Believe in the One who is Sent.
Our theme for 2022 is “Begin Again”
This Sunday is the second in our 2022 Advent Series.
Advent literally means “the coming.”
It is a time of building anticipation for Christmas, which is the celebration of Christ’s coming.
We recently completed a series on the Gospel of John, so someone suggested to me, “Why not do an Advent series from the Gospel of John?”
I thought it sounded like a good idea.
It’s especially interesting because John is the only Gospel writer who does not include any details about the birth of Jesus.
What John describes is the Creator of the world coming in to the world and the world not recognizing Him.
9 The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
Last week we talked about preparing the way.
Or rather, recognizing that the way has been prepared.
God has been working through time and history - all leading us to this moment.
The One who comes behind us has already gone before us.
But how will we know God’s promise when we see it?
Seeing is believing - but believing is also seeing!
How can we be the ones who see and believe in the One who has been sent?
How does believing change us?
Do you believe in Santa Claus?
The legend of Santa Claus can be traced back hundreds of years to a monk named St. Nicholas. It is believed that Nicholas was born sometime around A.D. 280 in Patara, near Myra in modern-day Turkey. Much admired for his piety and kindness, St. Nicholas became the subject of many legends. It is said that he gave away all of his inherited wealth and traveled the countryside helping the poor and sick. One of the best-known St. Nicholas stories is the time he saved three poor sisters from being sold into slavery or prostitution by their father by providing them with a dowry so that they could be married.
Over the course of many years, Nicholas’s popularity spread and he became known as the protector of children and sailors. His feast day is celebrated on the anniversary of his death, December 6. This was traditionally considered a lucky day to make large purchases or to get married. By the Renaissance, St. Nicholas was the most popular saint in Europe. Even after the Protestant Reformation, when the veneration of saints began to be discouraged, St. Nicholas maintained a positive reputation, especially in Holland.
The name Santa Claus evolved from Nick’s Dutch nickname, Sinter Klaas, a shortened form of Sint Nikolaas (Dutch for Saint Nicholas). In 1804, John Pintard, a member of the New York Historical Society, distributed woodcuts of St. Nicholas at the society’s annual meeting. The background of the engraving contains now-familiar Santa images including stockings filled with toys and fruit hung over a fireplace.
In 1822, Clement Clarke Moore, an Episcopal minister, wrote a long Christmas poem for his three daughters entitled “An Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas,” more popularly known as “‘Twas The Night Before Christmas.”
Moore’s poem, which he was initially hesitant to publish due to the frivolous nature of its subject, is largely responsible for our modern image of Santa Claus as a “right jolly old elf” with a portly figure and the supernatural ability to ascend a chimney with a mere nod of his head! Although some of Moore’s imagery was probably borrowed from other sources, his poem helped popularize the now-familiar image of a Santa Claus who flew from house to house on Christmas Eve in “a miniature sleigh” led by eight flying reindeer to leave presents for deserving children. “An Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas” created a new and immediately popular American icon.
In 1881, political cartoonist Thomas Nast drew on Moore’s poem to create the first likeness that matches our modern image of Santa Claus. His cartoon, which appeared in Harper’s Weekly, depicted Santa as a rotund, cheerful man with a full, white beard, holding a sack laden with toys for lucky children. It is Nast who gave Santa his bright red suit trimmed with white fur, North Pole workshop, elves and his wife, Mrs. Claus
What does Santa have to do with Jesus?
Everything and nothing!
Santa Claus is a fantasy for which Jesus is the reality.
Saint Nicholas was a real person and a follower of Jesus, but the stories about him became detached fro the historical reality and became about an idea.
Santa Claus then, is a parable, a metaphor, a symbol for which Jesus is the true meaning.
Gary Buck, speaking to the Hopewell pastors this week said that Santa is like junk food, but Jesus is true nourishment.
Santa can be useful if believing in Santa causes us to think, “there must be something more!”
Believe in the real Jesus.
Believe in the real Jesus.
