Saturday, November 30, 2013

How Do You Start The Story and What Does That Say? From Eternity To Here (Part 1) John 1:1-18

Where do you start the story and what does that say?

Orson Well’s classic movie ‘Citizen Kane’ starts outsides the gates. We stare through the bars into this mysterious mansion. There is one light in the window of an upstairs room. Slowly the camera moves us into that room and we witness the dying words of it occupant “Rose Bud”. For the rest of the movie we hear testimony about this influential newspaper tycoon’s life.  What does rose bud mean, can it unlock the conundrum, the paradox of citizen Kane, can it take us past the gates to understand the man.

Where do you start the story and what does it say?

In 1977 we were introduced to the star wars universe. The Twentieth century fox logo, then a quick title frame announcing this is a Lucasfilm production.  A blank screen and then those words ‘A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away accompanied by that now famous fanfare’. But wait this is episode four the new hope… as the scene is set in that most iconic roll up of words.

We would have to wait twenty one years… when people lined up round the block at cinemas, paid their money went in sat down and watched the movie trailer, then left before the main feature, went outside and lined up all over again. Another set of words “every generation has its legend… every journey has its first step… every saga has a beginning” and amidst snippets of the movie, setting the scene, we witness that moment when Anacin Skywalker is introduced to Obi wan Kenobi.

In an interview George Lucas gave about the launch of Episode one he said “in 1977 the movie going public was not ready for the dark story of the fall of Anacin Skywalker, so he started in episode IV and told the story of his redemption, now he believed they were ready” … and of course us sci-fi buffs love a good prequel.

Where do you start the story and what does that say?

All of the gospels choose to start the story of Jesus Christ in different places and different ways. This year, I want to invite you to reflect on and prepare for celebrating the coming of Christ by looking at how John chooses to start the story of Jesus and what that has to say to us. The series is called from Eternity to Here, because John invites us to go way back… beyond the stable in Bethlehem, beyond angelic visitations to Mary and Joseph, beyond Zechariah, John the Baptists father, back even beyond Jesus whakapapa, that links him to king David and to Abraham  all the way back… to stare off into the eternity of “in the beginnings” and to see that in Jesus; the Word that was, that was with God and that was God, came here, he took on flesh and dwelt amongst us. Showing us what God is like and bringing his truth and grace in all its fullness to us.

In the beginnings, echoes the words of Genesis 1;1 and invites  us to see that here is a continuation of the story of God. The focus just like in Genesis is first and foremost on God. On God who was there before anything else. But John introduces us first and foremost to The Word. RVG Tasker says that the unique contribution of the prologue of the gospel of John is that “it reveals the Word of God not merely as an attribute of God, but as a distinct person within the Godhead, dwelling with the creator before creation began.” John starts his gospel by pointing to Jesus divine origins.

Logos is the Greek translated here as Word, and in our text orientated western world we may have the idea of a written word, but Leonard sweet, says that we miss something of what is portrayed here and maybe we would be best to think of the voice of God, or even the song of God. He tells a joke to illustrate how this fits with the incarnation. A church receptionist used to answer the phone “Jesus loves You, Alice speaking, can I help you ” one day she was very tired and got confused so she answered the phone “Alice loves you, Jesus speaking, can I help you.” As you’d expect there was silence on the other end of the phone for a moment and then the person replied “I thought you’d sound different”. Maybe we are not ready for God’s word to speak in a human voice but he does.

There is lots of Greek philosophical background that goes with the word Logos, its used in the work of Plato, but today I want to focus on three uses of Word in the Old Testament.  

Firstly, as in Genesis we know that God spoke and it came into being.  Here John points to the fact that the Word was the agent through which God created everything. It affirms the pre-existence and uniqueness of the Word, as not being made, of always being with God and also of the hand the word had in creating. But also here there is new hope, the dawn of new beginnings and new creation, the voice of God does not stop being the creative force in the universe. Remember this Easter we looked at John’s account of the resurrection and we saw again the echoes of Genesis… “In the garden” , “On the First Day”… This creation renewal echoes to the very end of the story a, in Revelation 21, the one seated on the throne proclaims behold I make all things new.’

The voice and Word of God speaks of God’s self-revelation. The Word, says John, is the Light of all mankind. We see the light but also by the Light we are able to see. John tells us that in the Word made flesh we see the glory of God, the father. We see the weighty reality of who God is and what he is like. It goes on to tell us why the word made flesh, now talked about as God’s Son, is able to show us what God is like …he has come from the very bosom of God. No one has seen God but the Word is able to show us what God is like because of the depth and intimacy of their relationship with one another. That would have been a special idea for John to use because in his own gospel he talks about resting his head on the bosom of Jesus at the last supper. He Can tell us of Jesus because he has been that close, Jesus can tell us of God’s truth and grace because he is that close. Sadly John’s prologue also introduces us to the fact that God came to his own and they would not receive him. They preferred the darkness to the light.

In the Jewish scriptures God speaking is also the way in which he is able to achieve his purposes and plans in history, his saving actions. Isaiah 55 tells us that just like the snow and rain does not return to the heavens without watering the earth so God’s word does not return to him without achieving all that God has purposed for it. In John’s gospel Jesus last word on the cross is ‘it is finished.’

God’s word says John brings life. In creation it is seen as the source of life for all living things. For all those who received the word made flesh John tells us he gives the right to become the sons and daughters of the God most high. Not children by natural means, not because they belonged to a certain family but because of the action of God himself.

All this may seem rather esoteric, high flying ivory tower theology. Some scholars see these verses as originally being poetry, full of metaphor and motif, word pictures that draw us deeper and deeper. Eugene Patterson in his paraphrase of the bible “the message” actually puts the prologue in poetic verse. Others see this as like a mighty ocean of theology which we have not yet totallyplumed the depth of. Can I say this morning it feels like we’ve just dipped our feet into it. But Paul Metzger says John does not allow us to simply know an egg head God an ivory tower deity, who speaks in theory and abstract and ideas. Who invites us to contemplate and know about him. It does not invite us to consider the triune God as some sort of mathematical equation  1+1+1=1. You can’t put God on a shelf in a dusty tome to gather dust.

At the heart of this passage and the heart of the Gospel is that this word put on flesh and comes looking for us. Come looking to know us and be known by us. In scripture the idea of knowing someone is personal and participatory and in the word made flesh God comes and dwells in our neighbourhood.  God comes and experiences our world, our joys our sorrows, and invites us to know him and enter his new world.  “Take note” says Metzger… “That Jesus as the word of God is by no means egg headed but soft hearted. Jesus is no mathematical puzzle but a living person longing for loving communion with his creation, making us children of God. “

How do you start the story and what does that say?

Star wars starts a Long time ago in a galaxy far, far away’ and the story takes place stays in that distant place. While John starts in the beginnings, the reality is that it steps into our world in the person of Jesus Christ, and God invites us to know him and join our story to his. It steps into our universe and our times with the hope of new life. Not to a cinema near you but into our very lives.

How do you start the story and what does it say.

Citizen Kane ends where it begins with us outside the gate once again and while we know what the word rosebud means it does not help us to understand the aloof mysterious Kane. The Word made flesh leaves no doubt about God and his love for us. It does not leave us far off or outside the gate. The word made flesh, gives those who believe in him the right to be called sons and daughters of the most high God. it to finishes where it starts in eternity, with Christ in his father’s house if we receive the Word made flesh.  

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