Grace and peace to you, sisters and brothers in Christ.
During this holiday season, people get together with friends and family, some whom they’ve known for years and years. The other week, I went back to Racine, to celebrate a friend’s upcoming marriage. There were people there I hadn’t seen in fourteen years. You may have been reunited with people you haven’t seen in many more years than that.
This reuniting got me thinking- how do we recognize people?
Do you prepare for a reunion by scanning through the old yearbook? Do you prep your spouse to introduce himself in hopes of having that person with whom you spent your entire school career say his name?
Is it what people wear or what they’re doing? When you’re used to seeing someone dressed up for church and then you bump into her at the grocery store in their cap and sweats, does it take a moment longer to place her?
The beginning of the Gospel of John introduces the Word of God, and identifies this Word as Jesus Christ. In these early verses, the gospel lays out the problem: the Word of God isn’t recognized. Even though the creation- all people- should have known Jesus was the Word of God, had come from God, and was the one in whom they had been created and given life- they didn’t recognize who Jesus is. Not even the people who were looking for Jesus knew him for who he is.
Jesus doesn’t appear as his people expected, so they missed out on recognizing him. They missed out on knowing him because they couldn’t believe that Jesus really was the one sent from God.
We carry around an image of each person we know, and it’s jarring when the person in front of us doesn’t match. This can be incredibly painful, as in the first time I visited my grandmother in the nursing home after her stroke and saw her body drastically changed. It can lead to laughter, as when I came home to a new haircut and Laila declared, “you look strange!” Mostly, it’s just confusing, when we think we know what someone is like and they end up being different.
That was the problem for the people of God. They had this image of God- this image of the messiah, the one God would send to save them- and it didn’t look like a baby born in a manger, or a carpenter’s son, or a roaming teacher with a ragtag following of disciples. God certainly wouldn’t look like a criminal, rejected even by his friends, dying on a cross.
We’re at an advantage to those who lived what the gospels record. They didn’t have the whole story, written for the purpose of showing us who Jesus is. Still, I wonder if there might be some identification challenge waiting for us. The gospel declares, “He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him” (1:10-11). These words hang as a warning and judgment to us. Could it be that we might still be in danger of not knowing the God who comes to us?
How can we grow into people who recognize and accept the God who comes to us?
If the problem of the original people of God was that their image of God didn’t allow for them to equate Jesus with God, then we ought to start with our own images of God. What does God look like to you? What does God do or not do?
If you’ve never thought about it before, it would be good to spend some time in prayer this week, considering how you image God. What has founded that image? Is there fear or judgment? Love and acceptance? Human features or a blank canvas?
We live in an age when more people identify as spiritual and not religious. Sometimes that comes from a place of being hurt by the institutional church, or not wanting others to dictate their faith. For some, this reflects our deeply individualistic culture, in which we have a right to believe in whatever kind of God we want. God is big enough to encompass many images.
Not every image of God, or place in which we might think we’d find God is equally valid. Christian community and history help us claim worthwhile images of God. The Bible tempers our vision, shattering images we’ve drawn of God that look too much like ourselves and our own priorities. Still, the Bible isn’t our God. No matter how much we study, memorize, or otherwise pour over our Bibles to try to find the answers to our greatest questions or direction for our lives, we cannot pin God down to its pages.
Scripture points to God, but does not fully contain God. God- the Word of God- is greater than the words on the page. The Word of God is alive. The written Word of God, the preached Word of God, are expressions of God, but the incarnate Word of God, Jesus Christ, is the primary Word of God, through whom God is most fully revealed.
If we’re looking for God, we need to begin with Jesus. Jesus shows us who God is. If we’re trying to find Jesus, we need to begin at the cross. On the cross Jesus shows us most clearly who he is: the One who comes for you, to heal you and bring you back into relationship with God, no matter the cost.
The cross is the place where God is revealed. Yet even there, God is hidden, hidden behind our expectations of who God is and how God acts. God is hidden behind our fear to face our own death and sin. As we look at the cross to recognize the Word of God, we can also want to divert our eyes. It’s hard and yet beautiful to accept that God would choose to suffer for you. But if we can open our eyes, we will see a promise of love.
Once we have recognized Jesus on the cross, we begin to gain a clearer sight. We recognize God is one who tears down all walls, breaks all boundaries, and shatters convention and expectation in order to love and give life to us and to all creation. We see the Word of God working through those people around us who continue Jesus’ work. We hear the word of God when words of reconciliation and healing are spoken.
We also begin to glimpse the answer to that big question: where is God when we can’t seem to find him. On the cross, Jesus definitively declares: “I am the God who comes for you, who remains with you even to the depths of despair, and who will bring you into hope again, as I have been brought out of death.” Even when joy, hope, and health seem far away, Jesus is near. One day, Jesus will bring life that will never end.
Whether known or unknown, recognized or ignored, Jesus comes. One day Jesus will be known, will be revealed, and we will no longer wonder if we have seen him correctly. Until that day, may your eyes be open and eager for sightings of God. Hold tightly onto the image of the one who has come for you, has gone through suffering for you, and has been brought into new life in order to bring you with him. Jesus on the cross is your guiding image. Recognize Jesus in places of hope, in moments of selflessness, and in acts of love. Jesus longs for you to be aware of his love, and to remember his work of creating and redeeming you. May you have the joy of recognizing this one who has come for you.
Leave a Comment so far
Leave a comment