This was the sermon I preached on January 4th at Community Lutheran Church.
Well, here we are in 2015! Another year has rolled by and I find myself reflecting on the past year, as well as this coming year. After the holidays, get-togethers and parties, I can at least say that I feel this much from Isaiah’s reading is true: “Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance, and the young men and the old shall be merry. I will give the priests their fill of fatness…” After so many delicious meals and wonderful treats, I can certainly attest to the last part!
In all seriousness though, we’re still in the Christmas season, even as we’ve celebrated the turning of the year and the beginning of something new. In John’s Gospel, we hear an echo of Genesis – of a new creation. Of the Word taking on flesh to live with us and to show us who God is. In each of the texts for the day, God is up to new and exciting things, but they also remind us that it’s through the birth of Christ that these new things are springing up in our lives.
This first chapter of John has come up a couple times in the past few weeks, and what jumped out at me this time around was actually the last verse: “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.” The phrase that particularly caught my attention was “It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart.” Close to the Father’s heart. It sounds like Christ is near and dear to the heart of God. There is an intimacy and a type of tenderness there. Jesus, who is God, is at the very heart of God – he knows God’s heart. As I did a little more researching, this phrase actually means “in God’s bosom.” It’s a very maternal type of image. This matches up with one of the descriptions of God found throughout the Old Testament – God is described frequently as Rachoom, which is often translated as “compassionate,” but literally means “having a womb” or “womb-y.” These are images of care, tenderness, affection, connection and relationship.
Ok, so now you’re thinking, where on earth is she going with this?! All of this imagery helps to show not only who God is, but also the relationship of God and Jesus. John’s Gospel is trying to say that while no one has seen God, Jesus, who is so intimately connected with God, has shown God to us, by becoming human and living with us. John is trying in every which way to show that a God, unfathomable, mysterious and cosmic, has become fleshy and earthy in order to have a close relationship with us.
Not only does that mean God living among us, but it also means us becoming the daughters and sons of God. As John’s Gospel puts it, “But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.” And Ephesians says, “He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. … In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit.” Through our dying and rising in Christ in baptism, we have been adopted as God’s own beloved children and given the inheritance of God’s promises.
At the turn of the year, we make resolutions and, yet, we don’t often keep them. Maybe they are only halfhearted attempts at changing and that’s why they often fall by the wayside at some point early into the New Year. Habits are hard to change and new habits difficult to implement, but maybe it’s a mindset that needs changing. As children of God, when it comes to thinking about resolutions for our faith and our lives as disciples, maybe it’s helpful to think about continually growing and maturing in our faith. Maybe it’s more helpful to reframe our thoughts in terms of children growing in God’s grace rather than checking the box for a completed resolution.
Think about being in a loving relationship with a parent who has our best interests at heart. When you’re a child, you take delight in being with your parents, spending time with them, and learning from them. Prayer, reading Scripture, and service do take effort, but they are also activities that bring joy and delight because we encounter God in doing so. In a relationship with God, the loving parent, we receive joy, support, care, affection, encouragement, but also gentle correction and forgiveness.
Growing and transforming are difficult. Maybe we really don’t want or know how to change. Maybe we don’t even know what changes we need. Perhaps we don’t really want the kind of intimacy with God that Jesus has – being close to the Father’s heart. That can sound wonderful and yet also a bit threatening or uncomfortable to us and our independence. Maybe we worry that that kind of relationship with God will put us out of sync with those around us, our culture, or our world. I have wrestled with these questions – wanting to grow in my faith and yet wondering what changes might need to occur. Wondering what others might think. Wondering what I might have to face about myself. But that kind of loving relationship is what we are called to as children of God, as disciples of Christ. It’s interesting, but the only other time the word “bosom” is used in John’s Gospel is when the disciple whom Jesus loved leans on Jesus at the Last Supper. We, too, are the disciples whom Jesus loves. We, too, are being invited into a deeper relationship with God, this year and every year.
We make resolutions – I should eat better, exercise more, spend more time with family, watch less TV, spend less time online, devote more time to my relationships, pray more, spend more time serving others, etc. And it all seems so overwhelming. We want to make better choices and form healthy habits, but we think it all needs to come at once. We want to grow up and have our lives together. Maybe we think that when we reach a certain age or time of our lives, things will suddenly fall into place. But I think what we actually learn as we grow is that change happens over a period of time. We slowly begin to understand that we are always a work in progress and, maybe, we begin to extend more mercy to those around us who we know are also works in progress.
Jesus is born as a human child, experiences the growing pains of childhood, and lives life into adulthood. Yet he does it as the divine Word of God, succeeding where we fall short and revealing at each step the overwhelming love – the face and the grace – of the Father.
And even when we fail at our resolutions or fall short of who we are called to be, we remember that, “From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” We are in God’s grace, forgiven and strengthened to keep trying and doing our best, calling on Christ and other disciples for help.
Because we can’t do it alone. Maybe part of the reason our resolutions fail is because we try to do them by ourselves. But we have been given the gift of the church – the gift of relationships with other disciples. In the community of faith, we help one another as we grow in grace. We, too, bear the love and the face of God to one another as we stumble and stagger, fall and succeed on the bumpy road of life. We need encouragement and insight from each other, and we need people to challenge us to help us grow and to take the next steps.
So thinking about being close to the Father’s heart, how do you hope to grow in your faith this year? What keeps or holds you back from pursuing or entering into a greater intimacy with God? Over the coming weeks, I invite you to spend time in prayer, listening for what God might be calling you to. Find a friend, talk it over with them and test what you’re hearing. Pray together, encourage and support one another. And if you feel inclined, let Pr. Joe or me know what you’re thinking so we can help support and pray for you, too!
Just as Jesus is close to the Father’s heart, we have been invited through him to be close to the Father’s heart. To experience the love, care and tenderness of God, while continuing to grow and mature as children of God. To receive grace upon grace through God’s outrageous love.That is part of the mystery and promise of Christmas. That is the promise that we can cling to no matter how many resolutions we break or how many times we fall short. Thanks be to God! Amen.
© 2015. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.