Something is Happening Here

Matthew 2:1-12 and John 1:1-18

1. SUMMARY:

If at Christmas we look into the crib and see only the historical Jesus a baby born in a far off place over 2000 years ago, then we have missed the point of Christmas. We have the opportunity to consider further, “move on” to experience the wonder of being the children of a loving God who lives with us now.

We are not celebrating a birth over 2000 years ago we are celebrating a loving God that continues to search us out, transform us , renew us , comfort us, challenge us and goes ahead of us and now able to be with us now and will lead us into the new and unknown of 2010.

INTRODUCTION

We will use Matthew and John gospels readings to tell of events that we see were epiphany experiences for the three wise men and in my mind to John himself who after seeing and experiencing Jesus prior to and after the resurrection put together the first 18 verses of John’s gospel.

Lets step back for a moment and think about Epiphany( which is on next Wednesday 6  January).

Epiphany may refer to:

  • a Christian holiday on January 6 celebrating the visit of the Magi to the infant Jesus
  • the sudden realization or comprehension of the essence or meaning of something
  • a Web browser for the GNOME graphical computing desktop
  • a software development company
  • a guitar manufacturer owned by Gibson
  • a clone of the computer game Boulder Dash
  • Epiphany Prince ,basketball player
  • Epiphany (wrestler), a female professional wrestler.

An epiphany is the sudden realization or comprehension of the (larger) essence or meaning of something. The term is used in either a philosophical or literal sense to signify that the claimant has “found the last piece of the puzzle and now sees the whole picture,” or has new information or experience, often insignificant by itself, that illuminates a deeper or foundational frame of reference.

History

The Christian Epiphany refers to the Adoration of the Magi of the miraculous Incarnation of the infant Christ, and to the Feast of the Epiphany which commemorates it. The word’s secular usage may owe some of its popularity to James Joyce, in referring to those times in his life when something became manifest, a deep realization, he would then attempt to write this epiphanic realization in a fragment. Joyce also used epiphany as a literary device within some of his short story as his protagonists came to sudden recognitions that changed their view of themselves or their social condition and often sparking a reversal or change of heart.

I hope in our few minutes together we can explore what meaning we might see in the two passages of scripture that take us from a cute nativity scene in a stable to a realization about Christmas event that might spark a reversal or a change of heart in us.

Perhaps even disturbed to realize something has happened something has changed and as TS Eliot says…

We returned to our places, these kingdoms,

But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensations

With an alien people clutching their gods”

WHAT DO WE SEE IN THESE TWO READINGS

This epiphany story, taken from Matthew 2:1-12, balances out the Christmas story of the angels and shepherds.

The shepherds in the fields around Bethlehem were Jewish, and the angel announces that their long awaited messiah has just been born. This Jesus is the one foretold in their scriptures, the reason for their hope.

The wise men are not Jewish; they are Gentiles, non-Jews, pagans. They do not worship the God of Israel, but they do study the skies. They are scholars and scientists of the ancient world. The extraordinary star that they observe promises the birth of a new king. And they travel a long distance and overcome many obstacles (see TS Eliot’s poem again) in order to see this baby king for themselves.

Add the Epiphany story to the Christmas story and the conclusion is unavoidable: Jesus is not just for one people, his own people, the Jews. Jesus is for everybody: all nations and races and peoples and languages. He is not only the Jewish messiah, but he is the universal savior. He is not only the king of Israel, but reigns over all the earth.

Now let’s look at the prologue (John 1:1-18) or t he overture to John’s gospel. John appears to have lived most of his post resurrection life as a Jew in a Greek community near Ephesus.

John therefore knew that the Jewish idea of the Messiah would not have much of an appeal to his non-Jewish audience. So John searched for symbols that would speak to his Greek-educated audience. John realized that Christianity had to be packaged into familiar cultural concepts. He coloured outside the box.

John is not about to record the story of someone who began as a child in Bethlehem, or as the Messiah on the shores of Lake Galilee but someone who is the human expression of the creative and grace filled purpose of God.

