Glory and Flesh
It is now 2010, the time to begin a new page and a new chapter in our own stories; a new year has begun; a new decade has started. If your life were a book, would it make sense to have someone start reading it at the chapter entitled 2010? Wouldn’t it make more sense, wouldn’t your story’s meaning be clearer if the reader began at the beginning?How do you tell the story of Jesus so that people will “get it”? Where do you start?
The Gospel of Mark introduces us to Jesus as an adult at his Spirit-filled baptism. Matthew and Luke begin earlier in his life, showing us Jesus as a miraculously-born baby.
The Gospel of John takes us back much further, in fact, all the way back to the same moment at which Genesis 1 starts; at the beginning of everything. It was as if John were saying to himself: “How are people going to understand what Jesus is all about? I have to start the story from the very beginning of Creation.” When was that? Who knows? The best estimate scientists give us is about 14 billion years ago.
“In the beginning” before anything was there at all, there was God. Infinite, eternal, omnipotent God; then, Bang! Creation! Light explodes in the darkness. God has spoken the word: “BE!; “Let there be…!” – and it came into being. From nothingness to everything, the universe is the obedient response of the commanding, creative Word.
In our story, Genesis, we read of God speaking the word that creates the world and gives it life. In our story, life and creation come from a Word. Word, or logos in Greek, was what the ancient Stoic philosophers called the source of life and being. John brings these together, quoting the opening line of the Genesis story, “in the beginning” and completing the sentence with the Greek Logos:
1 In the beginning was the Logos (the Word), and the Logos-Word was with God, and the Logos-Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.
Most of us are on-line now. Most of us have received those forwarded emails of pictures of outer space taken from the Hubble telescope: quasars, nebulae, infinite space, rich, vivid, swirls of intense color. These take us in the direction of a quest on which we all have been, but in which none can succeed; the quest to see God. John, who went back to the moment of Creation to begin his story of Jesus, admits this much:
18No one has ever seen God.
Of course not; how could we? The ancient Israelites who gave us the Genesis story of the God of the Big Bang had a word that summed up the utter infinity and awesomeness of God: “glory.”
Do you remember how Luke describes the magnificent light that appeared in the sky to the shepherds on the night Jesus was born?
Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. Luke 2:9
And what was the message of the angels?
“Glory to God in the highest heaven” Luke 2:14
There is a story in the Old Testament in which Moses is on Mt. Sinai speaking with God in that thick, dark, thundering cloud with the Hebrew people waiting for him down at the bottom. Moses needs reassurance that the God who spoke to him from the burning bush, the God who got this whole exodus from Egypt started, will still go with him, as he tries to lead the people through the wilderness, so he makes a request of God.
18 Moses said, “Show me your glory, I pray.” (Exod. 33)
The Lord responds:
20 “you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live.” 21 And the LORD continued, “See, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock; 22 and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; 23 then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen.” (Exod. 33)
Moses alone was given that glimpse of the back God, but his glory of his face is too intense for human eyes – indeed, it would be fatal.But it fell to Moses to attempt to explain to the Hebrew people who this God is, who was so glorious. I can hear them asking the question, “Creator of the world, fine, but what is that to us, to me? Why did he set us free; what does he want with us?”
What words could Moses use to describe the Word that created the world that would explain why God would want to come down with power and rescue Hebrew slaves from Pharaoh’s heavy hand? How do you explain “glory”?
Grace and Truth
In the very next scene, in which Moses is there on the mountain, receiving the tablets of stone on which God has inscribed his Torah, the Lord shows himself again to Moses, and this time, gives him the script he will use to define him to his own people:
6 The LORD passed before him, and proclaimed,“The LORD, the LORD,a God merciful and gracious,slow to anger,and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, (Exod. 34)
God’s glory, his awesomeness, his utter infinity is indeed terrifying in essence, but his purpose is not to leave us like a bunch of awe-struck shepherds, but to lead us to freedom. Why should the God of Glory care about us? Because he is a God of steadfast love and faithfulness. After Moses heard those words and recounted the Lord’s self-definition to the people, that two-word phrase, steadfast love and faithfulness, was remembered and repeated again and again throughout the Old Testament. For example, Psalm 86:15
But you, O Lord, are a God… abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.
Another way to translate “steadfast love and faithfulness” into English is “grace and truth”. If you come to Thursday Bible Study you know that “steadfast love” in Hebrew is chesed, which is most often translated “grace” in an ancient Greek version (the LXX). “Truth” here is like “true love”, a faithful partner; faithfulness. Steadfast love and faithfulness becomes grace and truth.God shows Moses a glimpse of his glory, and defines himself as a God full of “steadfast love and faithfulness,” or “grace and truth.”
Ready to hear John
Now we are prepared to hear what John was trying to tell us. Now we can see why he started the story of Jesus back with the Word at the Big Bang of Creation when Glory burst into the darkness and brought forth life and light.This glorious God has now done something incredible. It was unbelievable that he would rescue Hebrew slaves from Pharaoh, set them free, and give them his Torah, his law, through Moses – that was a huge testimony to his “grace and truth”. But now, something more awesome than that has happened. John tells us:
14And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.
The Word that created the world became flesh! Now we, unlike Moses in the cleft of the rock, can look at his face and see the Glory of God and not die! Now we see for ourselves that he is indeed full of grace and truth,” “steadfast love and faithfulness.”This is how you tell the story of Jesus! John continues:
17The torah, the law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.
Jesus is God’s grace and truth in action, in flesh, showing us what we have longed for all these years: to see God – to know God, to understand the glorious God of Creation; to know who he is and what he wants from us.Who he is, is God Almighty, and what he wants is what he as always wanted: to redeem us from oppression, to set us free from the clutches of evil, to liberate us from our envy and blaming, our guilt and shame, our selfishness, our anxiety and fear, all those enslaved parts of ourselves.
The 2010 Story
This is the Jesus story for us in 2010. Jesus came down to us, “his own” as John tells it. We sinful people did not recognize him – we killed him. But God raised him to life, opening the door to everyone to see him as he his: Jesus, the glory of God in the flesh, full of grace and truth.
Here is how the story unfolds in 2010, and we are in it. We who have seen the glory of God in Jesus have been called to put our faith in him, to believe in him; to cast in our lot with him, to utterly throw our lives upon his grace and truth, his steadfast love and faithfulness.
This is a new year, a new decade, a new chapter in my life and in your life, a new moment in the story that stretches back to creation.
How will this story go? May this be the chapter in which we, the characters see the glory of God in Jesus, and cast ourselves upon his grace and truth.How will this show itself? The story will go like this:
In 2010 they were people who dedicated themselves to “Loving God, to Growing in Faith, and to Sharing Christ’s Love” as our mission statement proclaims.The story of 2010 will say, “They “loved God” in their worship and prayer, in their singing and in their dedication. They “grew in faith” in their Sunday School classes, in their Bible study groups and in their home-based small groups, becoming real disciples of Jesus. They “shared Christ’s love” through word and deed, with their mouths, their money, their time, and they even sacrificed each of these so that others would experience God’s love through them!That is the way the chapter of the story we are starting will go. Let us dedicate ourselves in this moment, at the start of this year and this decade, to the God of glory who we have come to recognize in Jesus, our Lord, casting ourselves upon his grace and truth.