Who Am I, Really?

There's a young man I know that, a few years ago, would amaze us with his ability to take a few different colors of Sculpey clay and create miniature models of everyone's favorite animated characters. He didn't have to look at any drawings, the images were firmly planted in his mind and then his fingers would skillfully roll, pinch, and shape minute pieces into figures so true to the artists' originals. I remember most vividly Johnny Bravo's tall blond crew cut and little black sunglasses.

Now, if I were to take clay in hand, every thing would come out looking like the Michelin Tire man. But this young man, named Ryan, has a talent with the very material with which God created us long ago in the Garden, and yet it is not life.

When Michelangelo was a little boy, one of his friends gave him a small Greek sculpture of a human form, half chiseled from the marble. For the rest of his life, Michelangelo kept that little statue by his bed. It was the last thing he saw before he went to sleep, the first thing he saw when he awoke. For him it became a symbol of man's anguished effort to be liberated from the prison of his own ignorance. Michelangelo devoted his whole life to freeing figures from stone. Sometimes it would take him months, even years. Always he began with a vision of the man or the woman locked up in the stone. He said, 'It is my job, my task, to set that man, that woman, free.' And for any of us who have had a glimpse of his great works, you know that he was able to release not only perfect human form, but emotion and passion that springs from the depth of human existence. And, yet, it was not life itself.

No, the greatest artists of our time can only illuminate and illustrate that which we know as life…and our greatest scientists perhaps can replicate something that already exists. But the source, the source of all that we know came among us centuries ago in a small town known as Bethlehem.

For the last several days, we have been celebrating the birth of a man named Jesus. We have heard the accounts of Matthew and Luke read here in church telling the story we know so well of the courtship of Mary and Joseph, their long journey and the visitors both humble and heavenly that came to that stable to declare the importance of this child. On Thursday we officially honor the arrival of the magi whose presence tells not only Mary and Joseph - but the world that Jesus is not simply a humble carpenter's son, but the true king of all peoples and all nations. And, as the year goes by we will read again the stories that ground Jesus in our earthly existence.

But the prologue to the Gospel of John takes us in a different direction far different from the other gospels. In a way you could say it takes us back in time to the beginning. Back to the time of the creation of the earth, the stars, the universe…that is when Jesus first got involved in our lives. For he was the artist with the vision and the hands that crafted the clay. And in him was life.

It's easiest for most of us to think of Jesus as the baby who grew up, that his beginning was similar to a normal human child. He was conceived out of the Father's love for all humanity…and because of that love, Jesus was born as a son to Mary. But the gospel writer of John understood Jesus as so much more. In his writing, he used a Greek term "logos" that we translate as the Word. But this word is more than just the common idea of speaking…even more than the words God used during creation. The Greeks understood this term more in the sense of "reason." The activity of the mind that takes information and processes it, considers it, energizes it, and acts upon it. John understood Jesus to be the embodiment of the very thoughts of God, the reasoning ability that gives order to the entire universe. Some of our high tech products these days use some form of the word logos, like logitech, to describe the amazing ability of computers that we have created to do our thinking for us.

But John was going for something else. In verse 16, he talks about the fullness of the "Word." And, indeed there is so much more to Jesus than meets the eye. In the days of Jesus, people were looking for a military and political leader to get them out of Roman control. The poor were looking for someone to make their life richer, the hungry wanted to be fed, the sick to be healed. And Jesus was capable of meeting their every need. But John spoke also about Jesus being the true light that would enlighten everyone. How he gave power to those who believed to become children of God, who would be reborn by the will of God…not the will of the flesh or the will of man…but the will of God. Again he is talking about God's thoughts…not ours.

Jesus came to teach us how to fulfill our purpose and our destiny, to teach us what God meant for us to be. Our lives are a process of growing, changing, and learning and in that process our minds grow closer to the mind of God.

Erma Bombeck wrote a book about kids that have cancer and the ability these children have to cut through "what might have been" or the "maybe's" to the reality of the present. One little five year old boy named Bert loves to draw. One day he was asked whether he wanted to be an artist when he grew up. He looked straight at that adult's eyes and said, "I am an artist."

In God's eyes, we have today. We have now. In Jesus, we have the ability to live this moment…not exist, but live. God's Word set this existence into motion and then came to live in it with us in the form of Jesus so that we might understand more of what life truly means. Michelangelo grasped what Christ was about when he set about to free figures from stone. Jesus was about setting us free from the stones that we chain to our lives. Another artist, Vincent Van Gogh once said that he was not interested in painting blossoms - but rather in blossoming.

Jesus wants us to blossom, to grow, to reason with the mind of God, to discover that we live because God gave us life. Rabbi Zusia, stated before he died, "When I face the celestial tribunal, I shall not be asked why I was not an Abraham, Jacob or Moses, but why I was not Rabbi Zusia."

Read other sermons by Pastor Joan