What do you get when you combine . . .
A classic Union County saying,
John’s epic version of the Christmas story (don’t blink or you’ll miss it),
A “stand up” invitation,
A John Piper (yes, UMCers!) inspired insight that he who had no beginning began everything?
You get God Drops In, a sermon that landed at this bottom line:
Spirit took on skin so he could take on sin.
Back in Union County where I served in the 90s, people would often conclude a conversation with “Come see us.” It was sort of the aftermath of “bye” and sort of the equivalent of “see you later.” “Come see us,” as they or I stepped into the car or elevator or office. And, motivated by both guilt & performance like I am, I immediately assumed the worst: “Am I not visiting enough?” “Do I need to be in the community more?” “What am I doing WRONG?!?!” And then, and then, I learned through the community grapevine that if you grew up in those parts, “Come see us” meant something else entirely. It actually means, “this conversation is over & please don’t come over to my house!” So in the nuanced manners of the rural south “come see us” is actually a subtle way of saying, “no, don’t. Don’t come see us, don’t come over, DON’T. DROP. IN.” And now . . . every one of you in line will shake my hand & say “Come see us!”
And I can’t help but think that, when it comes to the prospect of God coming to earth, we in so many words & thoughts are like “come see us!” which means, of course, DON’T. Why would we want God to visit and therefore hamper our efforts to be our own gods? Yet as we open up John, a gospel who begins the Xmas story not in a manger but in outer space, not in Bethlehem but with the Big Bang, we see that God waits for neither our permission nor our invitation. And as we open these words – really just digging into four verses – I do so with fear & trembling. Because how in the world can what I say measure up to what is beyond measure? How can I shed light on what is already gleaming with brilliance? How can I do justice to that which is more than just? Talk about inspired, eternal, & true, talk about worthy of elevation, nowhere are those words and that action more applicable than in John 1.
Because look at John 1:1:
In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.
In the beginning was the Word. And let me let the cat out of the bag here and now: the “Word” is Jesus in his pre-embodied state. See, John knows that the Greeks in his audience are looking for great wisdom and the Jews in his group are searching for great power and the word “Word” sums both of them up perfectly. It actually sounded like logos (Ew! Do a greek-ish reading of it that day?) which is where we get “logical.” But now that you know “Word” is Jesus, look at what it says about him: In the beginning was the Word . . . It does NOT say, “The Word began.” “The Word launched when . . .” Pointedly says neither of those things; instead, it’s in the beginning the Word – Christ, Jesus, the babe in the manger, the Savior on the cross – was ALREADY THERE. You know what that means? Jesus never had a beginning. He. Always. Was.
Think about that! What else do you know that had no beginning. I mean, I began on Nov. 14, 1961 (actually, nine months before that, right?, so . . . Happy Valentine’s!). You began. The church began. The world began. Charlotte began. LakeWylie began. Everything started and launched. Except the startER and launchER. Everything began except ONE THING. Or one ONE. He never not was. Inconceivable, incomprehensible. And … take-it-to-the-bank TRUE. Then, after John has started his masterpiece by blowing our minds, sort of like when the Millennial Falcon goes to Light Speed, John repeats and deepens his praise in 1:2-3:
2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.
So Jesus predates the beginning, he predates the predate, and in Spirit form he has by the power of his word called everything into being. (BTW, both Hebrews & Colossians echo this – Jesus saves the creation he spoke into existence). He who has not beginning BEGAN EVERYTHING. Whew.
And then, and then, John tells his Xmas story. You ready to hear all about mangers & donkeys & starts & Bethelehem & no room in the inn? Well, it ain’t here! You’ve got to go to Luke & Mt for that (see? It’s a LIBRARY!). John’s Xmas story is 1:14a:
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.
That’s it? YES! That’s it! When you’ve started Jesus’ story at the Big Bang, that’s enough. Big Bang becomes bouncing baby! It’s brilliant. Jesus’ birth in a nutshell: the Word, Spirit, eternal, invisible, somehow enters a teenage girl’s womb and becomes flesh, skin, temporal, and oh-so-visible. The UnBegun assumes an embryonic beginning! Word became flesh and what I want you to k now is what comes next: “he made his dwelling among us.” Not above us, not around us, not in spite of us, but among us. He dropped in & set up camp! The world was like “come see us (not)” and he was like, “you got no choice.” The spirit took on skin.
But why? Why drop in? To teach, to be example, to motivate, to chastise? Nope. Look at 1:14b:
We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
We beheld his glory, his “like Father, like Son”-ness . . . and you know what John tells us again & again & again is the Son’s glory? His backwards, paradoxical journey to glory? THE CROSS! John says throughout his masterpiece that if you want to see the glory of the one who lit the Big Bang . . . you don’t need a telescope. You need the cross. God’s power is up there and it’s on there.
