Experiencing God Forevermore

Original Date: 
Thursday, December 24, 2015

John 1:1-3, 14 Christmas Eve 2015

A Night With the Muilenburgs
It was one of our first Christmases in our first house, years ago, before kids. It was the Friday after Thanksgiving. It was about 10:30 at night. Beth had just gone to bed and I was settling in on the couch to read a book and watch Sportscenter. I heard a little pop, and as I looked up I watched (as though it were in slow motion) our newly decorated Christmas tree falling to the ground.

Now, I should let you know that Beth and I are real Christmas tree people. (At least I am, Beth will tell you she would be happy to switch to artificial at any time.) I like the way real trees smell, and I like the way they look. I rather like that every real Christmas tree has some noticeable flaws. And this particular year we thought we had picked out a really good one. It was tall, and not as wide as some of the trees we'd gotten in the past, and it had a great shape. But what we really hadn't taken into account was that while the tree had the classic Christmas tree sort of shape on the outside, its trunk was rather crooked and off-center.

And so, after standing nicely in our living room for about 8 hours, the Christmas Tree decided to take a header into my (fortunately unoccupied) Lazy Boy.

Now, I should also let you know that I don't do well in situations like this. I started yelling for Beth to get out of bed and help me. She thought maybe I was having a stroke. The dog was barking like crazy. And together we wrestled the tree back up-right.

But, of course, in falling, the trunk of the tree and the Christmas tree base got all fouled up. And so, we spent the next fifteen minutes in great frustration trying to hold the (still decorated) tree up-right while bending the base back into shape. I used a pliers. I used a hammer. I used my feet. Luckily, I didn’t have any power tools (still don’t), or I would have used them.

And, of course, we're getting puncture wounds from the needles and I'm getting mad at the tree and Beth is telling me to calm down and the dog is just staring wondering what has gotten into us and the tree water is sloshing all over everything...

Finally, we got the base straightened out and the tree back in place, but, of course, we still hadn't fixed anything. The trunk was still crooked and if it fell over once it would probably fall over again, so now we have to come up with a way to anchor the base as a sort of counterweight to the lean of the tree. So we search high and low for something suitable. I tell Beth that what we need is a sandbag, but of course we don't have that. Finally, we settle on a bag of sugar and a bag of flour, strategically placed on the feet of the base opposite the side we think it wants to fall towards.

It worked. That tree stayed upright for the next four weeks. It got to the point that when we went out, I’d talk to the tree sort of the way I’d talk to the dog: "Stay tree, stay." When I came home and it was still standing, I would praise it and tell it what I good tree it was. Still, when we went to take it down we found out that our bags of sugar and flour had mixed with water and sap and turned into paste. If we had added chocolate chips, we could have had some really nasty tasting cookies.

But anyway, as I stood in the shower that night trying to wash the tree sap out of my hair, I got to wondering: "Is this what Christmas is all about?" Is this the point of Christmas?

*8The Birth of Jesus Explained**
I suppose there comes a point when we ask that question nearly every year.
• Maybe it comes up while you are standing in line at Wal-Mart, trying to save 5 bucks on a toy that you know won’t get played with for more than an afternoon.
• Maybe it comes up when you’re trying to navigate icy roads to get to a family get-together with people you don’t see except for on the Holidays (and you don’t like all that well anyway).
• Maybe it comes up while you are trying to maintain your balance on an old step ladder as you hang lights from your roof that you know you won’t take down again until late March.

“Is this really what Christmas is all about?”

There are bigger questions too, of course. At Christmas we hear all kinds of things about peace and love and hope and joy, but we don’t always feel all that peaceful or loving. The headlines are dominated by terrorist attacks and out of control drivers. Our town is rocked by an unexplainable tragedy. Individually, we deal with tough medical diagnoses and fractured relationships and frustrated plans.

Sometimes it all feels like a big mess. Like we’ve been left standing over a crashed Christmas tree. Wondering, is this really what Christmas is all about?

I hope you know I’m going to say “no.” I’d guess that the fact that you are here tonight means you know I’m going to talk about Jesus. I’d like us to go to the Bible, so that we can see the real point of Christmas.

My text tonight comes from the gospel of John.

