Merry Christmas! Jesus is here! Read on as we celebrate the final part of the miracle of God moving into the neighborhood. Blessings to you today.
Rejoice: God Moved into the Neighborhood
For the past few weeks, during what is traditionally called the season of Advent, we have been working through a series on Sunday mornings called “God Moved into the Neighborhood.” The whole idea of this series has been that when our world was broken beyond the ability to repair itself, God moved into the neighborhood in the person of Jesus Christ in order to transform it to once again have the glory it was always designed to bear. We’ve done this in part by working through the introduction to Jesus’ close friend, John’s, memoir of his time with Him. This magnificent piece of Scripture revealed that Jesus was God, that He came to shine light on this world in order that we might see it more clearly, that if we walk in His light we will become fully ourselves, and that His ultimate gift to us is knowledge of God. In unpacking all these marvelous truths, however, I intentionally skipped over one that is perhaps most marvelous of all. It’s phrasing in the Message translation of John is actually where I got the title for the whole series. Listen to how John puts this in v. 14: “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son. Generous inside and out, true from start to finish.”
Have you ever started working on something only to watch it become a train wreck right in front of your eyes? I am a details guy. I really enjoy doing projects that involve a lot of careful detail work. One particular type of project that fits this mold is cross-stitching. When you cross stich you have to be really careful to count your squares just right and if you miss even the smallest detail the picture really doesn’t work. Well, when I was growing up I got into cross-stitching for a while. I did a couple of small, easy projects and had a lot of fun with them. This, however, only served to give me a little too much confidence. I talked my mom into getting me a much larger, more complex project to try. She successfully talked me out of two or three before I convinced her to get one. I started it just like the others and was doing fine. But then I hit a snag. I had missed a count somewhere along the way and the picture was off. I took a few minutes and undid the several rows I already had in place and started over again. In the process, though, I missed another spot and didn’t notice…until much later. I let it go because it was going to be way too much work to try and fix it, but the perfectionist in me couldn’t look away from the glaring mistake. Eventually, I made another mistake. Then another. Then another. And gradually it became clear that this project was not going to work out. I had a really grand vision for it, but it was not living up to that vision. It was a train wreck. I had two choices: go through the painstaking process of scrubbing the whole thing clean and starting over; or throw the thing away and buy another one. I’m not a terribly patient person now and I only had about a quarter of the patience then that I do now so, yeah, I went with the second option. But, I was working with a $15-20 piece of woven cloth, thread, and a needle. It was cheap stuff and in the long run it really didn’t matter if I threw it away. Investing the amount of myself in that project that it would have taken to get it just right would not have been a wise use of my time…or so I thought then anyway.
But what about if you are dealing with a human train wreck. I know of a couple whose son was really a model kid the whole time he was growing up. He was active in their church, polite, a great student. He went off to college and started studying nuclear engineering. He even had gotten some interest from the Navy. His path really was wide open with possibilities. But then they started getting some reports that he was engaging in some pretty self-destructive behavior. They heard stories of substance abuse. And then he disappeared for a week. Nobody knew where he was. He eventually turned up several hundred miles from where anybody expected him to be. His life was becoming a total train wreck. What do you do then? Do you throw him away like a cheap cross-stitch kit? Or do you start investing in him to help him straighten his life out again. What would you do if he were your son? Maybe you’ve already walked this path. This couple admirably, courageously took the second option. They got him in a treatment program. He did okay for a while until he fell off the wagon again. Then he disappeared for a while again. He threatened suicide a few times. He attempted a time or two. They made mad dashes of hundreds of miles to get to him before he could do something he couldn’t undo. He spent some time in jail. They got him in another treatment program. He repeated the destructive steps. He loved them. He hated them. They put him in yet another program, this time all the way across the country. Then another halfway back. Then another. Today, he’s still not really that much better. He’s been stable for a while, but he’s got a lot further to go before anybody is going to trust him again. There has certainly been the temptation to pitch him in the trash and forget about him. But he’s their son. They didn’t go buy him at a store for $15. They made him. They’re already invested and will do whatever it takes to recoup what they’ve put in him because they love him. They’ve lived out God’s love to Him and He will bless them for it.
When God created the world He declared over and over and over again how good it was. Then He made you and me and said, “Whoa! I’ve outdone myself now. These new creatures who are bearers of my very image are very good.” And then there was that thing with the snake in the Garden. And the first murder. And then things got bad enough that He just nearly did start over. But that didn’t really work. Eventually the whole thing became a train wreck that’s been rolling along in super slow motion ever since. We call this train wreck sin and it has pretty well made a mess of, well, everything. And it’s getting worse. The 20th century was the most violent and destructive century in the whole history of humanity by several orders of magnitude. Terrorists are constantly coming up with creative new ways to kill people in order to convince us to worship their god. Every single day it seems we hear about someone else who’s been diagnosed with cancer. Families agonize over the destructive, heart-wrenching impact of Alzheimer’s all the time. Parents lose their jobs, then their power, then their houses. Kids go hungry all over the world. Our world is broken. What’s more, in spite of our best efforts, we don’t have the ability to repair it. Otherwise, you kind of think we would have by now.
Around the turn of the 20th century many people thought we did indeed possess such power…until a Serbian nationalist assassinated Archduke Ferdinand, Hitler’s Third Reich overran Europe and murdered 6 million Jews, and the combined power of Stalin and Mao ended the lives of around 100 million people who didn’t agree with them. After that we pretty much gave up on the idea that we could fix the problems. Now, at least in this country, we have mostly given ourselves over to Mammon and living life however we please in hopes of deadening the pain of the brokenness. And we are more and more quick to silence the voices of those who remind us that there may be a cost to living however we please.
This is the world God created to be a perfect reflection of Himself. What is He to do? Scrap the whole thing and start over? Throw it all away and forget about it? That might be true, but it’s not grace. Should He just let us go our own way and generally work to keep the consequences at a minimum? That might be grace, but it’s not true. And as we talked about this very morning, we serve the God who is full of grace and truth. So what is God to do? Well friends, that’s not quite the right question. The right question is this: What has God already done? I read it to you before, but hear it again: “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.” When our world was broken beyond the ability to repair itself, God moved into the neighborhood. He did this in the person of Jesus Christ.
When this world was broken, God didn’t abandon it. He invested Himself even more fully in it than He had already done by coming into it Himself in order to save it from the inside out. The God who is full of grace and truth came in order to make a definitive statement: the brokenness is not and will not be the final state of things. We’ve heard this great truth already this evening. A day is coming when he will wipe every tear from our eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. This is the hope we have because God moved into the neighborhood. The God who is full of grace and truth, who is Savior and Lord, entered this world as a helpless baby in order to transform it fully into what He designed it to be from the beginning. This is the hope of Christmas: God moved into the neighborhood. He came once to start the transformation and He will come again to complete it. The only question remaining is whether or not you will be a part of His work. Will you receive the knowledge of God He brought with Him and step into eternal life? Will you celebrate the birth of the Savior and Lord or merely the giving of trinkets whose worth and last are small? Will you walk in the light that He came to shine when He arrived in order to become more fully yourself, or will you keep walking the path of ease in hopes of deadening the pain of the brokenness you just can’t escape? Friends, God moved into the neighborhood. He’s here and He’s not leaving. God moved into the neighborhood. Let us celebrate this together with thanksgiving and joy!