December 28, 2017

'Moved Into The Neighborhood'

I am asked to speak at churches on most Sundays. Sometimes I teach classes, other times I preach. I always hinge whatever I do on the Scripture teachings during worship for that week. I tend to take a look at the schedule readings in the lectionary early in the week before. In particular, I read the Gospel passage and mull it over for a few days before drafting my lesson or sermon. For 4 years, I worked for Bishop Mariann Budde, who is one of my favorite preachers. She has a principle for preaching that she taught, always communicate hope. Jesus's good news is embedded throughout Scripture. The task of the teacher and preacher is to suss it out.

This coming Sunday is the first Sunday following Christmas. The lectionary has us reading the first few lines from the Gospel of John. I have always appreciated Eugene Peterson's interpretation of this passage and verse 14 in particular, "The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood."

I thought I'd offer a few things that stand out to me from these 18 verses but first I have to share this diagram I once saw AJ Sherrill present with:
For the uninitiated, the first glance at the Christian calendar can be overwhelming. It appears complicated and confusing. I love how simple this presentation is. I love that this reminds us that these seasons have some intention. I love that it hones in on our relationship to God through the Christian seasons.

During this Christmas season, through the Scripture readings, the colors, the rhythms of our life together we are reminded that God is with us. This is not a statement of the past alone. It is not a statement of what is it come in the future. It is a statement of what is now.

In verses 1-4 of the Gospel reading on this forthcoming Sunday, we read that the Word is the source of life. That this life is also light. Which is a strange thing to say. Yet by verse 5 we read that this life-giving, light-bearing Word illuminates a pathway through darkness. This is not to be overlooked. During this season, we are often surrounded by all things bright and cheery yet it is important to remember that God is not found in these moments alone. We do not peddle shabby theological ideas of God's presence only to be found where there is prosperity. The good news here–the hopeful words that many need to hear, is that God's life can be found even in the darkness and the darkness can not shut it out.

After describing John the Baptist's relationship to the light (verses 6-9), we read that anyone who receives this light, this life, belongs to God. Again, good news for many that have been told that because of the color of their skin, where they were born or human decision they are not loved by God. To announce that the Word is to be found amidst anyone who receives God is counter-cultural and glorious good news!

The kicker comes in verses 14-18, this last paragraph of this segment which clarifies–finally–who this mysterious "Word" entity is ...

Jesus. And this Jesus has 'moved into the neighborhood'.

Friends, when our understanding of Christ is not wrapped up in discovering Jesus's presence in the darkness as much as light, if faith is exclusive and does not encompass all of those whom the Word has given life, if we look only for Jesus in "sacred" places rather than looking for him in the ordinary places of life we miss out on hope. We miss out on the good news. We leave space for ugly theology that is not Christ-centered.

Let's communicate hope this week. Let's communicate good news. Let's announce that God is with us.

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