This is John’s take on a birth narrative. No shepherds, no angels, no Mary and Joseph, no manger. This is how John describes Jesus’ coming into the world. The language is rich in metaphor, and though it lacks the characters of the traditional nativity, and quickly points to ‘And the word became flesh and lived among us’.

The loving purpose of God to create, care for and bring into a right relationship with himself the whole cosmos, was expressed once in history in a human life (William Neil p 404).

He has made known to us his hidden purpose…namely that the universe, all in heaven, and on earth might be brought into unity in Christ.

An important aspect of John’s prologue is that the Word which became flesh was already in the world. In a sense Christ was already in the world, in creation. He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him.

It should have been possible to recognize him from what was already known of him in creation.

When God spoke to the world in the life of Jesus Christ, he spoke the same Word that he had spoken when he created the world.

The Word of God spoken long before in creation, and through the prophets, was the same Word as appeared in the flesh in the person of Jesus Christ.

Another important aspect in the prologue was “No one has ever seen God; but God’s only son, he is who is nearest to the Father’s heart who has made him known.”

Jesus “interprets” “paints the best picture of the nature of God for us.

Our reading from the Gospel of John is one of the most familiar and yet most transcendently beautiful passages in the Bible. That may prove quite a challenge if John’s lofty theology and language transcend our ability to grasp its profound meaning.

Perhaps the thoughts expressed in John’s Prologue are too immense for us.

Huge questions crowd the scene…

  • Jesus son of God
  • Jesus and Creation …Christ of the Cosmos , Christ and Creation
  • Christ already present since creation…leading ahead, already and long ago at work redeeming God’s world.
  • The loving purpose of God to create, care for and bring into a right relationship with himself the whole cosmos, was expressed once in history in a human life
  • God took on flesh, came to us, found us, sought us out, and took on our own existence, with its pains, its sorrows, its vulnerability and its joys. Stephen Bauman says it especially well: “God,” he writes, “is embedded with us in the human predicament.”
  • When has God seemed far away and beyond your reach?
  • When has God felt near at hand, as One who understands what you are struggling with, what your church may be struggling with, understands even the things you cannot put into words?

THERE IS SOMETHING HAPPENING HERE

God’s grand plan …the grand miracle

No just a Messiah but acknowledged by others the Wise Men of the east…for all people and even bigger the Christ of creation…the cosmic Christ…for TS Eliot …something happened…. ” no longer at ease here in the old dispensations, with alien people clutching their gods”….something big is happening here….

But have we our personal epiphany?

  • a new insight…a new Ah Ah.
  • a new possibility that perhaps it could be…maybe I should take notice
  • is there something here for me beyond the story of a baby in a stable long ago?…”And can it be that thou my God shouldst die for me.”

So I would like prompt you to the edge of an epiphany this morning:

  • A willingness to ponder the mystery and sit with it…accept for a moment that something was happening here and sit with your questions and doubts and listen
  • A willingness to look again…for maybe there is something here… maybe to meeting Jesus again for the first time…as Marcus Borg
  • Maybe you can see it all making a little more sense in that the Christ cannot be capture in a set of beliefs enclosed in a box and all the issues tied down.
  • Maybe you can see that there is mystery here that can be resolved by you entering on an ongoing journey to …..
  • Maybe acknowledging you that you are on that journey and that epiphany happens as new meanings and experience fall into place.

Let’s consider what’s happening here

And even should our thoughts play around the events of Jesus birth, they can find it hard to step behind the stage props to consider the meaning of it all…

  • The actors have become so predictable
  • The plot wearyingly familiar
  • The scene all too comfortable

But even when we do stop to consider the “babe in the straw” …what do we see…

It’s easy to worship a baby in a manager…everybody loves a baby.

How do we move on beyond that “babe in the straw”?

What do you see?

  • This baby at Bethlehem, this scandal of a God/man.
  • Is the story of the baby God possible?
  • No it can’t be. .. But at least he was a good man and he did give us some useful rules to live by… that’s a reasonable position.

Then the Gospel of John calls us to see this child as

  • as one with God the creator of the universe now made man.
  • the Son of God.

Incredible! Dare we take seriously the Christian Christmas?

