Having accepted an invitation to be the preacher at a small English-language church in Tainan Taiwan from Christmas of 2016 until my retirement in July of 2018, I started out with the sermon below.
FOR 25 December 2016 At TICC in English
TOPIC Christ’s manner of coming to us (a Christology of our needs)
TEXTS: Proverbs 8:22–31 John 1:1-14
TITLE “Full of It”
CONFESSION OF FAITH Apostle’s Creed
To see our needy state, and God’s gracious response
To revisit the high Christology of John 1 and bring it home to us, needy people.
To encourage one another with the joyful news of Jesus’ coming to us.
As human beings, we are in need of divine intervention, which comes in Christ
PRAY Ps 19:14
GREET The peace of the Lord be with you.
Eventually we’ll get there, but we’re going to start pretty far away.
Did you read the Harry Potter novels or see the movies? Think about the kinds of people in our own world that the “Potter” characters represented. J. K. Rowling seems to have reproduced among her “magical folks” the class distinctions of British society. In the stories there were the Muggles (common humans) and the magical folk, (witches and wizards). But among the magical ones there were differences. 1)Those whose families had ALWAYS been magical, on both mother’s and father’s sides, 2)those who were the magical folk offspring of a “magical” parent on one side and a “Muggle” parent on the other, and 3)those who were “magical” without any connection to a wizard or witch on either side, ever. There were even class traitors, known as “squibs”, who though of “magical” ancestry, had become Muggles.
Reading the books, I was particularly aware of the attitudes of those who were “pure magical blood” from “the best of wizarding families” . In their attitudes and behaviors towards almost everyone else they demonstrated a lack of nobleness. These were the evil people, who would stop at nothing to keep their privileged positions in an unchanging class system.
You’d think, with such wonderful ancestry, they’d have been better people.
Sometimes we can feel that way about all human beings. We look at the conflicts between nations, between groups within nations, and between some people who sincerely believe their religion and other people, who sincerely believe a different religion, or no religion, or against all religions and you wonder why human beings aren’t better at being people.
I Human Beings, made through wisdom (Proverbs 3)
We read some verses from Proverbs 8 this afternoon, in which WISDOM says that she was created before anything else, and was with God in creation of all else. You would think, wouldn’t you, that with God as our creator and wisdom as our guide, we’d be better than we are.
We don’t need to point fingers at others when we talk about human failing, we often do. A theologian from the Philippines was in Taiwan a few years ago. She was (and continues to be) an enthusiastic Christian. But whenever matters about problems in her home country came up, she was quick to point to either the Muslims or the Catholics as the troublemakers.
About 20 years ago at about this time of the year I was at a church in America where the young adults group put on a stage play about the difference that faith in God can make in a person’s life. One character was wandering down a street, looking for meaning, but running into risk and sin at every corner. There were alcohol, tobacco, drugs, pornography, gambling, and all sorts of violent acts happening all around. Then the person met Jesus, and all of the bad stuff was banished and the person had a saved and happy life. Of course, NONEof the people in the play was involved in ANY of the sins they showed on the stage.
On the way home with a pastor from another church, I heard HIS evaluation of what we had seen. He was sad, because the things portrayed as “sin” were so physical and obvious. He said he’d rather have seen some demonstration of “invisible” things that were real problems for the people on stage and in the audience, like greed, enmity, selfishness, sexism, racial discrimination and unkindness.
Both the visible and the invisible “sets” of sins tempt and harm us. One psalm in the bible says that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” You’d think, though, that with God as our creator and wisdom as our guide, we’d be better than we are.
Another psalm in the bible says that we are made just a little lower than God. Wow, that sounds wonderful!, but in that “little lower” there is a great gap.
II: Human Beings: in need.
To be human is to be in need. Each of us in our own way has a different kind of need (I need glasses to read small print, maybe you don’t. Some need canes or wheelchairs to get around, others need constant reminders to eat right or dress warmly and carry an umbrella on rainy days.) We all have a need in common, which is to be saved from a) our limitations of strength, b) our defects of character, and c) the consequences of the sin that suffuses human existence. The sad thing is, though we can IMPROVE ourselves, we can’t SAVE ourselves.
What we mark and celebrate at Christmas is the coming of Jesus into the world. Through his birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension, he opens to us God’s way of salvation. We continue in our needs for 1)glasses to read small print, 2)canes or wheelchairs to get around, 3)constant reminders to take care of ourselves and even 4)helpers to take care of our most basic physical needs. We may continue to need all of these things, but because of God’s action and through Jesus Christ, we no longer need to seek to save ourselves. Salvation has been accomplished for us.
It could only happen by God coming into human history, 1) first by creating us, 2) then by saving us.
III: The High Christology of John 1
We read about the creation act in the Gospel we read today, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, aht the life was the light of all people.”
One theory about these words was that they were set down during a time when Greek philosophy about wisdom was as common as motorscooters are in Tainan. It was just what was expected by people who thought about things. But because Greek philosophy at the time did not acknowledge God, so the writer of John’s gospel claimed that way of thinking about wisdom and applied it to what God had done in bringing the world into being. “Before the world, there was the Word”
Just to get us started, God was needed. But following up, because we are unable to save ourselves from our own weaknesses, God CONTINUED to be needed. As we read further along in the gospel, “the true light that enlightens everyone was coming into the world.” That “he came unto his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God.”
As human beings, we’re needy. We don’t need bible stories or doctrines to tell us that, we just need to experience life around us in the societies, nations and families from which we come. Earlier this afternoon in our prayer of confession we said to God
We have tarnished the gift you gave freely.
We have buried you so deeply in our hearts, the world doesn’t see you.
We have not followed Christ, we have ignored your teachings, we have lived lives of apathy against your love,
we have built fences and fortresses to push people away,
and we have silenced the screams of those in need.
As we admit to such failure, how do you think God might respond? 1) How do governments respond to their perceived shortcomings on the part of their citizens? We’ve seen that in Aleppo, Syria recently. 2) How do societies respond to the shortcomings and weaknesses of people? We see that in how the disabled are treated all around us. 3) How do families respond when a member of a “next generation” comes out as Lesbian or Gay, or informs parents that he or she will have sex change surgery? We see that in the rejection of many young people by parents and kinship groups, and the higher rates of suicide of transgendered people in many places around the world.
So the most encouraging part of the Gospel we read today tells us how God responds to our need. God comes full of it. Hear this. “… the Word became flesh and dwelt among us… fUll of grace and truth.”
Not “hellfire and brimstone”; not “thunder and lightning”; not the German “sturm und drang”, not the Chinese “hot and noise” or the Taiwanese “noisy heat” . God comes into our 1) salvation–needing world, 2)our salvation–needing lives, 3)our salvation–needing societies and 4)salvation–needing families full of grace and truth.
Grace, because we’ve had enough of the harshness with which this world treats us, and with which we treat each other. Truth because there have been too many lies.
As human beings, we are in need of God’s coming into our very lives. Through the word, God was there before we began. We were formed in wisdom, and we are saved, in grace and truth.
Happy Christmas to all as we celebrate the coming of this light into our dark world. Pray that it would shine into your and my own personal dark lives, that we might be filled with the grace and truth which comes to us by God’s creating and saving work.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, AMEN