STEPHEN’S PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH DECEMBER 29, 2019

Rev. Sabrina Ingram

YOU’VE SEEN ONE…

Isaiah 62: 10 – 12; John 1: 14 – 18

 

We all know the phrase, like father, like son.  Here are some pictures which capture that adage.

One of the most remarkable things about the birth of Jesus, is that in Jesus, God is revealed.  The Son shows us the Father, because like father, like son.   John writes, “We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son… No one has ever seen God, not so much as a glimpse.  This one-of-a-kind God-Expression,  who exists at the very heart of the Father, has made him plain as day” (John 1: 14 & 18).   One of the greatest miracles of Christmas is that in Christ, the God who is “immortal, invisible…hid from our eyes”, went from being a distant, un-knowable mystery to being visible, intimate and real.   Even though God displays his grandeur in creation, had revealed his plan to Abraham, had spoken to Moses out of a burning bush declaring his name to be “I am” and had revealed his will to Israel through the Law, in Jesus we come to know God in a completely unique way.

 

Jesus doesn’t just resemble the Father or mimic the Father they share the same DNA.   They’re cut from the same cloth.   They are stamped with the same mark.  If you can identify one, you can identify the other.   The character traits of the Father are visible in the Son.   What are those traits?

 

John describes Jesus as, “Generous inside and out, true from start to finish…” (vs. 14).   In Jesus, we see the grandeur of God’s love.  God gives freely and bountifully, holding back nothing.  In Jesus we learn that God’s nature is true – consistent, authentic, trustworthy.  What we see is what we get.   John is taken with God’s fullness; the wholeness  or shalom from which God gives to us,  “We all live off his generous bounty, gift after gift after gift” (vs. 16)   When John speaks of God’s giving nature, he doesn’t simply mean that God provides for our physical needs, he is also speaking of God’s spiritual benevolence.   God is lavishly abundant in meeting our spiritual need for mercy. The more accurate word here, which is used in other translations is “grace”.  Through Jesus, God gives us “grace upon grace” (vs. 16).   Not only does God forgive and receive us out of his own loving and compassionate nature – he does it over and over again.  Knowing we’ll stumble, our loving parent is there to pick us up and set us on our feet again and again. Not only is God generous, giving us everything, to top it off God blesses us with the coming of Jesus, “and then this exuberant giving and receiving, this endless knowing and understanding…” (vs. 17).   In fact, it’s through Jesus that God’s grace becomes accessible.    

 

But Jesus does more than give us an idea of what God is like, Jesus shows us God.  In Jesus God came in the flesh –  “God with us.”  That’s the truth of the incarnation: God has come to be with us in the person of Jesus.  In Jesus, God took on flesh and blood.  A little girl was afraid of the dark and called out, “Daddy, come in here and be with me.” Her father, who was watching the game, said, “Just hug your teddy bear.” The little girl said, “No, Daddy, I want something with skin on it.”  Jesus is God with skin on.  The Christmas Carol, “Mary did you know”, written in 1991, poses the questions:  Mary did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation?  That the sleeping child you’re holding is the great I am?  That when you kiss your little baby, you kiss the face of God?   In Jesus we see, touch, kiss and hold the God who is hid from our eyes.

 

In Jesus, we see God’s love.  God came in Jesus so we could know Him personally.   The story’s told of a man who couldn’t believe in Christianity because he couldn’t contemplate a God who would humble himself like that.  One day the man came across an anthill.  He tried to get close enough to study it; but every time he bent low his shadow caused all the ants to scurry away.  He recognized the only way he could ever come to know that colony of ants would be if he could somehow become an ant himself.  At that moment, he understood, not only God’s plan but the depth of God’s love.  That was the moment in which his conversion to Christ began.

 

But Jesus didn’t come so we’d have a portrait or idea of God’s likeness.  Jesus put on human flesh so he could die for us.  He died for us, so we’d be brought back into a relationship with God.

 

Given all we know about God through Jesus, given all Jesus has shown us and the assurances he has given us, it ought to be easy to trust in God who is so generous, true, eternal, gracious and present.  Yet sometimes we struggle to believe.  Hope eludes us.  We find it hard to walk in the light, especially when the darkness looms.   What does it look like when this God with the “one of a kind glory”, who is “generous inside and out, true from start to finish”, who has “always been ahead” of us; and who pours out “grace upon grace” jumps into action?

