Sermon December 25: Jesus Moves in the Neighborhood

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Faith United Methodist Church

December 25, 2016

Fourth Sunday of Advent

Rev. Kristabeth Atwood

Scripture:  Isaiah 52:7-10, John 1:1-14

Prayer of Illumination:

Your glory shines around us, Lord; your light banishes the darkness. We join the angels and the heavenly host, worshiping you with songs of heartfelt praise. All creation shouts the good news of great joy: chains are broken, burdens are lifted, wounds are healed. This is your doing, God. We rejoice in your goodness. Amen.

Sermon:  Jesus Moves into the Neighborhood

=Last week Gary and I stopped by to welcome our new neighbor who had just moved in next door. It was a little funny since not too many months ago we were the new neighbors. Yet, it was now our turn to share our wisdom of the neighborhood. Which dogs were friendly. Which neighbors were friendly. What time the mailman arrived. As we were chatting I realized that we were going to be living in close-proximity to this very nice woman for the next however-many-years. This gave me a new appreciation for Jesus’ instruction to love our neighbors as ourselves.

In The Message version of the first chapter of the Gospel of John, Eugene Peterson translates verse 14, “The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood.” Perhaps that sounds a little heretical, a little too off-the-cuff in relation to the Son of God. But, if nothing else, this is what the Incarnation is all about. Jesus became human and lived right next door to us ~ sometimes thoughtless, sometimes rude, sometimes entitled human beings. First in Bethlehem and then in Egypt, later in Nazareth and, as an adult, in Capernaum Jesus set up house right along side everyone else.

In the Gospel of John we don’t have the birth story of Jesus. There are no shepherds or angels or wise-ones coming to the stable. Instead John gives us the big picture – the behind-the-scene story. He takes us all the way back to the beginning. He refers to Jesus as the Word – God’s Word – and tells us that from before creation the Word was with God. The Word was life and light. All things came into being through him. And then, in the fullness of time, the Word took on flesh and blood and came to earth to dwell, to bring God’s light to the darkness of the world.

The early Greek readers of John’s Gospel knew what John meant by the “Word.” In Greek the Word is Logos, the supreme reason and organizing principle of the universe. To the Greeks of that day the Logos was impersonal and detached from human life. The idea that the Logos would become flesh and dwell among us, even move into our neighborhood, was preposterous, ludicrous, unbelievable.

And it is preposterous, isn’t it? That God would humble God’s self to be born into a human family and to suffer all the indignities that go along with being one of us is ridiculous. But it was precisely because God wasn’t impersonal or detached that God did it. God became one of us in order to teach us how to love God and each other. God became one of us to provide a light for our darkness.   The Word became flesh to share the eternal in a specific time and place. As Paul Perez puts it, “God enters into the thick of it!” That is the incarnation and that is what we celebrate at Christmas time. God didn’t keep doing what we expected God to do. God acted in a unique way on our behalf because God loves us.

What if Jesus moved into your neighborhood? What if Jesus took up residence right next door? What if you met Jesus each morning on the way out to get your paper? What if Jesus learned how to ride a bicycle on your street? What if Jesus made a snowman ~ carrot nose and all ~ in the yard next door to yours? How would our lives be different if we truly considered Jesus living among us? Yes, the Incarnation took place in one specific time and place. The baby Jesus was born to a human mother and lived a finite life in a place very far away from here. And because of that we know that God is with us at every time, in every place.

Anne is our new next-door neighbor. She has two dogs and she enjoys cooking.   If we think that Christmas is a historical celebration of a long ago event, we miss the point. As Paul Perez from the General Board of Church and Society reminds us, “God continues to find flesh today, to take up residence in human…flesh, marked, pierced, incarcerated, detained, tortured, trafficked, manipulated, modified, mortified, and put up on the block.” The incarnation continues to happen in and through and around us.

As Christians we believe in God because we have seen God in Christ. That is our basic catechism. I would like to stretch that a little bit to say that as Christians we believe in God because we have seen God in Christ and because we have seen Christ in each other.   In giving us the big-picture, John writes in his Gospel, “…to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God…” What an amazing Christmas gift, to be a child of God.

So the Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood. Look around at your neighbors sitting next to you now, and the family you will gather with later today, and the neighbors who live next door who play to loud music and forget to mow the lawn, and remember that Jesus moved into a neighborhood just like yours. What kind of neighbor was Jesus? What kind of neighbor are you?

I will leave you with one final thought. Kathryn Matthews asks this question in her “Sermon Seeds,” “How is this morning not only unlike all other mornings, but indeed like every other morning of our lives?” Yes, today is a special day. It is the day that we celebrate the incarnation of the Word, the birth of the baby Jesus. But this is also just another day – another day to share God’s love, another day to be God’s light, another day to love your neighbor as yourself, another day to work for justice, another day to bring the eternal to the specific as God’s own incarnate child.

Let us pray: May the God of the incarnation embolden us to be Christ-bearers, peace-makers, hope givers, right in the places where we live, move and have our being, right in our own neighborhood. Amen.