Come By Here | Patrick Ryan – Psalm 27 and John 1:1-18 – 12/4/16
We’re singing during the sermon this morning. If you would open your hymnals to #338, we will sing one verse at a time at different times during the sermon. The hymn is Kum By Yah, but we’re gonna sing it this morning with one little tweak. Kum By Yah, translated into English, means Come By Here, so I invite you with each verse to sing the words Come By Here with me.
There are 3 birth narratives recorded in the Gospels. We know, of course, about two of them. We read them every Christmas. They’re the ones every Christmas Pageant and every nativity set is based on: the Maji from Matthew—gold, frankincense, and myrrh; the shepherds kneeling and the cattle lowing come from Luke’s version of the story. But John’s gospel has a birth narrative, too. But the birth story that John is most interested isn’t Jesus’—it’s ours!
The true light that shines on all people was coming into the world.
That’s it. That’s all that John has to say about Jesus birth. Only 13 words.
Let’s look at the next 4 verses, 10-13:
The light was in the world, and the world came into being through the light, but the world didn’t recognize the light. The light came to his own people, and his own people didn’t welcome him. But those who did welcome him, those who believed in his name, he authorized to become God’s children, born not from blood nor from human desire or passion, but born from God.
None of that has anything to say about Jesus’ birth. But it has everything to do with our birth.
In the person of Jesus Christ, we can be born in a spiritual way, so that we have eyes to see the world in a different way—that God’s presence and fingerprints are all over this world, that God has come to give us second birth so that we may really live. We are born not from blood or from human desire or passion (those are all way to describe our normal conception and birth), but instead we are born from God, and it is in that spiritual birth that we have and live a new life in Christ. That’s the kind of birth John is most interested in this Advent. Not Jesus’, but ours. With this Jesus, God has come close so that we may become something new. God becomes human so we can have a newly-birthed vision.
That’s the miracle and message of Advent. In Jesus, God has come by here.
Join me in singing verse 1 of Come By Here.
Advent also means making space for God to arrive. This is a season to move around the furniture of— and remove all the clutter in—our hearts, our minds, our lives, so that God has space to arrive—to be Emmanuel, God with us and for us. But the greatest news of all is that God is up to something much bigger than that. Christmas isn’t so much about Christ being born inside us as it is about the coming of Christ into the world. As I mentioned last week, Advent is an invasion. It’s the time for God to take over. And God doesn’t merely want to move into the room we make inside of ourselves. That’s way too small an idea—and way too small a space for our infinite and immeasurable God. God wants to take over the earth! In the Message translation of v.14, Presbyterian pastor Eugene Peterson, puts it this way:
The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.
Christmas is God ringing the front door bell, dropping His luggage on the front porch of the world, and telling every single one of us that he’s not here to visit. He’s here to move in. For good! So we better make space for him. Advent is God telling us to skootch over on the couch a bit so there’s a spot for Him right next to us! Advent is the world’s chance—every heart’s chance—to prepare Him room.
In the person of Jesus, God has—and still does—come by here!
Join me in singing verse 2 of Come By Here.
Advent is when we ask for God to come close, and Christmas is the rude invasion of the Divine into our neighborhoods! But our making space for God to dive headfirst into our lives means that God takes a huge risk.
Advent exists because our Creator God risks becoming a part of His own creation. It’s when God, the Divine Artist, dives into His own painting. Christmas is when the Infinite becomes finite. When the Immutable becomes vulnerable. When the One who is Eternal Life finds out what it’s like to be mortal. When the Invisible One takes on skin—sees through watery eyes and hears with fleshy ears.
Christmas means God becomes an infant who cries, needs His mother to feed Him from her body. This infant will grow into a man who will shed salty tears when his best friend Lazarus dies. He will shed more of them when those He called His friends betray Him. Later, He will shed blood when cross and crown splinter the surface of his skin. God knows life and He knows death, and in His being born and in His dying, God through Christ walks with us through this life. Right by our side. Come hell or high water. He’s never run away from trouble. He’ll never leave our side.
I have a friend who has displayed this Divine truth to me—this kind of hell or high water faithfulness. This “stick-by-you-no matter-what-edness” that we’re talking about. But in order to tell that story, I need to back up a bit to my elementary school days. We’d go on field trips—to the park, the Capitol building in Richmond, even DC. Let’s say I was in the 4th grade. Maybe three foot ten on tip-toes. On field trips like these, there’s a ton of walking involved, and even though I was supposed to be buddied-up for safety, my buddy would always grow impatient with my short and slow steps, so he was always ahead of me. I could never keep up with my schoolmates or my teachers. I got used to walking far behind others. That’s just the way it was. Patrick’s pulling up the rear again!
Fast-forward to high school. My best friend’s name was Erica. She was here two weeks ago for the wedding. On a trip to Montreat our Freshman year—with a lot of walking and a lot of mountains!—she and I would walk together from one place to another, and she noticed my tendency to walk behind her, even when we weren’t walking all that fast, even when there was plenty of room for me right beside her, I stayed in back of her.
At the end of our week together, she bought me a gift. It was a little plastic card, something I could carry with me in my wallet. It said,
Do not walk ahead of me. Do not walk behind me. Walk beside me, and be my friend.
And in that moment, and for many years after that, through her presence, Erica would show me what the presence of God was like—it was like a best friend who wants me to walk right beside her! In Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, God walks with us, beside us, stride for stride. With him, we will never walk alone. In the person of Jesus, God has—and still does—come beside us!
Join me in singing verse 3 of Come By Here.
As we sing our songs this Advent, we praise God for all the ways He has become fully known to us. The heavens were full of angel song that first Christmas, and they still are. Advent is when we take time to pay attention to the way all of creation both sings and echoes God’s praise. If anything is true about the first song that John the gospel writer sings, it’s that Christ was God’s first song. That Christ existed in the heart of God from the very start.
It’s no accident that the first three words of John’s gospel are “In the beginning,” the same three words than begin the book of Genesis. With those words, the 4th gospel declares two cosmic truths at once—that Christ was with God before the very first word that brought creation into being, and that with the coming of Christ to earth in the person of Jesus, God renews creation, starts over again—breathes life into all things now just as He did at the very beginning of time.
With the incarnation of Jesus, God declares to us that every aspect of our human lives matter to God because He has lived this human life with us. Its ups and downs, its hardships and victories, in all of its confinements and confoundments, God promises to be Emmanuel, and that God declares that there is no worry too small and no challenge too great.
This is the Good News of Advent: that God in the person of Christ lives it all with us, right by our side, sharing life with us, stride for stride. Advent is that song we hear and the heavens echo that promises us that our lives and our prayers are heard and understood by a God who has ears—ears that were once shaped just like ours, that God listens intently because God loves us and understands us intimately. And with Him here as our Emmanuel, we will never walk alone.
Join me in singing verse 4 of Come By Here.
In the person of Jesus, God has—and still does—come by here!
All praises to the One who made it all and finds it beautiful!