During the time of Isaiah, the Babylonian army had invaded Israel, destroyed their temple, burned their crops, killed their sons, raped their daughters and had taken the majority of the survivors to Persia; those left behind were under foreign occupation.   The people felt “Forsaken and Rejected”.  They were “Desolate and Ruined” (Isaiah 62:4).  All their former glory had been stolen from them and destroyed.   Things looked pretty bleak for Israel.  With their hope gone, they were tempted to turn away from God.  Despite their dire circumstances, God didn’t change.  In the midst of their suffering, despite how things appeared,  God promised his people a saviour, a liberator, a restorer.   God vowed to them that when this Saviour came, all that they had experienced, all that had crushed their spirits and battered their faith, would end and new life would begin.  Their circumstances wouldn’t last forever.  They would once again be a  “Holy People, God-Redeemed, Sought-Out, a City-Not-Forsaken” (vs. 12).     

 

  1. Campbell Morgan had already enjoyed some success as a preacher by the time he was 19 years old. But then he was attacked by doubts. The writings of various scientists and agnostics disturbed him.  As he read their books and listened to debates, Morgan became more and more perplexed.  He said to himself, “I am no longer sure that this Bible is what my father claims it to be–the Word of God.”  What did he do?  He cancelled all preaching engagements, put his books in a cupboard and locked the door.   He took all his faith and hope, all God’s character and promise, the Light that shines in the darkness and locked it away.  He no longer believed or trusted in the God revealed in Jesus Christ.   Even when Morgan turned his back on God, God didn’t turn his back on Morgan.  After a time, Morgan couldn’t ignore the Spirit’s promptings.  He went to the bookstore and bought a new Bible, saying to himself,  “I am no longer sure that this Bible is what my father claims it to be–the Word of God.  But of this I am sure.  If it is the Word of God, and if I come to it with an unprejudiced and open mind, it will bring assurance to my soul.”  The result?   “That Bible found me!” said Morgan.   He devoted himself to the study and preaching of God’s Word.  The re-newed assurance gave him new life.

 

A missionary team had been invited to an orphanage in Eastern Europe.  It was Christmastime.  As they taught the story of Christ’s birth at an orphanage, everyone listened in amazement.  None of the kids or the staff had heard it before.  One of the missionaries wrote: “We gave the children some materials and instructed them to create the manger scene.  All went well until I got to 6-year-old Misha’s table; he had finished his craft.  As I looked at Misha’s manger, I was startled to see not one, but two babies in the manger.  I called for a translator to ask why.   The child began to repeat the story accurately, until he came to the part where Mary put the baby Jesus in the manger.  Then Misha started to ad-lib his own ending to the story.  He said, “When Mary laid the baby in the manger, Jesus looked at me and asked me if I had a place to stay.  I told him I have no mama and no papa, so I don’t have any place to stay.  Then Jesus told me I could stay with Him.   So, I got into the manger, and then Jesus looked at me and told me I could stay with Him forever.”  Putting his hand over his face, Misha’s head dropped to the table as his little lifetime of tears poured out.  For the first time, he had found someone who never would abandon or abuse him, someone who would stay with him forever.”

 

What in your life has caused you to doubt and despair?  The death of a loved one?  A childhood trauma?  Unanswered prayer?  Illness?   Financial hardship?  The loss of dreams?  Abandonment?   When you look at our congregation, do you slide into survival mode?  Do you assume we’re on our last legs and nothing can revive us?   When faced with bad news, desperate circumstances or outrageous odds, how do you respond?  When you weigh the essence of who God is, against the challenges and sorrows of life, what comes out on top?  Do you give up or do you move forward trusting in the God revealed in Jesus?  Is Christmas a lovely, sentimental season, or is it the coming of a generously over-flowing, loving, powerful God?  Do you believe like the Israelites that God can take you from being forsaken and rejected, desolate and ruined and rebuild your life with new dreams?  Have you discovered with G Campbell Morgan that God will rebuild your faith and bring assurance to your soul?  Do you believe like little Misha that Jesus will be with you forever?   Or is Jesus a nice story from a far away time and place?

 

Jesus has entered our world – a divine bundle of light and grace, truth and love.   But what now?  Do we go we hold on to this gift, receive it into our hearts, allow the hope to flow knowing that this abundant God whom Jesus revealed, is for us, ready to give his all to be with us?  Christ’s coming is the sign of God’s presence, God’s power, God’s faithfulness and God’s vast, undying love.   The mystery now is not who God is, but whom we will be.  Will we be forsaken and rejected, desolate and ruined, or will we live as those who are “a Holy People, God-Redeemed, Sought-Out, Not-Forsaken”?    We are loved by a God who pours out “grace upon grace”.  A God whom the darkness cannot overcome.   Let us claim this victory in every aspect of our lives, to the glory of God the Father revealed in Jesus Christ.