One of the interesting things about John is that even though it is a biography of Jesus, it does not tell the story of Jesus' birth. The details we are familiar with: the virgin birth and the trip to Bethlehem and the angels and shepherds and wise men, all come from the gospels of Matthew and Luke. John skips over matters of Jesus’ parentage and childhood.

But what he does do is talk about Jesus before He was born into the world. John talks about Jesus before He was Jesus.

So there are two main ideas I want to talk about tonight. I want you to see that the infant is infinite, and then I want you to see that the infinite became an infant.

Before He was Jesus…
First: the infant is infinite.

The child whose birth we celebrate tonight is the God of the Universe. Before He was Jesus, before He was a fetus conceived in Mary’s womb or a child lain in a manger, He already existed. Go back to the very beginning of time and He was already there.

The gospel of John puts it like this, calling Jesus “the Word”. John 1:1-3:

1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was with God in the beginning. 3All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made.

The first statement is familiar because we recognize those first 3 words--"in the beginning"-- as the first 3 words of the entire Bible. These are the words which announce creation, the start of all that is known. And the assertion here is that the Word—Jesus--was there before the beginning.

Now, think about that. That's quite a statement. This Word didn't come into existence along with everything else--the light, the sky, the water, the plants, the trees, the animals, the first humans--He was there before they existed. In other words: He was preexistent. He was "before" all things. Who can you say that about?

Only God. Only that which is divine can be eternal.

Even scientists who don't believe in the existence of God teach now that the universe has a definite starting point. They didn't always feel that way: those who have no time for God used to believe that the universe itself was eternal. But the evidence no longer allows them to think that way. The evidence now points to a certain, particular point at which the universe burst into being--a point before which science cannot probe.

This "scientific" understanding of the beginning of the universe is known as the "Big Bang Theory" and some people believe it does away with the need for God. But actually it fits in quite well with the Biblical view of the world. It says that the universe has a definite beginning, that there is a definite point in time when the universe started.

The problem for science is that it can’t reach back beyond the Big Bang. When scientists ask: "What caused the Big Bang?" they can't find an answer. But ask the Bible and it will tell you: “God.”

God was there at the beginning. Only God is eternal.

And the Word was there with God. Therefore, the Word is eternal. Therefore, the Word is God. This tiny infant whose birth we celebrate is infinite.

More than that, this Word is the agent of creation. “All things were made by Him. Without Him nothing that is now made would have been made.”

This is a clue as to why John chooses the title “Word” for Jesus before His dwelling on earth. In the Old Testament the "Word of God" is very closely associated with the power of God. If you go back to Genesis 1 you'll see that God simply spoke—He said, “Let there be light”--and things came into being. God's word is His power. God's word is the instrument of His creation.

Thus, by using the title "Word" John is informing us that before His incarnation to human flesh Jesus can be identified with the creative power of God. He may not have been known by the name Jesus Christ yet, but He was most definitely an active part of the world.

So everything that exists, from the sand on the seashore to the stars in the sky, came into being by His power. Polar bears and penguins, kookaburras and kangaroos, raccoons and rattlesnakes, they’re all His idea. Rip tides and tidal waves, mountains high and valleys low, river banks and glacial cliffs, they’re all formed by His hand. Savannah and tundra, rainforest and desert, He made it all.

This was Jesus before Christmas. He already was. He always was. The Prince of Heaven, the Second Person of the Trinity, the Son of God Most High. The Sovereign ruler and creator of the Universe. The captain of angel armies. The one worshipped and adored by the citizens of heaven. The rightful ruler of a kingdom without end.

This is the one whose birth we celebrate tonight. This the child Mary bore into the world. The infant was infinite.

Moved Into the Neighborhood
But there’s a second idea we need to consider, the flip side of the first: the infinite became an infant. This eternal, pre-existent, powerful and glorious God entered into the world of flesh and blood. The Sovereign King of the Universe became one of us.

John covers the mystery of Jesus' entrance into the world in one simple, profound sentence. John 1:14. Here is Christmas in a nutshell:

14The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.

This Word that John described at the start of his book: the One who was there at the beginning, the One who was with God, the One who is God, the One through whom all things were made and without whom nothing was made… the Word, took on flesh and lived among us. As the Message translation of this verse puts it: “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.” The infinite God of creation became an infant.

