Rev. Jeff Chapman ~ Faith Presbyterian Church
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
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. (John 1:1-14, NRSV)
This Advent season we have been asking the question, “What is it that we all really want for Christmas?” The candles on our advent wreath have been helping us answer that question. Three weeks ago we agreed that we want hope, not wishful thinking but a deep confidence that God will, in time, set things right in this world. Two weeks ago we remembered that we want peace, not simply the absence of conflict but a deep reconciliation that infiltrates all of creation. Last week we were reminded how we want joy, not fleeting happiness but a deep contentment that isn’t threatened by life’s circumstances.
This morning we’ll talk about the fourth gift which is, I think, the greatest gift we want this Christmas, the thing we most need from Christ, the gift of love.
When I was fourteen years old I believed I was in love. Her name was Stacy and she and her family went to my church. We became friends in youth group and it wasn’t long before I found myself thinking about Stacy probably more than I should have been thinking about Stacy. Whenever we were in the same room together my focus was on one thing. What could I do to make a positive impression on this girl? How could I dress to impress? What joke might make her laugh? Which of my accomplishments could I make sure she knew about? How could I pay enough attention without paying not too much attention? Whenever Stacy was near this was my goal, to get her to think of me in the same way I thought of her.
One day I made up my mind. I would call Stacy and ask her if she wanted to go to the movies with me. Honestly, I had no idea whether or not she would accept my invitation, but for whatever reason I felt as if I’d done just about as much groundwork as I possibly could do to give myself a decent shot. To this day I vividly remember waiting until everybody else was out of the house one afternoon, going to the phone in my parents’ back bedroom, locking the bedroom door, and then sitting down on the edge of the bed and dialing the number. 593-822…I couldn’t dial the last number. Time after time I’d slam the receiver down before dialing it. 593-822…I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t dial that last number. And you’re wondering right now how in the world I possibly could have remembered this girl’s phone number over thirty years later. I do remember it, at least the first six digits, because I must have dialed those numbers fifty times that day! From that point forward they were permanently imbedded in my memory.
I can laugh about all this now. I was not laughing then. I was this 14-year-old kid who was relatively insecure with himself, especially when it came to how the opposite sex saw me. And here I was trying to put a bit of my heart on the line, exposed and vulnerable right there over the telephone. I wasn’t exactly sure what this girl thought of me and yet I was going to call her and say, essentially, “I like you and would like to spend time with you and get to know you and see if our two lives might begin to intertwine a whole lot more than they already do.” Of course, I wasn’t going to put it in those words! All I was going to say was, “Do you want to go to the movies with me?” But she’d know what I meant. And if she didn’t feel the same way, if she didn’t put herself out there like I was putting myself out there, it was going to be a bitter pill for me to swallow.
So I don’t leave you hanging in suspense, I did finally dial that final number on the phone. And she did agree to go to the movies with me. We went. The movie was lousy. The conversation was awkward, not helped by the fact that my mother was our chauffer back and forth to the theater. In the end, I’m afraid the most I got out of the whole experience was a good story to use in a sermon 30 years later.
As human beings, we were made for relationship. We were designed by our creator to give ourselves to another who, in turn, gives themselves fully to us. As a nervous, insecure 14-year-old kid all those years ago I never would have put it to you in those words. And yet, as my sweaty hands dialed the phone that day I was trying to navigate this truth in life, this truth that I longed to have somebody willing to give themselves to me as I was willing to give myself to them. What made that experience so anxious for me was the fact that in that case I did not know if the girl on the other end of that telephone number felt about me as I felt about her. And this is how it goes in life. Whether it is in dating, or friendship, or marriage, not one of us wants to give even a piece of our heart away in a relationship to somebody who is not ready, in turn, to give a piece of their heart back to us.
The first two chapters of Genesis in the Bible give us a beautiful account of the creation of the world, an account which is full of powerful imagery meant to teach us much about who we are, who it is that made us, and why we were made. At the end of the account God has set everything exactly the way he wants it. All of creation is good and beautiful. Humanity is the crown jewel of creation set within creation. The man and woman were made in God’s image to love God and to love one another. All is as it should be as the creation account ends with these words in Genesis 2:25, “The man and his wife were both naked and unashamed.”