39 You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.
There are many people who believe in Jesus, but he means little more to them than Santa Clause.
Jesus is like a mystical, mythical figure who sees everything and knows everything about you.
Some people look at Jesus and feel like He is judging them.
Some people feel like they need to grovel, acting small and pathetic and hope the Jesus will have pity on them.
Some people treat jesus like their genie - make a wish and hope that it comes true.
Some people look at Jesus a declare him to be fake, but isn’t it their ideas that are false?
We have lots of pictures of Jesus, most of them depict him as a White European.
In Africa they portray Jesus as black.
There are also Asian images of Jesus.
The oldest paintings have both an Asian and European look to them.
It makes sense that we would all think of Jesus as being like us.
The truth is that Jesus is a Middle-Eastern Jew. ( I like how The Chosen portrays Jesus and his disciples with broken English.)
But what is really important is that we recognize that we are made in His image.
You can go the other way too - get really intellectual about Jesus and He is portrayed in the Bible and totally miss the real Jesus and His heart for you.
The real Jesus loves you and wants to know you.
Yes. He will judge the world, but if you learn to know Him now, you won’t be afraid to stand before Him.
He’s not just a persona - He’s a person and he wants a personal relationship with you.
Believe in the divinity of Jesus.
Believe in the divinity of Jesus.
35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. 36 But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. 37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.
In this passage, Jesus is telling his followers, “you know me, but you don’t really know me!”
Obviously they saw Him as a great teacher, or they wouldn’t be following Him.
A few of them probably had a pretty good sense that Jesus was the promised Messiah. - John’s declaration should have given it away.
I’m sure that those who were closest to Him realized that he was and extraordinary person, after all they saw the miracles that He did.
But did they know that He was God in the flesh?
Jesus is saying that he is the very substance of life.
We eat our food and our body breaks down the food into its nutrient components.
The substance of our food is absorbed into our blood and gets delivered throughout our body to our muscles and tissue which uses the nutrients as fuel and the building blocks to be able to grow and or repair our bodies.
Whatever we don’t need is stored for future use - some of us are well stocked for the future!
Hunger is what reminds us to eat so that we have energy to sustain life.
One of the things that John wants us to know is that not only is Jesus God, but that He invites us to live in two realms, the heavenly and the earthly.
Jesus analogy teaches us that what food is to our earthly bodies, He is to our heavenly sustenance.
He is our life, our substance, our source of energy and growth.
51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
On one hand, it is clear that Jesus sacrifice for our sin makes the way for us to be able to live a heavenly life.
But spiritual life is more than just being saved and going to heaven when we die.
It is living life now with the reality of the perspective of heaven.
This is one of the things that we learned from our study of John - that Jesus is inviting us to live life in two realities.
Our physical reality has been affected by our spiritual reality.
The whole world had been in rebellion against God.
But we can have a relationship with God - that’s our new spiritual reality.
And the world is being renewed and restored. - that’s the physical reality.
The story of Jesus is not just a story about God.
Jesus actually is God and connects us to God.
Our story them becomes part of His story.
Yes, this is not a bedtime story - it’s a waking up to a whole new way of living story!
Everything changes in light of what we now know - just like in the Christmas movies - it’s that magical Christmas spirit that transforms our mundane reality.
26 There is a divine mystery—a secret surprise that has been concealed from the world for generations, but now it’s being revealed, unfolded and manifested for every holy believer to experience. 27 Living within you is the Christ who floods you with the expectation of glory! This mystery of Christ, embedded within us, becomes a heavenly treasure chest of hope filled with the riches of glory for his people, and God wants everyone to know it!
It’s the reality of Christ in us.
It’s the magical, miracle surprise that every Christmas story is really alluding to.
While we are dreaming of rewards for being good, God is dreaming of a transformed people who will fill the world with His goodness.
Believe in the mission of Jesus.
Believe in the mission of Jesus.
16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”
God is not the Grinch!
If you have imagined Jesus as judging you.
