I’m so glad you’re here this morning, on the Fourth Sunday of Advent! We are finally back into the New Testament...
I’d like to introduce the Gospel of John by sharing 5 ideas for us to watch for in John’s Gospel from now until Easter.
One Johannine scholar said that everything you need to know about John is in this first chapter.
This is for the die-hards!
A little different, a little Christmas surprise. So, made you a handout and even drew you a picture…we’re on a very different plain than we’ll be on in Luke tonight...We’re in John world, Johnland.
John as French poet, mystic...
I don’t believe John wrote the Gospel: he drew it...with vibrant, rich, Parisian colors! And all of these extravagant eccentrics only lead us to the most glorious message of unrelenting Divine Love, pointing us faithfully to this one incarnate, Christ Jesus our Savior, the Word made flesh. Welcome to the year of John!
The traditional, medieval image for John is the eagle. Martin Luther said the Gospel of John soars the highest in its view of Christ (God’s own self, come down to our dark world). The eagle was believed to be the only animal that could look directly at and actually fly to the sun. The Gospel of John, more any other book in the Bible, describes God’s deep incarnation and love in such extreme, cosmic terms. Hard to put into words, really. And so the artists, musicians, poets and dancers among us must be convened.
- John is about experiencing God, not simply talking about God. To actually feel love is to know God’s grace. It’s one thing to hear the Good News in church, it’s another to be lavished with a hug, a delicious meal, a warm bath, a soft robe, a glass of wine. (foot washing, oils, wine, water gushing) Can you taste it, smell it, feel it? There is this tactile — incarnational — quality to John’s witness! And the images always point to extravagant grace, beauty and truth. God abides, dwells, “moves into the neighborhood”...do you sense this fleshy flesh quality?
- Because John was written in the late 1st/early 2nd century, Christians were under persecution, so the community that gathered around John was small, tightly-knit, deeply spiritual and therefore had lots of “insider” language. Indeed, Jesus’ statements in John often seem pretty cryptic. This doesn’t mean John is trying to be exclusive; it’s just that outsiders can’t understand. One has to be brought in, from darkness to light, from not knowing to knowing God. “Come and see,” Jesus will say in John. True for you? Stories of being brought into the light of understanding? Not excluded, just didn’t get it…
- I think of the process of becoming a pastor, parent... “John’s purpose was to strengthen the community with words that bear eternal life and love” (my New Testament Professor David Rhoads). The very relationship Jesus has with God — which is intimate, loving, deep — is offered freely for you and me too. And this changes everything: it is salvific! John’s Gospel guides us into this relationship, dripping with abundant life and grace. Think Beatles’ song on both Christmas and Good Friday: “Love, love, love.“ Jesus on the cross. No infant, baby Jesus stories. Just light, grace. Then we launch into John the Baptist’s pointing (v.19)...
- For John everything is sacramental. Interestingly, there’s no Last Supper, i.e. Passover, in John! They do share a meal where Jesus “sheds light” and washes their feet the day before the Passover and tells them/us to love one another. In this way, John opens all creation up to become a cornucopia of images that bear the love and divine mark of God.Drinking water, talking late at night, celebrating at a wedding, all eating, shepherding, gardening…Do you see all things as sacred? Or just churchy stuff? Do you see the God-made-manifest-in-Jesus overflowing in the cooing of an infant, the hugs at the airport, a walk with your dog, the incredible smell of fresh strawberries, a hot tub, or a long talk?
- Jesus. Is. God. This truth, one may argue, can be a little more vague in the other Gospels, but John hammers home Christ’s absolute divinity. And this “God from God, Light from Light” (Nicene Creed) has come to dwell with and love us...even here, even now.
It’s a different kind of Christmas message, it’s not as scratchy and rustic as Luke’s version. John’s Gospel is smooth and ethereal and mysterious like incense or a candle flame or a glorious high-flying eagle.
Whether you like this one or that, it’s all just God’s way of trying to get through to us. Don’t understand it in John’s cosmic, esoteric terms, then how about Luke’s version of a poor teenage, immigrant mother, a smelly stable, farmers with calloused hands, sheep herders with alcohol on their breath? No? How about the more geo-political dynamics of international rulers or astrologists traversing the great deserts, and resisting the bully, immature, filthy rich King Herod (who liked to put his name on everything) in order to pay homage to the true king with gold, frankincense and myrrh...in Matthew’s Gospel?
See all of these are God trying this way and that to get the message across that we are not in this life by ourselves. God makes a way and gets this grace and peace, and social justice and righteousness, and forgiveness and love through to us. See it, hear it, feel it, taste it. Mercy is ours. Mercy is here. Love has come. All we can do, like the shepherds and the kings is adore the light that shines in the darkness, the Word that is made flesh. All we can do is celebrate Christmas in spirit and in truth. Deep in our hearts, with our whole bodies in how we love and treat one another and God’s earth. All we can do is praise God.
As the mystic Rilke once wrote, “Praise, my dear ones. Let us disappear into praising. Nothing belongs to us.”