It might sound strange to you but this is, to me, one of the most beautiful verses in the whole Bible. From the context, we know that we are to imagine the man and the woman here physically naked. They’ve got no clothes on. And that in itself is a beautiful picture because how many of us could stand before another, perhaps even before our own spouse, physically naked and not feel even a hint of shame over what has become, or is becoming, of our bodies? So many people in this world are so ashamed of how they look.
But I believe the text here is not merely speaking of physical nakedness, but is also telling us that these people, at that time, we’re naked not only in body, but also in heart, mind and soul. Before one another and before God they were completely and absolutely exposed and yet, at the same time, completely and absolutely unashamed. Can you imagine? It’s one thing to stand unashamed before another while you are physically stripped down. It’s quite another to have every motive and intention, every thought and desire, every action past, present and future made public before God and others and still be able to stand there without even a hint of shame!
This is why I find this to be such a beautiful picture. This is a picture of the life for which we were made, a life where we find ourselves able to give ourselves fully to one another and to God and, in the giving, be completely free from shame as we find others and God giving themselves fully to us as well. We were never created to have to dress to impress.
Most of you know what happens next. The following verses in Genesis tell us how humanity turned from its Creator and worshipped, instead, the creation. Sin enters in and, along with sin comes shame. In fact, as soon as the relationship is broken, as soon as the man and woman turn their backs on God, they both become ashamed of their nakedness and rush to cover themselves immediately. Paradise is lost, and from that day forward men and women, right on down to us, have longed to find our way back to that place where we can once again stand fully exposed before God and others without shame, knowing that we have fully given ourselves to those who, in turn, fully give themselves to us. For since then all of us have, to some degree, become protective and guarded in our shame, fearful of how others and God might see us, so often burdened by the guilt and disappointment that we have not measured up.
This shame plays out in a thousand ways. What goes through your mind when you stand and look at yourself in the mirror? What keeps you up at night when you lay in bed comparing your actual life to the life you thought you might have by now? Stress and anxiety literally take a deadly toll on our bodies. So many of us are unwilling to admit weakness and ask for help. Our shame comes out in our addictions to food, or sex, or alcohol, or shopping or a thousand other things we mistakenly think will fill the ever-widening emptiness deep within. 30 years ago this shame came out in a young man too scared to make a phone call because he could barely stand the thought of giving his heart to one who quite possibly would not give hers to him in return.
To put it simply, and to get back to where it was we started, whether you know it or not all you really want this Christmas is love, to know for certain that you are, in fact, in possession of that for which you were made, which is simply to find that you have given yourself fully to another who has, in turn, given themselves fully to you. We were made for this sort of relationship where we are finally able to stand, once again, completely naked and completely unashamed.
In John 13 we read an account of the last night of Jesus’ life. He has gathered with is closest friends, the disciples, to share one final meal together. He knows that tomorrow he will die on a cross. At the end of the meal Jesus does something absolutely unexpected. He gets up from the table, takes off his robe, wraps a towel around himself, and begins to wash the feet of his friends.
Now understand, what seems strange to us would have seemed scandalous to them. In those days, it was common to have your feet washed by another but this was work reserved exclusively for slaves. In other words, only somebody who was far, far beneath you would ever wash your feet. Jesus was their master, their teacher, their Lord. This is why, as some of you remember, the disciples protest violently when Jesus tries to lower himself to such a humble place before them. In no way do they feel worthy to receive such a gift from him. They are ashamed, you might say, at the thought that one so great would do such a thing for ones so undeserving. Jesus does it anyway. To top it off, he humbly serves these men even though he knows that in a matter of hours these same men will betray him, and deny him, and abandon him during his greatest hour of need.
