That Grinchy Frown
We hear a lot in the news about distracted driving, don’t we? And it isn’t just cell phones. Before cell phones were a thing, people would put their make up on while driving, or they’d be messing with the radio or whatever. But driving isn’t the only thing we do in a distracted way. How many of us are distracted eaters? You’re like, “What in the heck is distracted eating?” Well, let me ask you, how many of us watch TV while we’re eating dinner? How about eating while we’re driving? That’s like doubling up on the whole distracted thing – distracted eating AND distracted driving. What about eating and reading, or putting on makeup, or walking the dog, or sitting at your desk working?
So what’s the big deal about distracted eating? I mean, we get distracted driving, right? Taking your eyes off the road for any period of time while driving a heavy vehicle at 55 mph (and honestly, who drives 55 anymore?) is a bad thing. You could seriously hurt, even kill yourself or someone else. But what’s the big deal about distracted eating? Well, psychologists tell us that eating while doing something else dampens our perception of taste. Whatever we’re eating tastes blander. Because of that, we crave stronger tastes, tastes enhanced by salt and sugar, and we end up eating more than we would if we were simply eating and enjoying our meal.
Distraction does the same thing to our celebration of Christmas. It’s so easy to get caught up in all of the decorations and parties and lights and music and food and gifts and shopping and kind of get side-tracked. Its like we get to early January and we’re like, “What exactly happened over the past few weeks? We were celebrating something, but what was it?” We’ve eaten a lot of food. Had lots of parties and gatherings. Given and received lots of gifts. Argued with family members. But why?
Today we’re wrapping up our advent sermon series, “Keeping the Grinch out of Christmas.” The BUSYNESS of this season can lead to our being OVERWHELMED by it all, and that can bring out the Grinch in the best of us. For others, it’s the LONELINESS of the season that brings out the Grinch. You know, they think back to celebrations in the past where they were surrounded by family and friends, with kids running around all excited, and now they’re alone. Many of our older members whose families no longer live nearby get lonely at Christmas. Or maybe, like the little boy Billy in the movie “The Polar Express,” Christmas just doesn’t work out for us because of our life situation, because of poverty or sickness or loss. Loneliness can bring out the Grinch in all of us. Feeling overwhelmed can bring out the Grinch too. And if all of the busyness doesn’t overwhelm you, it can certainly distract you, cause you to loose sight of the reason we do all this stuff to begin with. And so overwhelmed and lonely and distracted, the Grinch comes out.
But the truth is, the Grinch isn’t just a Christmastime problem. He can rear his ugly green head at any time during the year, anytime that life overwhelms us, anytime we’re lonely, anytime we’re distracted and lose our sense of purpose and meaning, the purpose and meaning we have in Christ. So two weeks ago we looked at being overwhelmed by the season, or by life in general. And last week we looked at loneliness. And you can find both the manuscripts and the audio files of those sermons on our web site, christchurchtraversecity.com. The manuscript is set to go up automatically sometime between noon and 1 pm each Sunday, shortly after our worship service ends, and the audio file is connected usually by mid-week. So if you missed one or if you want to listen to one again, you can find them there. And that goes for any guest speakers we have too, although with them its usually just the recording of the message. So Jackie Kaschel’s incredible message from last January, about brokenness and healing in her own life, is there. So is 1 Sgt. Alvin Eldridge’s Veteran’s Day message and John West’s most recent message too.
So today, we’re looking at distraction, and I want to invite you all to turn with me to the opening of John’s Gospel, John 1:1. In the four gospels that open the New Testament in your Bible, we have four perspectives on the life, the death, and the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, which is simply the Greek translation of the Hebrew word for Messiah. It isn’t a name, it’s a title. And we have those four perspectives because there isn’t any way that all that Christ is could be accurately captured by one person’s perspective anyway, even if that person was writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. So Mark was the earliest gospel written, and is also the shortest, and Mark emphasizes the servanthood of Christ. Next came Matthew and Luke. Matthew emphasizes the kingship of Christ and Luke emphasizes his manhood, his humanity. That’s why Luke records more of his healing miracles than any other gospel writer. And John, the last one to be written, probably around 60 years after the time of Christ’s ministry on earth, emphasizes the divine nature of Christ – his Godhood.
And Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John also each begin their gospel writings in different ways. Mark begins with the gospel itself being proclaimed. Mark picks things up at about the time of the ministry of John the Baptist. Matthew and Luke both begin with the birth of Christ, but they do so in different ways. Luke’s intro to the life of Christ is probably the most popular of the birth narratives. He starts with appearances by angels and shepherds and a trip to Bethlehem and a baby born in a place where animals were kept. Matthew actually starts with the human genealogy of Christ back through King David all the way to Abraham. Remember, he emphasizes the kingship of Christ. While Mark skips the whole birth and childhood thing altogether and Matthew and Luke tell the story of the birth of Christ in one way or another, John takes a different track. Where Matthew and Luke zoom way in, John pans way out. He actually tells the story of the incarnation, of God become human in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, but he does so from a cosmic perspective. He gives us the why behind all of the whats. Let’s look at John 1:1-14.
Now, if there’s one word that we have to understand in this passage, it’s the word “word.” “In the beginning was the Word.” What is this “word” that already was in the beginning? Or maybe a better question is, who is this word who already was in the beginning? You see, in our English translations of this passage, the word “word” is capitalized, almost like it’s being used to describe a personal being. And that’s exactly what it’s doing. Look down at V. 14. In Jesus, the Christ, the eternal Word has become flesh and lived among us. God himself in human form. Theologians call this the “incarnation,” God becoming human. So in the carol “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” we have the line, “Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see;
Hail, th’incarnate Deity: Pleased, as man, with men to dwell,
Jesus, our Emmanuel!” And of course “Emmanuel” means “God with us.”
