Moved Into the Neighborhood

“Moved Into the Neighborhood”

John 1:14-18 (1:14) – January 2, 2022

            Sometimes, before a book really gets started, or before the action starts in a play or a movie, the author needs to say some important things. Things that we as readers (or watchers) need to see and absorb, in order to truly understand the rest of the book – or play, or movie. This is often called the prologue, and it can hold some pretty important stuff!

            Our Scripture reading today, the first Sunday of the New Year, comes from the first chapter of the Gospel of John, verses 14-18. This reading is from John’s prologue to his long narrative about our Lord Jesus and His life and ministry. Before the action gets going, John writes some really important stuff about the Eternal Second Person of the Trinity in this beginning, including verse 14: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.”

            Before the action begins in our lives, in our next chapter, we can sit down and think. Is there any kind of important stuff you would like to mention? Any special instructions or information for your potential readers? Let’s think about these opening verses from the Gospel of John. What do they say to us? “How do they function? [These words of the prologue] provide perspective a default position, a direction. They set the tone, set out themes so we know what to expect – a lens through which to view what comes next.” [1]

            These words remind me that you and I can take the opportunity to write prologues for our own stories, for the next chapter of our own lives.

We recognize this prologue of John’s from every Christmas, for years. Every year, we sing “O, Come, All Ye Faithful,” and every year we sing these tremendous words “Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing.” Those words are lifted right from this very chapter, right here! But, what does it mean, for the eternal Second Person of the Trinity, God from before the foundation of the universe, to become flesh, a fragile human Baby born in Bethlehem? 

This is the central, foundational promise of this Gospel – God became human, capable of being experienced and known by other humans. A simple yet profound message and promise.

Face it. We as weak, limited human beings have limited capacity to understand things. Things like God and God’s revelation. God understands our limitations, our fragility, and our hesitations. God the Eternal Second Person of the Trinity, Creator of the universe, emptied Himself of all that was God and came down from heaven. Jesus became a tiny, helpless human Baby born in Bethlehem, and then grew and experienced humanity from the inside out, to better be able to communicate to us limited humans down on earth.

How awesome, how unbelievable, how indescribably kind was that? Let’s go back to John’s Prologue. The last verse we read today says a whole lot: “the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made [the Father] known.”

As our commentator Karoline Lewis points out, verse 18 seeks to describe what the Word made flesh came here to do. John uses the Greek verb exago, “combining the prefix ex, which means “out” with the verb ago which means “to bring or to lead.” In other words, the principal purpose of the Word made flesh is to bring God out, to lead God out, so that an experience of God is possible. It makes no sense for the Word to become flesh if God is not able to be experienced, and on every level of what it means to be human.” [2]

So, here we are, as limited, fragile human beings, faced with a loving, caring God-made-flesh, Emmanuel, God-with-us. How have you experienced Emmanuel, God-with-you, in your life? Has Jesus been especially real to you at any point? Have you been going through difficulties and problems in your life, or in the lives of your families, and our Lord Jesus came alongside you and was very present in your life and experience? That is the very thing He came down from heaven to do and to be. To come alongside of us as we muddle our way through our messy lives.

As Lewis suggests, “I wonder if perhaps we all need a prologue — a prologue for our lives, even our believing, our discipleship, our relationship with God…. What themes will orient your life this year? Maybe we could call this a reorientation of New Year’s resolutions.

“This might be an especially helpful exercise at the beginning of a new year — what resolutions you want to make but also what God resolutions you need to make. In other words, resolutions not just for the sake of your life, but for the sake of God in your life, and for the sake of helping your congregation orient their lives to God’s Christmas, God’s present, and God’s future.” [3] What a marvelous idea! Make new year’s resolutions centered around God – God in the flesh, God’s present, and God’s future.

God is not someone far away, or someone who doesn’t care about us or our families, or our problems. God in very present with us. We as fragile, fallible humans CAN experience our Lord Jesus Christ, who did the ultimate. God the Father gave us all the most marvelous Christmas gift: the gift of God’s own Eternal Son, born as a Baby in Bethlehem.

I love how Eugene Peterson translated verse 14: “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.” Moved down the street, maybe even right next door. What a gift for all of us to experience. The Eternal God, right here, right now – Jesus moved into our neighborhood, and, God willing, into our very hearts and lives. Alleluia, amen!

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!


[1] https://www.workingpreacher.org/dear-working-preacher/a-prologue-for-the-new-year

[2]  https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/second-sunday-of-christmas-2/commentary-on-john-11-9-10-18-5

[3] https://www.workingpreacher.org/dear-working-preacher/a-prologue-for-the-new-year

Shine the Light

“Shine the Light”

Matt 5-16 light so shine

Matthew 5:13-16 (5:16) – February 9, 2020

My family lives in Evanston, not too far from Lighthouse Beach. Yes, there is still a working lighthouse standing on the lakefront. In fact, a number of working lighthouses still are shining their lights over Lake Michigan, and the other Great Lakes. Less so today, with all the electronic and computer-assisted help, but in years past, lighthouses had an essential purpose in helping navigators stay safe on stormy water.

I suspect Jesus knew about lighthouses and navigation lights, living near the sea of Galilee as He did. Navigation lights help sailors a great deal, giving them direct knowledge and understanding about how to stay safe on the water. In our Gospel reading today, Jesus talks about light. He’s talking directly to the people listening to Him, who I suspect are mostly His followers. And—Jesus makes this remarkable statement: “You are the light of the world.”

