December 31, 2017 – “Hidden”

Today’s text is from John 1:19-34.

We are each the center of our own universes. Family, friends, work, play, anxieties, joys, busyness, daily schedules that keep us focused and on task. There may be over seven billion fellow human beings on earth, but often the easiest perspective to see is our own.

Often it’s easy to forget that the person passing on the road or the street, the family we see in the grocery store, the obituary that we read in the newspaper, the wars that we hear about on the news – that each of them are impacting someone else’s universe.

Each of us, our own universe, often passing by every day without gazing to see the star that shines in the middle. This is why it’s helpful to have voices crying out in the wilderness – a voice that says, “Hey, look over here, there’s something you should see.”

Because the presence of God isn’t found only under the trumpet blast and chorus of angels, but also in the humble and lowly.

One week ago we celebrated the birth of our Savior – a savior born in the midst of a family with no place to stay alongside farm animals and strangers. A savior whose birth heralded something new in the world. A birth that signaled that things would be changing – that the status quo would be no more. A birth that was announced to such a degree that you’d think it impossible to not notice their presence.

But apparently that’s been the case. John stands before the people and tells them they should be on the lookout – on the lookout for someone who baptizes with fire and someone whose sandals John isn’t worth to untie.

The baby born in the manger last week has grown up quickly – already three decades along – and apparently God incarnate, God born as both human and divine, God with us, Emmanuel – is as normal as one would expect a carpenter’s son to be.

John tells the people that in their midst – not halfway across the world, not another country, not another city – but right here, right now – is the presence of God. Not as wind, or flame, or earthquake, but as one of us.

And the people have missed it. They haven’t recognized Jesus. They’ve certainly heard God’s voice, seen God’s presence, but in all these years no one has actually recognized it. The people have been the star of their own stories – and somewhere in the background Jesus passed by.

Perhaps as the carpenter who sold you a piece of furniture. Perhaps as the neighbor kid down the street who kept to himself. Perhaps as the person you almost ran into as you went to see family or friends. Perhaps as a person you remember seeing, but just can’t quite place exactly what color shirt they were wearing or who exactly they were with.

“The leaders asked John, ‘What are you doing here if you’re not the Messiah or a prophet? What are you doing out here?’ John replied, ‘There’s someone in your midst that is the Messiah, I’m only here to remind you to look, taste, hear, feel.’”

That’s what the writer of John will attempt to do as we embark on this three-month journey through its pages: Allow all our senses to bear witness to the all-powerful, all-graceful, all-merciful, all-forgiving, all-loving presence of Jesus Christ.

Because in your midst – not halfway across the world, or located in another country, or hidden in another state – but right here, right now, is the presence of Jesus Christ. Not locked away in this building, not found only in bread and wine, but made manifest in plants, animals, water, wind, fire, stillness, night sky, falling snow, the ordinary that surrounds us, and of course, made manifest through you.

Jesus Christ, born so long ago in the city of David, was born for you and is made present to the world through you. Every inch, every corner of creation sings forth this presence of God. For Jesus Christ is never far – God incarnate, God born as one of us – is here this day and always.


January 1, 2017 – “Light”

Today’s text is from Luke 2:21-38.

Our Christmas story has just ended – last week we finished with verse 20 and today we pick right back up in verse 21 – and already we’re seeing signs of unrest and unease. In our reading for today we’re only 40 days past Jesus’ birth and already there are some stormy clouds on the horizon.

But how do Simeon and Anna know this child is the Savior? How do they know this child will change everything? Jesus is only 40 days old at this point. A child of somewhat poor parents who are just following their Jewish traditions by bringing their son to the temple. What do Simeon and Anna see?

I think they see Christ. I think they see love. I think they see God at work. As followers of Jesus this is our calling: To see Christ in the people and world around us. Like Simeon and Anna we are called to see the light of Christ in the people around us.

But we hear this isn’t going to be easy. It won’t be easy to see the light of Jesus in all people. It won’t be easy to accept this message of salvation for all people. It won’t be easy for the mighty to fall and the lowly to rise.

But this is the Christmas story. This is the Savior that we waited for during the season of Advent. One of upheaval and change. One of everlasting love.

The light that shines in the darkness has been born. But what I find most interesting about this light in the darkness is that it doesn’t take much to dispel the dark. When I was a kid, I’m sure when lots of people were kids, I had a nightlight in my bedroom. Like most kids, perhaps like many adults, I was afraid of the dark.

The darkness was filled with the unknown. If you couldn’t see what was right around you then potentially anything could be around you. Sounds that didn’t bother you during the day were suddenly magnified at night because you couldn’t see where they were coming from.

But it didn’t take much to vaporize the darkness. A small, tiny lightbulb was all it took to bring light to the darkness. A small, tiny light was all it took for you to see your surroundings – because once your eyes were adjusted to the darkness nothing but a few watts was necessary to make out shapes and objects around you.

But light can move in the opposite direction as well. If you truly wanted to see every nook and cranny, every speck of dust on the floor and scratch on the wall you would need a lot of light. More than just a few watts from a nightlight – you would need floodlights. Your pupils wouldn’t be able to shrink enough to compensate for all the light now entering your eyes.

You would see everything. Every imperfection. Every detail. Everything that was potentially wrong with the world around you. This is what Simeon sees in Jesus. This is what Anna sees in Jesus. They see a light capable of peace and comfort. But they also see a light capable of blinding.