The footwashing, of course, is meant to point us to the greater act of humility that was to happen that next day as Jesus goes willingly to sacrifice himself on the cross for those who, again, deserved no such sacrifice. John, who is retelling the story years later, writes that in all this Jesus showed them, and us, “the full extent of love.”
This is the sort of love we see in Christ and it is a love that we do not see anywhere else in the world. Jesus sees right through us. We stand naked and exposed before him. He sees our betrayal, our denial, our selfishness, our sin. Every shameful part of you which you try to keep hidden is in plain view before Christ and, in spite of it all, he still gives himself fully to you and to us all, even to the point of death. Jesus doesn’t love us because we are lovely. He loves us because he is love and this is what he does. And since Jesus is God we learn here what might be the most important thing about God. God loves. He can do no other. He loves you as you are, stripped down with nothing to hide. He loves you even before you have ever considered loving him.
There is an insidious and dreadful lie which we all have been told. Many of us have believed it and, without realizing what we were doing, have passed it on to others. It’s a lie that has been told by countless religious people across the world and down through history. Every version of this lie boils down simply to this: there is something that you need to do to get God to love you.
I remember years ago sitting at campfire one summer the last night of church camp. The speaker had just given an impassioned presentation of the Christian Gospel. As he wrapped up his talk he asked us all to close our eyes and bow our heads. As we did he invited us to consider accepting Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. He wanted us to believe what he had just told us about Jesus. If we did believe it, he asked us to raise our hand. With ever eye still closed, he asked us to slip our hand up in the air as an indication that we believed.
All these years later I still remember sitting there thinking that I had better put my hand up. Even though I still had some questions and doubts, I felt like if I didn’t put my hand up God would somehow be displeased with me. I don’t think that’s what the speaker was trying to tell us that night but that’s the message I had in my mind because that’s the way I understood God at that point. There was something I needed to do, even if it was as simple as sticking my hand up in the air at a campfire, to get God to become my friend.
I recently read an article by Christianity Today editor Mark Galli entitled, “Already Friends of God.” One simple line in his article hit me so hard I suspect I will never forget it. “You are already a friend of God – enjoy it.” Just stop and think about that for a moment. Today as you sit here, without doing or saying a thing, or changing your life in any way whatsoever, you are already a friend of God. What you need to do now is to begin to enjoy it.
Sound too good to be true? Will you believe it if the Bible says it? Colossians 1:19-20 reads, “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” Romans 5:18 reads, “Just as [Adam’s] trespass led to condemnation for all, so [Christ’s] act of righteousness led to justification and life for all.” That’s rater inclusive, don’t you think?
Listen carefully to me so that you do not misunderstand me. The great thing that stands between us and God is not our sin. Our sin is forgiven. Christ accomplished that on the cross. With his dying breath he cried out, “It is finished!” The thing that stands between us and God is not our sin but our reluctance or refusal to simply accept the reality that we are already forgiven and loved. All of us are already friends of God. Not all of us have yet decided to enjoy it. Tragically, some people never will.
The Last Battle is the final book in C.S. Lewis’ great Chronicles of Narnia series. At the end of the book Aslan the lion, the Christ figure, returns to Narnia to finally make everything new and right again. Lewis is using his imagination to help us imagine what it might be like when Christ finally returns one day to bring heaven to earth. As the new and glorious Narnia unfolds the creatures who have not given up hope in Aslan are invited to begin to explore this new creation where sin, and pain, and sadness, and death will never again have a place. It is a Narnia so new, and rich, and abundant that it is almost nothing like the old Narnia. As one of the characters puts it, “It’s as different as a real thing is from a shadow or as waking life is from a dream.”
As they explore the new Narnia, suddenly the followers of Aslan come across a small group of dwarfs who have somehow made it into the new Narnia but don’t seem to be experiencing it in the same way as the others and, instead, remain huddled together in a circle facing inwards as if oblivious to all the color and life unfolding about them. Specifically, they imagine they are trapped in a small, dirty stable surrounded by darkness and grime.
At one point Aslan approaches them, raises his head and shakes his golden mane. Listen to what happens.