Orr if you have imagined God as just waiting for you to mess up so that He can condemn you to hell - that’s not God!
God is not a cosmic kill-joy trying to spoil our fun.
God was born as a “who” in a whole world full of grinches.
Did you know that the Grinch was once a who?
His meanness comes from being an outcast and he is jealous of his own people.
Now imagine that all the “whos” are grinches with their own damaged souls.
Jesus comes as a who to teach them what it means to be “who-man”
Gary Buck, when he was talking to the Hopewell pastors the week said that John 3:16 is his favorite Christmas verse.
God loved the world in such a way that He became one of us.
He was the totally unique prototype of what is means to be the Son of God.
He would not only model for us what God originally created us to be, but would make a way for us to become what he is - a child of God.
Jesus became like us so that we could be come like Him.
12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,
So Jesus was sent so that we could become like Jesus - Why? - to multiply and spread the word - of course!
Being children of God is all about multiplication.
God sent Jesus into the world.
Jesus transforms us into His image.
We become part of His mission to restore God’s rule on the earth.
People may have really funny ideas about who Jesus is, but what is going to convince them of the truth?
When they see Jesus in you...
When they see a person who used to be one way, but now is another way.
When you see a person who is not living to survive like everyone else, they have joy and a sense of purpose.
When you see someone who faces difficulty and somehow comes out better because of it.
It’s those stories of people who inspire us by reminding us of what good is and how to love.
We all love those holiday stories that show us the best of humanity - we even call it the Christmas spirit - but it’s the Spirit of Jesus that restores our humanity!
Believe what Jesus says about you.
Believe what Jesus says about you.
12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. 17 These things I command you, so that you will love one another.
There is a song that most of us who grew up in the church learned when we were small - I wonder how many of us remember it.
Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so. Little ones to him belong; they are weak, but he is strong.
Refrain: Yes, Jesus loves me! Yes, Jesus loves me! Yes, Jesus loves me! The Bible tells me so.
Do you know the song? Do you believe it?
It all comes down to love.
Jesus tool all of the law and the prophets and distilled it down to two commandments.
36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
John takes Jesus’ two commandments and boils them down to one.
Loving God and loving others are intertwined according to John.
7 My beloved friends, let us continue to love each other since love comes from God. Everyone who loves is born of God and experiences a relationship with God. 8 The person who refuses to love doesn’t know the first thing about God, because God is love—so you can’t know him if you don’t love.
I would add that knowing God and knowing that you are loved by God is also how you are able to love others.
Believing in Jesus is believing that you are dearly loved by God.
God sent Jesus because He loved us and because He is love.
Jesus shows us how to love - how to love God and how to love others.
We become like Jesus when we have a relationship with God.
Believing in Jesus is better than believing in Santa Claus.
Believing in Santa Claus might convince you to try to be good, but believing in Jesus has the power to actually change you.
Believing in Santa Claus might means that you believe in elves and a magical workshop at the North Pole, but believing in Jesus means that you believe in a supernatural realm where God is making a new heaven and a new earth and preparing this earth to be restored.
Believing in Santa Claus might inspire you to surround yourself with goodness and beauty for the season, but believing in Jesus should inspire you to bring God’s goodness and light to the world around you.
The whole story of Santa Claus was made up to stimulate the imagination to believe that there is good in this world and to inspire generosity.
But Jesus came to the world that he created to save it, to change it and to start a revolution of people who will love like He does.
Questions for reflection:
Questions for reflection:
How ‘real’ is Jesus to you? Is He ‘Santa Claus’ real? Is He the way you imagine Him? Or is He beyond your ability to define? How can you know Him better?
To what extent does God’s reality and your reality intersect? Is Jesus only for church and on Sundays, like Santa Claus is just for children at Christmas? Does spiritual reality impact your everyday life? How might you become more aware?
Is all this talk about Jesus only intended to make you a better person? Or is becoming a better person part of a much larger plan? How does knowing the truth about Jesus change your whole purpose for living?