DARE WE BELIEVE THIS?

When we gaze at a nativity scene… ask yourself “Who was that baby there?”

When we look at the crib, what for us is the meaning in John 1:14

“The word became flesh and dwelt among us full of grace and truth and we beheld his glory as God the father”

Can we find meaning for us in the words of William Neil

The loving purpose of God to create, care for and bring into a right relationship with himself the whole cosmos, was expressed once in history in a human life

I f we can say Jesus, Son of God…then there is no statement in the creed, that should ever bother us again.

Personally, I find Christmas …the greatest test of my faith. The ideas in John 1 are so big, yet so beautiful but incredible.

For me the acceptance of the resurrection pales in to insignificance compared to the incredible happening, which we celebrate at Christmas. I am not the only one!

This is the faith statement we are called on to confront at Christmas and as we take the full significance of Christmas into the New Year.

WE MUST “MOVE-ON” AND FIND MEANING HERE…leave behind the baby in the crib.
We leave behind the baby in the crib and go into 2006 knowing that the light of the world is not in the crib but within us.

Can you find meaning and transforming power in these messages of Christmas?

  • God has pitched his tent with us…God has become one with us, worked with hands, tripped on dusty roads and shared our fortune. Nothing that is good or true is foreign to him. Henceforth nothing human is foreign to God.
  • The incarnation at Christmas put an end to any dichotomy between God and man.
  • God has not forsaken the creation and within it the human condition but is committed to it and has destined that it be without blemish and full of love and truth.
  • Christians can not retreat to supernaturalism, which spurns the earth and ignores human responsibility for the sake of a place in a heaven to come.

God in our world means we follow God’s old commands

  • “Act justly, love kindness and walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)
  • “Let justice roll on like a river, And righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24)

The birth of Jesus means that God is not only in our world and calls us to seek his justice in our world — but it goes further.

Christ traced the symptoms of the human condition to a deeper cause and wrestled with it to death and beyond — beyond the tomb to eating fish by a lake

MOVING-ON WITH NEW MEANING

So how do we “move-on”?

  • First can we think upon this miracle of Christmas and the ways in which it is a time of hope?
  • It tells of a God of Love who became one with us. He came as a servant king. God was vulnerable in Jesus, yet ultimately victorious.
  • God came, and is with us now, in ways that can help us most.
  • Make space for God to reveal, live and travel with us in new and unexpected ways.
  • There is mystery here. We don’t have all the answers. However our experience bears witness to the truth that God is with us. As John Wesley so often said…”the best of all is that God is with us”…that’s a Christmas that we can take into the New Year.
  • I cannot prove it for you…only you can do that…by giving it a try.

Morris West, Australian author and Catholic thinker/theologian said on ABC radio just before his death:
“Faith is simply an act of willingness to live with mystery.”
Further, he concluded

“To live in mystery means sometimes to live in fear and uncertainty, but it also means to live in awe and wonderment and hope for the restorations of all things in Christ.”

So as we conclude I want to again prompt you to the edge of an epiphany this morning:

  • A willingness to ponder the mystery and sit with it…accept for a moment that something was happening here and sit with your questions and doubts and listen
  • A willingness to look again…for maybe there is something here… maybe to “meeting Jesus again for the first time”(Marcus Borg)
  • Maybe you can see it all making a little more sense in that the Christ cannot be captured in a set of beliefs enclosed in a box and all the issues tied down. But that Christ is about trust and faith is not about believing but about meaning
  • Maybe you can see that there is mystery here that can leading to new meaning in your life by you entering on an ongoing journey
  • Maybe acknowledging you that you are on that journey and that new meaning is happening in new and unexpected ways

As we sing these songs find a line, a word, a phrase or a moment that you can hold on to and affirm in your own way and let God sit with you as you prepare to:

  • to leave behind the baby in the crib and go into 2010 knowing that the light of the world is not in the crib but within you.
  • And therefore go forward into 2010 with much hope for God is with you.

Let us pray before we sing…..the John Bell song “Jesus calls us to meet him…”

John Williams
January 2010.

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