The theological term for this is “incarnation.” That word comes from the Latin word for flesh: “carne.” I think of this every time I go into a Spanish restaurant and see “carne asada” on the menu. “Carne” means “meat.” And that’s what this verse is talking about: the infinite God of the universe became meat—flesh and bone and blood and hair. God became a human. God became one of us.

Think about that for a moment, let it blow your mind: A God who stands outside of time…A God who can see all points of time as though they are present right now…A God who is responsible for the creation of all that there is and who holds it all together…A God who knows all things, can do all things, and needs nothing…became a helpless, harmless, human child. He entered into the world He created.

The other day I was channel surfing on my TV when I came across one of those real life video shows. It was cell phone footage of the aftermath of an accident between a motorcycle and a car. The motorcycle was wedged under the back of the car, and the car and the bike were both on fire. And the driver of the motorcycle was trapped under the car.

There were some people gathering around the accident, bystanders and passing motorists and the like, and eventually they figured out that the motorcyclist was still under the car. Right away, they sprang into action. Four or five of them rushed up to the car and tried to tip it up onto its side. But they couldn’t move it. The fire was getting worse. One of the bystanders knelt down and tried to talk to the motorcyclist, but he was unconscious. He couldn’t crawl out.

Then a few more people come into the picture, a bunch of construction workers from a nearby worksite, and they all put their shoulders into the car. With about 12 people lifting and pushing they were able to tip the car up far enough that somebody could grab the motorcyclist’s ankles and pull him to safety. The ambulance eventually comes and the man is rushed to the hospital, seriously injured but still alive. Meanwhile the car and the motorcycle burn to the frames.

And all of this, remember, is being captured on cell phone. As you watch it, the only sounds you can hear are the people with the cell phone: “Oh no, he’s still under the car!” “Somebody help him! Somebody help get that car off of him!” “He’s out! He’s out! They got him!” This human tragedy is all playing out in front of an IPhone lens.

So as you watch it, you can’t help but get annoyed with the people holding the phone. Why don’t they put the phone down and go help? This man might die, and they’re just filming it all?

In their defense, they were in an office building about 10 stories up and on the other side of a busy free way. There was no way they could get to the accident site in time to do any earthly good. All they really could do was watch. But it’s still kind of disturbing. This man could potentially die in a car fire, and they’re filming it all.

And I think that’s sometimes how we feel about God. I mean, here we are on earth and it feels like we are on the scene of an accident--mass shootings and terrorist attacks and cancer and heartache and betrayal and sin—and it feels like God is up in an office building just watching it all. It feels like we are struggling to lift the car, to make a difference, to fix what’s wrong—and God is just a voyeur taking it all in—too far away, too far removed, to actually help.

But if you do feel that way, consider Christmas. Consider John 1:14. Because what this says is that God did step down from the office building and enter into the mess and tragedy of our world. He didn’t stay at a safe remove. He came to dwell among us.

“We Lepers…”
Another story: Father Damien was a priest who became famous for his willingness to serve lepers. He moved to Kalawao – a village on the island of Molokai, in Hawaii, that had been quarantined to serve as a leper colony.

For 16 years, he lived in their midst. He learned to speak their language. He bandaged their wounds, embraced the bodies no one else would touch, preached to hearts that would otherwise have been left alone. He organized schools, bands, and choirs. He built homes so that the lepers could have shelter. He built 2,000 coffins by hand so that, when they died, they could be buried with dignity.

Slowly, it was said, Kalawao became a place to live rather than a place to die, for Father Damien offered hope.

Father Damien was not careful about keeping his distance. He did nothing to separate himself from his people. He dipped his fingers in the poi bowl along with the patients. He shared his pipe. He did not always wash his hands after bandaging open sores. He got close. For this, the people loved him.

Then one day he stood up and began his sermon with two words: “We lepers….”

Now he wasn’t just helping them. Now he was one of them. From this day forward, he wasn’t just on their island; he was in their skin. First he had chosen to live as they lived; now he would die as they died. Now they were in it together.

One day God came to Earth and began his message: “We lepers….” Now he wasn’t just helping us. Now he was one of us. Now he was in our skin. Now we were in it together. (From John Ortberg’s God Is Closer Than You Think)

This is what Christmas is all about. This is what brings us here tonight. The infant baby in the manger was the Infinite God of the Universe. The Infinite God of the Universe became an infant baby in a manger.

God became one of us.

He came to do something about the mess we are in.