Instantly a glorious feast appeared on the Dwarf’s knees: pies and tongues and pigeons and trifles and ices, and each Dwarf had a goblet of good wine in his right hand. But it wasn’t much use. They began eating and drinking greedily enough, but it was clear that they couldn’t taste it properly. They thought they were eating and drinking only the sort of things you might find in a Stable. One said he was trying to eat hay and another said he had got a bit of an old turnip and a third said he’d found a raw cabbage leaf. And they raised golden goblets of rich red wine to their lips and said “Ugh! Fancy drinking dirty water out of a trough that a donkey’s been at! Never thought we’d come to this.” But very soon every Dwarf began suspecting every other Dwarf had found something nicer than he had, and they started grabbing and snatching, and went on to quarrelling, till in a few minutes there was a free fight and all the good food was smeared on their faces and clothes or trodden under foot.
As he watches, even Aslan the great lion, the one who has come to save and deliver all of Narnia, cannot help them, saying to the others standing around,
They will not let us help them. They have chosen cunning instead of belief. Their prison is only in their own minds, yet they are in that prison; and so afraid of being taken in that they can not be taken out.
Author and teacher Dallas Willard once wrote,
Hell is not an ‘oops!’ or a slip. One does not miss heaven by a hair, but by a constant effort to avoid and escape God. ‘Outer darkness’ is for one who, everything said, wants it, whose entire orientation has slowly and firmly set itself against God and therefore against how the universe actually is. It is for those who are disastrously in error about their own life and their place before God and man.
Every person on the planet is already a friend of God. That is reality. Not everybody, however, will embrace, much less enjoy reality. Light has come into the world but some among us will choose instead an eternity of darkness, forever refusing to enjoy the friendship with God through Christ that is already theirs, as they cling to an existence which is, by definition, hell.
They do not have to. You do not have to. Nobody has to. This is the central message of Christmas. As we read at the start, “He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, [to all] who believed in his name, he gave power to become [not only friends but] children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.”
You were made for relationship, created to give yourself fully to One who fully gives Himself to you. It is shame that keeps us from taking that step, keeps us from standing fully exposed before another because we fear the other may choose not to return in kind what we offer. The stunning proclamation of Christmas is that the God of heaven has already done so. God loves you already so utterly and completely that he has already given himself for you in Jesus Christ, his beloved Son, and has pledged his very being as God for your salvation. Before you ever loved God, or even believed in God, he already loved you. In Christ, he has bound his love to you so that even if you refuse him or damn yourself in hell his love will never cease.
The person who, by the grace of God, simply accepts this reality can never be the same again. You don’t give your life to God fully and completely so that God will love you. You give your life to God fully and completely because God already does.
With that, let’s let God’s Word have the last word. “God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.”
The Next Step
A resource for Life Groups and/or personal application
Re-read the passage from John 1:1-14. What stands out here to you?
Is this a passage about love? How so?
In verse 11 we’re told that Jesus’ own people did not accept him. As you consider what this passage teaches us about what Jesus, the Word, came to bring, why in the world would somebody not accept him?
How does shame pollute our relationships with God and with others?
Consider this statement once again: “You are already a friend of God – enjoy it.” Are you enjoying the reality that you are, in this moment, a friend of God? If so, how has this reality changed your life?
What did you gain from the illustration Jeff used from Narnia, the illustration of the dwarfs who were imprisoned in their own minds from enjoying the glorious reality around them? How did this illustration ring true for you or for others you know?
Is there anything that causes you to regularly question God’s love for you or for others?
I John 4:9-10 states, “God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.” What does this mean to you?
 John 13:1
 It would be well worth reading the full article at http://www.christianitytoday.com/behemoth/2014/issue-6/already-friends-of-god.html
 John 19:30
 C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle, (New York: Collier, 1956), 147-148.
 Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart, (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2002), 59.
 John 1:11-13, NRSV
 I’m stealing and adapting some language here from theologian T.F. Torrance in The Mediation of Christ which is cited in the Mark Galli article.
 I John 4:9-10, NRSV