The word translated as “word” here is Logos. It contains within it the idea of the mind of God – the creating, illuminating, sustaining mind of God. It’s a concept that developed over time in both Hebrew and Greek philosophy as they observed the way the world works. God spoke, and the universe came into existence. God speaks, and reveals himself and his will to us. The opening words of the book of Hebrews say, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.” Jesus, the Christ, is God’s ultimate revelation of himself and his will to us.
From the very beginning, just by his very nature, by the very fact that he has allowed himself, through creation, through Scripture, to be known, God has revealed himself as a God who desires relationship with us. From the beginning, God takes the initiative – creating, communicating, revealing himself, calling out a people for himself, drawing people into relationship with him. But here’s the thing: God already knows you. He knows everything about you. He knows every cell in your body, every thought in your mind. Jesus tells us, “Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered” (Luke 12:7). He knows it all. There is absolutely nothing in you, nothing about you that is hidden from God, even the stuff that is hidden from you! And he still loves you. And he wants you to know him. And Jesus embodies every bit of that truth. He is God in flesh and bone, and simply by being born he reveals to us a loving God who desires relationship with us.
But there’s a huge problem. Look at Vv. 10-11. You see, God knows us perfectly, he knows perfectly the mess that is us, each one of us, and still wants a relationship with us. He wants us to know him. But we don’t want anything to do with him. The great scholar N.T. Wright said, “Christmas is not about the living God coming to tell us everything’s all right. John’s gospel isn’t about Jesus speaking the truth and everyone saying: “Of course! Why didn’t we realize it before?” It is about God shining his clear, bright torch into the darkness of our world, our lives, our hearts, our imaginations – and the darkness not comprehending it. It’s about God, God as a little child, speaking words of truth, and nobody knowing what he’s talking about.”[i]
Every human being has a deep, deep desire to be known as we are and loved as we are. And every human being has a deep, deep need to be saved from the mess of sin and brokenness in our lives. And God wants to meet every one of those needs for us. He wants to set us free to live in this world as his children. He wants to transform the way we relate to and love one another. He’s the best thing that could possibly happen to us, but in arrogance and fear we turn our backs on him. And he keeps on loving us. Unconditionally.
I mean, how many of us, really, view God as a God of love? Back in September of 2006, which believe it or not was 13 years ago, Sociologists from Baylor University released the results of a study looking into America’s different views of God. Part of the study was a survey conducted by the Gallup organization, which identified four distinct views of God’s personality and interaction with the world. Baylor researchers outlined the results as follows:
There are those of us who believe in an “Authoritarian God” who is “angry at humanity’s sins and engaged in every creature’s life and world affairs”: 31.4 percent.
There are those of us who believe in a “Critical God” who “has his judgmental eye on the world, but he’s not going to intervene, either to punish or comfort”: 16 percent.
There are those who believe in a “Distant God” who is more of a “cosmic force that launched the world, then left it spinning on its own”: 24.4 percent.
And then there are those of us who believe in a “Benevolent God” who is forgiving and accepting of anyone who repents: 23 percent. Less than a quarter of us believe, really believe that God loves us. But I want you to know something this morning: your mistaken belief about what God is like doesn’t change the reality of who God is or how unconditionally God loves you one little bit.
And through our BELIEF IN Christ, we are ushered into the incredible, eternal kingdom of God right now. Look at Vv. 12-13. Children of God. Citizens of the Kingdom of God here and now. And we live as citizens of HIS kingdom here and now, wherever we find ourselves on this earth and in life, even as we await the coming of the Kingdom of God in its fullness and spend eternity living, eating, breathing, playing, and working in the presence of God. Children of God – now. Citizens of the kingdom of God – now.
So normally we have a greeting time earlier in the service, right? But I wanted to bump it down in the service to right now, right here in the middle of the sermon today. I mean why not? Right? Sorry introverts. You thought you’d come to the first ever worship service where you didn’t have to talk to anyone. So here’s what I want you to do. I want you to go around and greet those seated near you right now. You know, shake their hand, fist bump, hug, smack on the back of the head, whatever works for you. But as you do that, I want you to introduce yourself as like this: “Hi, my name is Jeff, and I Jesus is proof that God is crazy about me.” No, really, that’s what I want you to do. So go.
It’s easy for the Grinch to come out in each one of us, not just at this time of Christmas craziness, but throughout the year. Sometimes the Grinch comes out because we’re overwhelmed, and we have to we give up our impulse to control things we can’t control, help others and get help from others, and let God’s faithful power flow through us.
Sometimes the Grinch comes out because we’re lonely, and we have to reach out for relationship with others, even when we don’t feel like it. We have to give up our desire to be lone rangers, and refuse to let someone else go through something alone too.
And sometimes the Grinch comes out because we’re distracted, and we have to keep Jesus, the Christ, the Eternal Word in the center of our lives, at the center of our celebration. It isn’t about ribbons and bows and music and parties and gifts. It’s about one incredible truth, revealed in Jesus Christ – that you and I are children of God, and Jesus is living proof that God is crazy about us. And THAT is reason to smile.
[i] N. T. Wright, “What Is This Word?” ChristianityToday.com (12-21-06)