The baby that was born this Christmas shines the soft light of peace and hope and comfort to those in need. The light of grace and forgiveness. The light of friendship and love. But the baby that was born this Christmas also shines the light of power and might. The light that seeks peace and not war. The light that cries out for justice and mercy. The light that finds tyrants and oppressors and exposes them for what they are.

Because the baby that was born this Christmas is truly the nightlight in the dark room around us. Providing us with hope and comfort and peace. But to those who would snuff out that light, to those who would hoard those lights for themselves, for those who would claim their light to be better, the baby born this Christmas comes with a lighthouse worth of power and might to expose and dethrone. To humble and to remind.

To remind us all that being the light in the darkness doesn’t mean we shine a flashlight in each other’s eyes. It doesn’t mean that we need to demeaning or put down or steal hope from one another so that we might gather more light for ourselves.

No, the baby born this Christmas shows us just how powerful the smallest of lights is in the midst of darkest night. The baby born this Christmas whispers, “I love you,” to the world, whispers, “I love you,” to you, invites you to say, “I love you,” to the people around you.

For it doesn’t take much to change the world. Simeon and Anna looked at a baby not two months old and were changed forever. We too have the power to recognize even the smallest light in the world around us. We too have the power to be that small light in the world around us.

For it doesn’t take much to change the world. A young, unmarried couple, giving birth in a room fit for animals, surrounded by shepherds late at night. The quiet tears of joy and cries of new birth. It might not have seemed like much. But it changed everything.

December 25, 2015 – “Revelation”

Today’s text is from John 1:1-14.

Have you ever woken up at night and had to walk around a dark room? It’s really hard to do. Especially if there are things on the floor that you’re not aware of. My dogs have a small toy box that holds whatever chew toys and bones they’ve gotten over the years. And it feels like every day me and Katie pick up the toys that they’ve carried and dropped around the house, at least we do our best to make sure there isn’t a stray, chewed up bone laying in the middle of the floor. Because there have been plenty of times when I’ve walked around in the dark and get a nice dog toy embedded in my foot.

I’m sure when I was a kid I left Legos laying around and many parents I’m sure probably have the experience of stepping on those bricks as well. Because in the dark we can’t see. We can try and feel our way around, we can try and listen to any sounds we hear, but when we’re not able to see where we’re going it’s so easy to bump into things or get turned around.

So to prepare against this walking around at night in the dark I’m sure many of you have flashlights or candles ready to go in case the power goes out and you need some light. A light to shine in the darkness.

A light that dwells with us. John doesn’t have the typical Christmas story to start off his Gospel. Instead it begins much like the book of Genesis does. With words like, “In the beginning” and “life” and “light”. The writer of John locates the coming of Jesus into the world at the moment of creation. That Jesus was with God from the very beginning and is God.

And now God is with us in Jesus. I want us to look at one word in the text for today and it comes from verse 14: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” Dwelling. The Greek word is skenoo, meaning “to tent” or “to tabernacle”. In the translation The Message the word is translated as “moved into the neighborhood.” That God is taking up residence right alongside of us.

But this shouldn’t be anything unusual. Throughout the Old Testament God has dwelled with the people of Israel. Wherever the people moved God went with them. But this is something different. God is doing more than just following us around. God is us now. Instead of being a faraway deity that simply traveled next to the people God is now becoming us. So this dwelling with us is not just simply God putting on human clothes but literally God becoming a human being.

The implications for this are immense. Jesus not only walks with us, but is one of us. The Word that has been with God from the beginning is now imbedded so deeply into our hearts that we cannot escape God’s love for us.

But maybe we don’t want Jesus to move into the neighborhood with us. Perhaps that’s just a little bit too close. Maybe we like our own private space. A good acre or two between us and Jesus. Because Jesus dwelling with us, Jesus becoming us, means that Jesus knows what it means to be us. It means that since Jesus is the light he shines that light onto the good and bad things in our lives.

At night when you’re wandering around your house and bumping into walls and stepping on random objects on the floor it’s quite handy to have that flashlight with to see where you’re going. But what happens when you shine too much light on an area? What happens when you get on your hands and knees and shine a bright light across a hardwood floor? Well, if you’re like me and have a few pets you’ll see tons and tons of fur scattered across that floor. While the light helps you see in the darkness it also exposes a lot of stuff we don’t want to see either.

But Jesus embraces all of this. Jesus welcomed in the sinners. He experienced pain, suffering, rejection. He experienced betrayal, sacrifice, and death. He was the light in the world and he became one of us so that he could save us. The light coming into the world changes everything. God becoming us in Jesus changes everything. No longer is God simply a Spirit on the wind traveling with us. But now God is imbedded within our very lives.

So what does that mean for us? I think it means that Jesus lives in each and every one of us. In our neighbors. Our friends. Even our enemies. It means that God is in every part of creation. The Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us means that God’s fingerprints are all over creation. It means that Jesus came to dwell with us – not just for a little while – but forever. It means that in the messiness of our lives, in our failings and in our success, in our joys and in our sorrows, Jesus experiences those emotions right along with us.

Christmas is more than just God putting on human clothes and pretending to be us. It’s God literally becoming us in Jesus. It’s Jesus moving into the neighborhood to experience life right alongside of us. That’s the power of Christmas. It truly is God with us because God is now one of us in Jesus.