Jesus, The Dual Surprise



We’ve entered into the season of the year called Epiphany
that follows the season of Advent and the feast of Christmas.

That’s right—the church tells time a little differently
than the calendars we hang on our wall.

The church tells time around Jesus.

Because time told around Jesus
isn’t just one darn thing after another—
just one more year with one more ball drop
and one more massive street sweeping in Time Square. 

Telling time around Jesus changes us.

The church’s calendar keeps us
in continual orbit around Jesus

to do at least two things:

1) continually remind us what is most true
and 2) continually form us into fully alive people.

The church calendar began
back at the end of November
with the season of Advent.

The rhythm of the people of God
begins with a season of honesty—

with us getting honest
that we have deep deep longings in our hearts
that can only be filled by the One who started them beating.

As best we can, we get honest about our longings, our aches,
our places where things aren’t as we want them,
and then we wait.

That’s the rhythm of the people of God.
That’s the entire season of Advent.

“Advent” is just a word that means “Arrival”—
we look for the arrival of God.

It’s a whole season devoted to

waiting. longing. looking.


And when it doesn’t look like God is doing anything
when maybe even it looks like we’ve been forsaken by God—
it looks like God’s rescue will never arrive, like God will never act,
like we’re going to be stranded in exile forever—
the season of Advent re-centers us, challenges us, invites us…
keep praying.

Advent is when we keep praying,
when we keep hoping.

Even when things look dark,
even when it feels easier to just give up—
to just throw in the towel, to become cynical, to slip into despair—
the church calendar begins by whispering to us:

“Keep hoping… it won’t be midnight forever… the sun WILL rise.”

The Christian calendar begins with Advent
with honesty from us about our pain, our desperation, our longings
and then the calendar immediately answers the deepest cries of our heart
with good news—with gospel—with Christmas.

After four weeks of Advent,
we arrive at the feast of Christmas.

The great feast—the twelve day celebration—
that despite the ways we may sometimes feel,
God has not abandoned us.

God does not leave us stranded.

God is with us.

That’s the good news—that’s the gospel—the news of Immanuel—
that Matthew’s gospel begins with.

God himself has forever joined the human race
through a first-century Jewish peasant girl
named Mary.

Another gospel writer—the fourth evangelist, John
uses different language to talk about this same historical event
this same unspeakable good newsthe arrival of God in Jesus
when he says:

(Jn 1.1-3) In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.

John starts his gospel by invoking Greek metaphysics.

He starts his story
by talking about the Logosthe Word
the divine eternal logic foundational to the entire universe.

And then he says:

(Jn 1.14) The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

The Logos—God’s eternal logic that made all things—
God’s energy of that animates all things
that mysterious, elemental reality has become human.

God self-expression—God’s word
has become flesh and made his dwelling among us.

The good news that we celebrate during Christmas
is that God himself has forever joined himself to the race of Adam.

We can look backward to the first century—
to the strange, the genuinely remarkable events
surrounding the life of Jesus of Nazareth

and say with confidence: “God has not abandoned us… God joins us.”

Because God has expressed himself
in a way we can understand
in a way we can hear.

In the words of one pastor:
“Jesus is what God has to say.”

Jesus is the clearest statement God has ever made.

If you want to find out what God is like
if you want to hear “the Word”
if you want to know what God says to humanity
then listen to the life of Jesus.

Jesus tells us what God is like.

John says exactly that just a handful of verses later in verse 16:

(Jn 1.16-18) Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.

Before Jesus,
we couldn’t be 100% certain
what God is like.

But now we can.

[slide #1]
Jesus is what it means to be God.

That’s what dawns on us after Christmas—
that’s the light bulb that turns on over our head.

When we use the word “God,”
the person named Jesus is who we’re talking about.

It’s a stunning realization.
It’s a huge light bulb.

It’s a huge surprise of Epiphany.

We watch the life of Jesus and begin to
realize that God is not distant from
our aches
or pains or struggles or darkness.

In the life of Jesus,
God joins us in every possible way—

becoming vulnerable and cold in a Bethlehem manger,

standing with us in the Jordan River as we confess our sin,
and chasing us even into death itself.

That’s what God is like.

And this God who speaks in Jesus
invites us to trust him.

At the end of John’s gospel,
Jesus shows his wounds to one of the disciples (Thomas)
and says:

“Stop doubting… believe! Trust me!
I love you. I’m not far.”

And Epiphany is the wonderful season
where maybe—just maybe—we realize again
that all our deepest longings and aches in Advent
are answered by Christmas—by God’s joining us.

Epiphany is the wonderful season
where we join Thomas in saying:
“My Lord and my God!”

That’s the strange story
the Church tells again and again
throughout the centuries.

We begin to see our lives and the entire world differently
as we start to realize that Jesus is what it means to be God.

That’s the surprise of Epiphany.

But there’s a second surprise.

John begins his gospel
by telling us that the Word “became flesh”
and the church believes him.

Jesus of Nazareth is fully God.
And Jesus of Nazareth is fully human.

In fact,
Jesus is more human
than we are.

Just before the crucifixion in the fourth gospel,
John reminds us that the Word really did become flesh—
that God really did become human—with a climactic proclamation:

“idou ho anthropos—behold the man” (Jn 19.5)

When you behold Jesus,
you’re looking at someone who reflects
the image of God perfectly.

Someone who reflects Love perfectly.

You’re looking at what humanity—
what anthropos—was always meant to be.

True humanity looks like loving and giving and serving others.
Real humanness looks like love willing to suffer for others.

And so there’s a second surprise at Epiphany:

[slide #2]

Jesus is what it means to be God
AND Jesus is what it means to be human.

Jesus shows us what it means
to be really, fully, truly human.

If the first surprise is the best news
then the second surprise is the biggest invitation.

The first surprise comforts us where we are—
in our suffering, in our sin, in our brokenness, in our death
and gives us good news—the best possible news.

God loves us. God is with us.
God won’t stop chasing us.
Even into death.

We don’t have to do a thing—God already always loves us.

The first surprise comforts us where we are…
and then this second surprise invites somewhere new.

God invites us into a new way of living
a new way of being human.

(Which is really the original way of being human.)

There’s a new way to be human—
the original, the true, the genuine way
of being human.

Epiphany shines a spotlight
into our world and onto our lives
the Jesus spotlight.

I want to explore with this spotlight
over the next few weeks—during the season of Epiphany.

I want to see if we can illuminate
some different areas of life with Spotlight Jesus,

I want us to hear the best news
and accept the biggest invitation.

May we hear the gospel
that God meets us exactly where we are—
that we’re always already loved—

May we hear the gospel
that God invites us to somewhere new—
to a new kind of life—a true kind of humanity—

and may the Spirit of Jesus
shine the light of his life into our lives,
and show us who God is
and who we will (by his grace) one day be.