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Jesus' Family Album (4): The Beginning

. 5 min read

23-24
Dec 2017, Christ Mountain Top
Canticle
of Zechariah (call to worship)
Isaiah
52.10 – 53.5 (advent wreath)
John
1.19-28 (kids)
John
1.1-18 (message focus)
Audi
ad (video), “Baseball” (unrecognized greatness)
My
dad, in the CIA, disguises … (Argo,
story).  Small things, low-tech things,
were the easiest way to conceal your identity, to make yourself
unrecognizable.  Here in John’s gospel, Jesus
has a recognition problem
.  “He was
in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not
recognize him.  He came to what was his
own, and his own people did not accept him” (John 1.10-11).  John tells us that everyone, Gentile – “the
world” – and Jew – “his own” – did not recognize Jesus.  Was he undercover?  If so, Maverick said, “Everyone has a
tell.”  Was this a “Where’s Waldo?”
visual puzzle?  Or, is it plain as day,
like the food we can’t find in the fridge, like the Audi Baseball ad, but we’re
missing it?
      One would think that for Jesus to go from
being fully God, and God alone, to also being fully human . . . one would think
that some “tell” would remain, that something would be held in reserve, that
Jesus would pull out his “ID” and say “ta-da” and we would all ohh and ahh with
reverence and amazement.  But, no, he is
so ordinary, so unremarkable, so normal.

So,
while Jesus has a recognition problem, maybe that is the whole idea.  Not in the sense of a disguise, but that
Jesus, “the Word”, the Idea, the Message of God became fully and totally
flesh.  And there was no compromise.  Jesus retained no superpowers.  Surely, he healed, but there were other
healers, and he taught his disciples to heal, and even told his disciples that
they would do “greater things.”  He
became fully human, and subjected himself even to death.  Even now, as the Resurrected Lord, he remains
in human flesh.  That is radical and
total “incarnation”, an old word that means to “become flesh”. 
      Why?  Why embrace such extraordinary measures?  The text offers us a few answers to this
question:
·       It is
in Jesus’ “fullness” (God and human) that we receive “grace upon grace” (1.16).
·       Jesus
is the one who makes God known (1.17).
·       In
Jesus we encounter the glory of God (1.14).
·       Through
Jesus we receive power to become God’s children (1.12).
Jesus
chose to become fully human.  The recognition
problem
, if there is a problem, is ours – not his.  He’s done exactly what he wanted.  But, for us to miss out on recognizing him
means that we miss out on grace, on knowing God, on God’s glory, on being part
of God’s family.  That’s serious stuff to
miss out on.  It is imperative that we
recognize Jesus!  Otherwise, all this
glory goes to the dogs, like Pickles chasing around the priceless baseball
(Audi ad reference).
      Isaiah the prophet declares, “The ox knows
his master, the donkey his owner’s manger, but Israel does not know, my people
do not understand” (Isaiah 1.3; see Raymond Brown, The Birth of the Messiah,
p 428).  John reminds us that it is not
just Jesus’ own, the Jews, who did not recognize him, but the entire world, the
Gentiles as well.  Albert Schweitzer
wrote of Jesus, “He comes to us as one unknown”, meaning not just that he is
unrecognized, but that he is entirely different, even subversive, in his
arrival and presence (see Beverly Roberts Gaventa, with John Dominic Crossan,
“The Challenge of Christmas: Two Views”, The Christian Century, Dec 15
1993, 1270-1280).
We’ve
been looking at Jesus’ family album and family tree in the openings of
the four gospels.  This week, we discover
a family tree more immense than we expected, because its purpose, its design,
is to include us all.  In a fun science
analogy book, A Bee in a Cathedral, and I saw a line about a grove of
quaking aspens in Utah that share a single root system and are genetically
identical – they are actually a single organism, weighing over 6000 tonnes
(2011, Joel Levy, Buffalo, New York: Firefly Books, p.105).  In John’s gospel, instead of a specific
individual in Jesus’ family tree, we find ourselves, all of us, “the world” and
“his own”, all invited to recognize Jesus and “become children of God” (1.12).
This
passage goes on to give us some guidance on recognizing Jesus.  It is peculiar guidance, negative guidance.  When John was asked “Who are you?”, he knew
what they were asking.  He understood the
subtext.  “I am not the Messiah.”  “Are you Elijah?”  “I am not.” 
“Are you the prophet [that is, Moses]?” 
“No” (John 1.19-21).
      No. No. No.  John knew who he was NOT.  It makes it so much easier to recognize
others for who they are when we aren’t stuck with a fantasy about ourselves.  We have those childhood fantasies of
being faster or smarter or better.  But,
sooner or later, someone comes along and outperforms us.  We have to learn that, no, we might be fast
but we aren’t the fastest; we might be smart, but we aren’t the smartest; we
might be good, but we aren’t the best.
      But even as adults, fantasies
persist.  I am indispensable . . .
to my boss, to my family.  Now, I’m not
talking about our unique contributions to our families and work places.  I’m talking about our fantasies: “If I don’t
do the laundry, no one in this house will have a stitch of clean clothes to
wear.”  “If you want it done right you
just have to do it yourself.” 
Really?  Are you sure about that? 
      And, pretty soon, we go from being
indispensable to having what people call a “Messianic complex”.  Now, it is not a flattering expression.  It does not refer to being like Jesus.  It refers to being indispensable and whining
about it.  Indispensable and not properly
appreciated, respected, honored, compensated, whatever.  Jesus never seemed to complain about this
recognition problem, but we do, don’t we? 
We all like a little recognition, and recognition is an effective
motivator for good, hard work, for success.
      And John, Jesus’ cousin who was profiled
in the opening of Mark’s gospel, is focused not on himself, on defining his
role, on clarifying who he was.  His
answer to all the questions was “not me” “nope” “no”.  He’s not down on himself, he’s just up on the
one coming after him.  He’s not refusing
a compliment, he’s just clear that he’s not the One.  A little later in John chapter 1, he is the
first one to recognize Jesus, calling out, “Look, the Lamb of God!”.  He actually says, “I myself did not know him”
(1.31-33).  John didn’t know Jesus at
first – perhaps he knew him as cousin, but not as Lamb of God.  John only received this knowledge from God,
and he was only able to receive it because he was not fixated on a fantasy, not
the indispensable savior, and he knew it. 
“No. No. No.”
      And so the one who came as one unknown was
made known to the one who was clear about who he was not.
Resources:
Raymond
E. Brown. 1977, 1978. The Birth of the Messiah: A Commentary on the Infancy
Narratives in Matthew and Luke.
New York: Doubleday, Image.
Beverly
Roberts Gaventa, with John Dominic Crossan, “The Challenge of Christmas: Two
Views”, The Christian Century, Dec 15 1993, 1270-1280.

Joel
Levy. 2011. A Bee in a Cathedral. Buffalo, New York: Firefly Books.