Some might think that our Lord Jesus is just expressing a pious platitude, or perhaps a devout wish. Oh, I wish people could be the light of the world! Wouldn’t it be nice?

However, Jesus not only is saying that about the people listening to Him at the time, 2000 years ago, but He is also saying that to everyone who reads these words in Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus says those words to us, here, today. We are the light of the world.

Now, if we are light, that implies certain things. Jesus means that the world is in a state of darkness. What is it like to be in darkness, with no light? Let me tell you, when I was younger, I used to go to rural Wisconsin and do tent camping a long way away from any electric lights or settled places. It got really dark at night, and I sure was glad I had a flashlight! I suspect some of you have had similar experiences in the dark. It gets really dark at night, far from the safety of electricity and steady sources of light. It can be scary and dangerous, too.

I’ve never been out on a stormy night on the water, but I suspect people can be very scared of dangerous conditions on the ocean or on a big lake, too. That is one reason why people have depended on lighthouses and navigation lights for safety, security and direction, for many centuries.

As we have mentioned before in weeks past, light and darkness both have their places in God’s world. Darkness can be gentle and needed at times. During Advent and Epiphany, we thought about different aspects about darkness that are warm, friendly, even inviting. We thought about nocturnal animals, gestating animals, and growing seeds underground. All in the warm, nurturing, friendly darkness. These examples give us a whole different view of darkness as opposed to light.

Except, we do not want there to be no light at all in the world, ever, and only perpetual darkness. Perpetual darkness can be a downright scary idea. Jesus told us clearly that we are the light of the world, bringing light into dark places. Can you think of times and places where light is much needed?

As I read the words of one of my favorite commentators this past week, Rev. Janet Hunt, this concept struck home to me. See whether her words strike you as true, too.

“Light helps us to distinguish difference and to celebrate diversity.

Light can deepen understanding.

Light works on cellular structures to promote growth.

Light heals.

Light helps us find our way.

Light. And today Jesus says, “You are the light of the world.” [1]

I don’t know about you, but I suspect Pastor Janet Hunt would absolutely agree with us when we also add lighthouses and navigation lights to the list of things that help each of us to find our way in the dark. Yes, darkness can be gentle and welcoming, but darkness is also scary, producing anxiety. Darkness can cause fear of the unknown, and even make people shrink to engage and interact. And, on dark and stormy nights on the water, we all sure are glad to see lighthouses and navigation lights that show us the way to go.   

When Jesus tells us that we are the light of the world, that means that Jesus is describing our inside nature as followers of Him. After all, He also said He is the light of the world in John chapter 8. Just as Jesus came into the world to bring light to people who walk in darkness, just so Jesus has given each of us that light. Jesus gives us power to display that light of His like a lighthouse brings light to a dark, dangerous coastline, providing hope and direction.

Now, wait, some people might say. I know that professional Christians are supposed to bring people the light of God. Professional Christians have learned how to do that in school, haven’t they? Well, yes. But, Jesus is not just talking to professionals here. Jesus means this description of our inside nature to be for all of us—for every believer in Him.

How are each of us supposed to shine the light of Jesus? That’s hard. That’s scary.

I remember a friend of mine—Miss Rose, who I’ve mentioned before. I came to know and love Miss Rose over thirty years ago at another Chicago-area church. She was a church member all of her life, and her special ministry was working with the children. She loved being a Sunday school teacher, and she would eagerly and willingly tell children and young people about the Lord. She never shied away from letting people know that she shined the light of Jesus as much as she possibly could.

When I think about this verse from Matthew 5, I often think of Miss Rose, shining the light of Jesus, and bringing hope and direction to many young people.

Imagine my delight at meeting Miss Rose again, when I was a chaplain intern at the Presbyterian Homes, a senior retirement community in Evanston. While I was in seminary, one of my field education positions was as a chaplain intern in the large healthcare unit there.

Miss Rose was a resident living there. And lo and behold, Miss Rose shared her love of the Lord with everyone in the healthcare unit. She was the light of the world in her little corner of the world. Even though she was in constant pain, Miss Rose never let that stop her shining the light of Jesus. When I grow up, I want to be like Miss Rose.  

I want to provide a challenge for all of us. As Pastor Janet Hunt says, we are all called to go into dark places with the light of Jesus. Sometimes, we are even called to shine the light of God onto an unfair or sad situation, and bring comfort, direction and friendship.

  • Where have you seen such ‘light’ bringing hope, direction, and promise to a world that is too often dark?
  • Where will you seek to bring such ‘light,’ to be such ‘light’ in the days to come? And, how might you do this together with others who are called to ‘be the light of the world’ with you?

All great questions. I pray that we might go forth from this place, all of us shining the light of Jesus in our particular corner of the world, each and every day.

Alleluia, amen.

[1] http://dancingwiththeword.com/you-are-the-light-of-the-world-2/

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

[I would like to thank the Rev. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones and his superb book Studies in the Sermon on the Mount (Eerdmans Publishing Company: Grand Rapids, MI, 1971). For this sermon, I have borrowed several extended ideas from Chapter Fifteen, “The Light of the World.” Thanks so much!]