
Somehow, despite the confusion and congestion of the merging of the two crowds, Jesus saw the woman. And the Bible says he had compassion for her. God with his chest hurting for someone in pain. And he got over to her through the crowd. And he said, “Don’t cry.”
I imagine her looking up into his eyes and seeing God.
Then Jesus made his way to the front of the funeral procession and he touched the stretcher coffin. And when he did, the pallbearers stopped walking and stood still. God interrupting a funeral. And Jesus started talking to the dead man. “Young man, I am talking to you. Get up.” Luke 7:15 says, “And the dead man sat up.” Well, I guess technically the man who had been dead, sat up, and he started talking to Jesus. What did he say? Oh, I wish I knew what he said!
And Jesus helped him down from where he had been lying. God giving a man a hand. And took him over to where his mother was standing. God who knew a mama who needed her boy.
Now we don’t know what the woman said, but we know that the crowd went crazy. Remember we are standing outside the city gates, and all the people from the funeral procession and all the folks that were with Jesus, all of them milling and mixing and straining to see what in the world?
First of all they were terrified, “seized with fear,” the Bible says. And then they started praising God. The Message says, “They all realized they were in a place of holy mystery, that God was at work among them. They were quietly worshipful – and then noisily grateful, calling out among themselves, ‘God is back, looking to the needs of his people!'”
Oh, and I could go on and on and on this morning, telling stories from the Gospels of what it was like when God came to live with us. I could tell you the story of the time Jesus got so furious that he cleared the temple because some folks had made it a place for shady business deals instead of a place to pray. I could tell you the story of how he cooked breakfast on the beach for his friends when he came back from the dead. Or things he taught or one of the jokes he told to make a point to the religious folks who only thought they understood God.
God had come in Jesus, in flesh and blood to show us the way of God.
I think one of the good things that came from the movie The Passion of the Christ was the fresh understanding that Jesus was a person. A person with a mother. A person who bled when he was cut. Emmanuel. God with us.
The Good News is, God is still with us. Jesus, who came and lived and died and came alive again, is with us still. Inviting us, as John 1 said to recognize him, to welcome and to become God’s child.
This morning, I invite you to experience God with you. Please bow your heads and close your eyes if you will. Go with me to one of your favorite places. Maybe it’s a room at your house, or in the back yard, or at Pine Lake Camp. Maybe it is the back pasture of the farm you grew up on. Picture yourself in a place where you feel at home.
Now imagine that Jesus is walking up to you. Jesus has come to be at home with you. What does Jesus say to you?
What do you say to Jesus?
Oh God, we are amazed that you would love us like you do. And we are so grateful. Thank you for coming to live in this world. For sending Jesus to show us what you were like. For sending Jesus to make the way to you. Thank you for inviting us to be your children. Thank you for making your home with us. Help us by your Spirit to be at home with you. Amen.