Why? Because you didn’t invite him and you didn’t welcome him but you have a sin problem the needs dealing with and in God’s wisdom & grace & love the cross is where that happened. We see, even in John, that the crucifixion is built into the nativity. The word became flesh because that torn, bloody flesh on the cross was God’s ultimate sign of glory. Here’s really what it means in John 1:14 when God drops in: Spirit took on skin so that he could take on sin. That’s it! He didn’t drop in to visit, to chat, even, ultimately, to teach. He came to rescue. Every Sunday is a reunion of the rescued as Jessica LaGrone says. John 1:14’s Xmas story brilliantly & eternally captures not only the beginning of all things but the beginning of the JESUS thing. Spirit took on skin so that he could take on sin.
See, if our great need had been learning, God would have sent a teacher. If our great need had been peace, he would have sent a negotiator. If our great need had been money, he would have sent an economist. But our great need – whether you realize it or not – is forgiveness, so he sent a Savior. Hallelujah, he sent a Savior! Spirit took on skin so that he could take on sin.
Because listen: we typically don’t take sin on. We give in to it. We try to get away with it. We rationalize it. But whether we know it or not, it shackles us and burdens us and separates us. Right now, some of you are in the middle of broken, separated relationships – from spouses, ex-spouses, siblings, parents, friends – and the root cause of that separation is sin. Maybe yours, maybe theirs, probably both. That’s what sin does. It divides & separates. And we’re not strong enough to take it on and TAKE IT DOWN on our own. That’s why we need an advocate, a defender to take it on for us. Which is what Jesus did on the cross, in his glory.
This headline just made laugh:
Americans: Heaven and Jesus, Sure. Hell and Sin, Not So Much (AV)
Turns out that 61% of ppl in the US believe Jesus is divine and a whopping 60% believe we’ll be reunited with loved ones in heaven. Yea! But 64% EVEN OF CHURCHGOERS think all religious paths get you to that heaven and, even more to the point, only 4 in 10 believe there is a hell. And 65% believe that while everyone sins, most people are inherently good. Most people are inherently good.
No. We’re. Not. Poll responding Americans are believing in a half Gospel – and it’s actually the back half. We’re about the full Gospel at Good Shepherd and it’s the kind of good news that can only be embraced when you accept the bad. We’re made in God’s image, yes, but through sin both natural and chosen we’re alienated from that image and separated from that God. The reason we said to him “come see us (not)” is that we were perfectly fine serving as our own God. That is the pinnacle of sin. So the whole gospel acknowledges that whole mess and then celebrates what John says about our Drop In God. He drops in to live among us, it’s with a purpose and the purpose is this: Spirit took on skin so that he could take on sin.
And that “dwelt among us.” Do you know how incomparable that is? To enter into the dirt & grime and blood & guts of the human experience? Starting with, um, being born?! He got down and dirty in order to deliver. This is particularly unthinkable in Islam, where Jesus is a prophet. But in Islam prophets are so revered and honored that they can never die such an undignified death as one on the cross. So the Koran states that Jesus only “seemed” to die or that it was actually someone else up there dying. They want to preserve Jesus’ dignity by protected him from a gruesome death on the cross. What they don’t understand is that the gruesomeness is not only his dignity; it’s his glory! There’s glory in the gore and beauty in the blood! He understands everything that his people – you and me! – go through because he’s lived it. Among us, AS ONE OF US, in the neighborhood. Not above us in judgment. Among us in redemption. He dropped in not to chat, not to role model, but to take on our great enemy of sin: Spirit took on skin so that he could take on sin.
It’s kind of interesting: in our day, we have a struggle convincing people Jesus was DIVINE. Almost everyone believes he existed; fewer believe he was God in the flesh. We often go to John 1 to, as they say, prove his divinity. And yet do you know what John was correcting? Not divinity deniers; humanity deniers! People who were on board with the Big Bang Jesus; they just couldn’t quite hang with the flesh and blood one. Hey – you deny either one, humanity or divinity, and you’re missing the mark. He was human because he had to live it to redeem it; he was divine because he had to be greater than it to conquer it. Spirit took on skin so that he could take on sin.
That’s really the Divine Drop In. Xmas doesn’t happen because God wanted to make a good world better. To make a nicer world nicer. He wanted to make a dead world alive. A sin sick world forgiven. I pray that drop in brings perspective to this wacky season of life. Which makes me think about that woman who was a worn out Xmas shopper waiting for an elevator in the department store. Any of those here? She was at the mall, two small children hanging on her legs asking for more stuff & more bling, battling other shoppers for the best deals & the shortest lines, dreading the walk to her car in the lot, when the “ding” rang and the elevator opened. Full, of course, but there was room for her & children to squeeze in.
As she did and the doors closed, she said, “Whoever started this whole Xmas thing should be found, strung up, and shot.”
From the back of the elevator a small voice replied, “Don’t worry. We already crucified him.”
And so we did. And it was his moment of glory to reserve your place in glory. Spirit took on skin so that he could take on sin.
Stand up invitation with music bed in background