A Better Understanding – December 3, 2017, The First Sunday of Advent
Isaiah 9:1-7, John 1:1-14
December 3, 2017
In Confirmation Class we talked about Sacraments. Our sacraments are(?) Baptism and Holy Communion. And in the conversation we said how, in the Presbyterian Church, it is an ordained Pastor who “administers” those sacraments. And of course, it is the Session – the Elders of the Church – who oversee the sacraments.
That’s the way we do things. “But why is that?” I asked them. “Why do you think we do things that way?” Why do you think that is? Is it that we pastors are more “holy” than you folks? My best explanation for that, over the years, is that we pastors are given training in the sacraments and in theology. And the Elders of the church are tasked with keeping “order” in the congregation. It’s their job to see to it that things are done properly. So (and this is the big point!) it is the aim of the church to create the greatest understanding possible of those sacraments for the greatest number of people.
That’s really the idea! At least that’s the way I see it. Yes, there is an ordination aspect of this. But the big thing is that we want to promote the greatest understanding for the greatest number of people! And the reason I say that today, is that was a big reason for Christmas. That was a big reason God came to live among us. He came here, personally, to be one like us, so that we would be able to have “a better understanding” of him. That is why “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us…” as John said here in the prologue of his Gospel.
Oh, and by the way, John’s Gospel is the only one with a prologue! The others start right in with the story of Jesus. And that’s great! Oh, Matthew and Luke attempt to place Jesus in history by giving us his genealogy. You can read all those names sometime if you want. They wanted to show how Jesus fit into the history of God’s people. And Matthew was particularly interested in showing how he fit into the prophesies in the Hebrew scriptures – that which is now our Old Testament.
But John, John was the only one who attempted to “‘splain” why Jesus came to earth. And notice, it wasn’t about forgiveness of sins. The word “sin” is not even used here. And yes, our sin – our disobedience – is part of the picture. But John gives us an even bigger picture. It was not, “Here’s the bloodline of Jesus. He’s descended from Adam.” It starts way before that! John says, “In the beginning…” Jesus – the Word – was there at creation, because he is one with God.
So here, in his prologue, John tells us that this was the God of all creation, coming to live among us, And he came so that we could have the power to be his children, and so that we could have a better understanding of him.
If you think about it, the people of old needed that. Yes, they were God’s chosen! But, among other things, they didn’t understand God well enough. The history of the Old Testament is a roller coaster of faithfulness to God and of unfaithfulness. It is a history of exile and restoration, of God’s promise and God’s frustration with his people!
I remember the first time I decided to read through the Bible, cover to cover. It was great! Yes, it was tedious at times. I got bogged down in all the “begats” a couple of times. But I learned a lot! For instance, I always knew the story of Moses, the story of the Exodus from Egypt. But I always wondered what the people were doing there in the first place! Well, it was a huge “Aha!” moment for me when I read that it was all because of Joseph! It was Joseph, sold into slavery, helped the Pharaoh with his disturbing dreams, and then ended up becoming second in command of all of Egypt! And it was about Joseph bringing his people to live there. It was about them growing in numbers. And it was about later on when “there arose a pharaoh who did not know Joseph.” And that was the start of their “problems.”
It was great to see the whole flow of things. But the other thing that kept standing out for me was that “rollercoaster” I was just describing. The people were faithful. They were unfaithful. This king tore down the pagan idols and restored the worship of Yahweh. That king rebuilt the idols! It was God’s ongoing frustration with his people, and how at times he was ready to give them up. And throughout all of that, it started to become apparent, that in the fullness of time, God would have a plan. God would have a solution to reconcile the people he loved, the people he agonized over. And it was a solution that was based his faithfulness, not theirs! Because they didn’t always have a lot of that!
That was God’s plan. It was a plan to give the people “a better understanding.” This was God living among us so that he could have a better understanding of us in our lives, and so that we can have a better understanding of him. This is God seeking to share, and understanding our pain and our sorrow, our joy and our love. In a real sense, this was God, the loving father, getting down on the floor to play with his children! Isn’t that a great image?
So, in the fullness of time, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth. And we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father!”
Frankly, it boggles the mind to think that, too often, we reduce that to reindeer and snowmen and elves. And there’s nothing wrong with those things! But they cannot be a substitute for “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us!”
Let this Advent season be one where you seek a better understanding of God. Because that’s what God wants. That’s why he came here so long ago. That is worth celebrating today!
Eternal God, yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory for ever! We thank you that you have come to live among us. Help us to know better your grace and truth. Help us to better see your glory. Keep our hearts and minds this Advent season, keep us focused on you. For this we pray in the name of the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ, the Word become flesh, Amen.