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The Rev. Dr. Clayton Schmit The Rev. Dr. Clayton Schmit
The Rev. Dr. Clayton J. Schmit is provost of Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary of Lenoir-Rhyne University in Columbia, SC.

Member of:

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Representative of:

Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary at Lenoir-Rhyne University, Columbia, SC


Knowing the Heart of God

John 1:1-5,10-14,16-18

2nd Sunday after Christmas - Year C

January 03, 2016

1In 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,[a] and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. 10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. 14 And 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. 16 From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 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.

 

Dear Friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Heavenly Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

With the words of Christmas Carols still ringing in our ears on this 10th day of Christmas, today we hear some other familiar words of poetry: "In the beginning was the Word," says John. You have to wonder why he uses this image to describe Christ. Words are so. . . so ordinary: we say them, we sing them, we shout them, we write them, we email them, and we broadcast them. We have good words and bad words, big words and small words, kind words, funny words, clever words, thoughtful words; and, as my family reminds me, I sometimes like to have the last word. It might seem that word is too ordinary a concept to be used to contain the truth about the Son of God.

But when we look more closely, it seems that John has chosen just the right metaphor with which to speak of Christ. What do words do? They reveal something about one person to another. If I use words to express what is on my mind or in my heart, you will begin to know me and understand me. Even as I speak to you now, I use these words and you begin to know what I have in mind about this Gospel message today.

Words do this: they share what is inside of one person with the interior of another. When you hear what I feel or believe, it might also become something that you feel or believe. Or you can tell me with your own words how you react to my words. There is a musical term that describes this. It's called resonance. In my living room, I have two large musical instruments on opposite sides of the room. One is a piano. The other is a stand-up bass violin. Now, if I go to the piano and rather loudly strike the low E note (BUMMMMMM), a strange and wonderful thing happens on the other side of the room. Without any manipulation, the low E string on the bass violin starts to hum along. Sympathetic resonance it's called. The bass hears something it relates to from the inside of the piano and responds to it from deep within itself. Deep calls to deep, as the psalmist said.

So it is with words. Through them, we resonate, we connect with others.

This works with people, but it also works with God. In our prayers, we use our simple words to express what is on our hearts: how we feel, what we are thankful for, what we are fearful of, what we need, what we long for. With words, we tell God what is inside of us.

And how does God reveal what is inside of God's own self? Through the Word, John tells us. Through the Word that "was in the beginning, that was with God and that was God." Through this Word, we know the heart of God. As John reminds us, "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 Word that John tells us about is not a specific word, not only for one time and place, not for only one people in a single language. It is a universal word for every time and place and every people in each language. And when the Word became flesh to dwell among us, it was among us all and for us all that he made his place on earth. The life he lived among us was just the kind of Living Word that was needed for us to understand what God had to say about God's self to us.

What does the writer John help us to know about the interior of God? Well, he says, "all things were made through him." He tells us that God is the great creative power that has caused all things to come into being: all the rocks and trees and babbling brooks, all the oceans and creatures within them, all the air and the sky, all that resides within the vast heavens, all things that might be located on the massive planets in the endless universe. Our God is a powerful and creative God with a longing for life. "In him was life," says John, "and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it." The Word is the "true light that enlightens everyone," John says, revealing that God is the source of the depths of all knowledge. To know God and to understand God's desire to commune with people is the deepest wisdom, the most profound truth. So to summarize, creativity and life and knowledge are all part of the heart of God.

And there is more, John tells us. The Word is full of grace and truth. In the life of Jesus, we have a living language that we can all understand, we have seen his grace in action: concern for the ill and the lonely, care for the sinner and the righteous alike, preference for the humble and an aversion to the proud, love for all people, even those who persecute and hate. We in America have had a recent vision of what this looks like because we have come to know Pope Francis as a man after Jesus' own heart. We saw in his visit with us last fall how he traveled humbly, spoke gently, and reached out to the very lowest among us. When he stopped his little car to get out to kiss a paraplegic man, it was like seeing Jesus walk among us.

The Person of Jesus is God's Word, and he was sent to live among us to make us understand in a living language that is most understandable that we are God's and that God is ours. Jesus helps us to see that there is some grand resonance between God's heart and our own hearts when we listen for the Word he offers. Jesus strikes the note, and our hearts hum along.

But there is also a great tragedy that John reminds us of in another stanza of his great Christmas carol. "He was in the world and the world was made through him, but the world knew him not. He came to his own home and his own people received him not," John says. The tragedy is not so much that his own people did not know him. The tragedy is not that the priest of his own chosen people hated him. These things were part of the grand scheme by which was revealed God's love. And if the Word Jesus had not been slain to be raised from the dead on Easter, we would not know the fullness of the love in God's heart.

No, the real tragedy is that even now, even after the victory is won over death and the price has been paid for the salvation of all people, still, still, the world knows him not.

The Word for many is difficult to hear. And even when it is spoken in their language, some people refuse to understand it. It can be a hard Word to hear because even as the Word reveals the brilliant light that shines from the heart of God, it reveals the darkness that lies at the heart of every person. While some seek eagerly to resonate with that light, it is not in tune with everyone.

  • The Word is too confining for those who think that freedom is having the choice to  make all the wrong choices;

  • it is unimaginable for those who believe that they are so wretched that not even   God could forgive them;

  • it is too gracious for those who are intent on hating;

  • it is too simple for those who try to figure everything out for themselves

  • and too complex for those who think they have it all figured out.

The tragedy is that no matter how purely God seeks to make God's self known, there are still those who know him not.

And yet the Word that is too difficult to understand for some is so sweetly and simply grasped by others. What is tragedy for one is comedy to another because the Word is something that is too good to be true. As John says, "from his fullness have we all received grace upon grace."

That's it: grace upon grace, love heaped upon love, light brighter than light, truth more evident than truth, life larger and grander and more fulfilling than life itself.

And best of all, grace and truth and love and life and light and wisdom for you. As Luther said, the best part of the Gospel message is that it is for you. All of these treasures from the heart of God given in harmonic resonance to you. Jesus is the Word: we hear it and we know God. Jesus is a symphony: we listen and we hum with his love.

Now, all of my friends who are English teachers are cringing at the mixing of all of these metaphors. But Jesus cannot be captured by any one word or image. We need many of them. John goes on in his Gospel to use man images himself. Jesus is the Way or the Truth or the Life. Jesus is the Living Bread, the Living Water, the Good Shepherd. We need all these words and more. Indeed, if all his deeds were to be written, as John says in the final words of his Gospel, the world itself could not hold all of the words and all of the books.

Dear friends in Christ, hear the Word and rejoice with Christmas praises because this Word is for you. It longs to resonant within you, and for all who receive him, who believe in his name, they receive the power to become the children of God and to be in tune with the heart of God.

Let us pray: O Loving Word: your poetry is nothing less than the outpouring of the heart of God. As we embark upon this new year of 2016, let this nation hear your Word as never before. Let every Christian within the sound of this broadcast find resonance with you. Only you can reach the hearts of the people of this land. And we can serve as the living poetry of your Word. Because you are for us, send us to be for others; and as we love them, we pray that they may see and hear not our actions and words, but your Word of grace and truth. We pray this in the name of Jesus Christ, who in the beginning was with God and who is now and will be forever the God of Life. Amen.

 


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