Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Second Sunday of Christmas
text: John 1:10-18
Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
This was the only way it was going to work.
The problem of a world filled with pain and evil was never only a human problem. The God who made this world has always been in pain over what we have done with it. We have taken God’s great creation and made a disaster. We’ve taken God’s great gift and turned it to harm against each other. This world is not what it was created to be, and that has always angered God, saddened God, our ancestors in faith have testified. It angers us, saddens us, too.
The question is what, if anything, is God doing. When we see the evil people do, knowing this is not what God wants, we wonder what God’s answer is. When we see people struggle to survive, that global problems of hunger and poverty place the majority of the world’s people in a life that barely clings to existence, we wonder what God is doing about this. When we see the problems that beg for answers, our first thought is: what about God?
John the Evangelist says God in fact is doing something, the only thing that can deal with all of this mess, all of this brokenness, and bring it to healing, without also destroying us all and starting over. God is doing the only thing that would work. Are we willing to see, wise enough to listen?
It will take that, because we don’t seem to be looking for what God is doing.
Maybe because it’s about God changing us, changing people, to be a part of the needed healing and cleansing and restoring. This always seems to surprise us.
When you imagine God solving the problem of world hunger, what do you imagine? A miraculous intervention changing all the deserts into fertile land? A power move overturning corrupt governments that deprive their people of needed resources?
When you imagine God stopping evil in this world, what do you imagine? God intervening with power and might in every terrorist act? God destroying those who live their lives to harm others?
The problem with expecting God to fix things apart from us is there really are no good answers on that path. In the Great Flood God learned that destroying humanity didn’t solve the problem of evil. It only caused a lot of death. From there God had to make a new plan.
We’re still trying to catch up to that plan.
John says we’ve had this problem from the start.
This Word among us, John says, who made all things, came to his own, to the very people he had made, to us, and we didn’t know him. We didn’t accept him.
From the beginning of John’s Gospel we see the problem: God’s answer, to come in person, is not the answer we’re looking for. It’s not the magic solution, no-work, instant fix we secretly seem to expect God ought to do.
So God walks among us and we don’t see. God’s plans to change the world have begun and we’re missing them. If we look, though, we’ll see a wonder.
God’s way shows us the true heart of God.
This Son of God, John says, gives us what we only guessed at before: inside knowledge of God’s true heart for the world. “No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.”
With Jesus the world no longer needs to speculate as to the nature of God, the heart of God. We never have to look at a natural disaster again and wonder, “was God angry with these people?” We never have to face a tragedy of evil and ask if it was punishment from God. The Son reveals to us the heart of the Triune God, and the heart of the Triune God is and always will be love.
God’s coming to be with us was the only certain way we could know this heart of God. Not in thunder from a mountain or massive acts of nature or in miracles; those could always be misinterpreted. In person, God could talk to us, model for us, show us true life.
God’s answer for the pain of this world is and always will be love, in person.
God’s way is therefore the only way that really is light in darkness.
This is a world in darkness, but God’s light has come and cannot be stopped.
It’s not always evident that this is true. When the Son of God first came into this world, the darkness resisted mightily. But the suffering and death of our Lord Jesus wasn’t a tragic mistake or something that the Father somehow overlooked in the plan.
It was the plan. Coming in person not only revealed God’s heart as love, it showed the power of God as loss, the might of God as self-giving. Rather than fight the darkness of this world by destruction and force, God’s plan was to enter it and transform it from within. That’s why we struggle to see this, understand this. We are addicted to wanting power solutions, flashy miracles.
But God said, “I’ll open myself up to the darkness and it will do all it can to me, and light will still win.” That’s the plan, and in Jesus’ resurrection we see just how that plan is working. When God doesn’t fight evil but stands in its way on our behalf, stands even in our way as we make evil, God brings a light that darkness cannot overcome.
This was the only way that was going to work. We need to learn this. Because the next part of the plan is where we get stuck.
You see, the plan was never to stop with just Jesus. It was to begin to change the world through those who joined with the Son of God.
To those who believe in him, those who saw what God was truly doing in Jesus, John says, the Son of God gives power to become children of God themselves.
That’s the plan. The whole deal. God’s solution to everything that ails this planet, everything we wish God would fix, everything wicked and ruined and oppressive. God will bring healing through us, through God’s children, across this globe.
It’s genius. We are changed into children of God; so we, like Jesus, bear God’s heart in the world. We, like Jesus, become people who are always love, all the time. We, like Jesus, become people who stand as light in darkness not with power but with a willingness to lose.
Do you see how brilliant God is? The problem with this world was never something God could separate from the problem with people, the problem with us. Any solution of power, even with divine power able to create universes, couldn’t fix God’s greatest pain about this world: the hearts of God’s children were cold and selfish, the root of all that is wrong in this world.
Change the hearts and you’ve got something, God thought. Changed people, which is the primary hope. And then a changed world, because these people are going to go out there and make a new creation with God’s Spirit giving them grace to do it.
This was the only way that would work. It’s time we saw that and rejoiced.
This coming of this child in Bethlehem we celebrate was the beginning of God’s massive attempt to reconnect with us and all people to heal and restore all things. The changing of our hearts, and of the hearts of the people of this world, is the only way the Triune God is able and willing to change this world.
No one has ever seen God. But the Son of God has made the Father’s heart known to us. Now we, children of God ourselves, get to show that same heart to the world, and see God’s healing begin.
Joy to the world indeed.
In the name of Jesus. Amen