Mystery and Revelation

Detail, K. Street Door, FPCEWe begin a New Year together with passages from the Bible for the holiday called “Epiphany,” that ancient Church festival devoted to remembering and celebrating the “appearance” or “manifestation” of God in Jesus Christ. The message of Epiphany – like the message of Christmas or Easter – is multilayered and complex. The joy that Jeremiah proclaims arises out of sadness.  The people of God have been scattered, but God will gather and keep them like a shepherd keeps his flock. Weeping shall be met by consolation, and mourning shall give way to feasting and gladness.  John’s gospel proclaims that the Word that was with God, and was God, became flesh and was revealed through dwelling among us. Yet, even in the incarnation, there is an air of mystery about his identity. The true light has come into the world, but some still live in darkness.

Michael Lindvall says that the mystery John proclaims reminds us that human words are not enough. “Nothing fashioned of words can ever box up the immense mystery that is God …. Words don’t taste or smell. You can’t touch or ‘feel’ a word. Words don’t move likes arms or legs. Certainly, words can quicken imagination, words evoke and provoke, invoke, but mostly, words use only the sharp mental tools of reason, rationality, intellect. Even the best of them, precious as they are, are neither delicate nor powerful enough for the vastness of Divinity.”[1]

Words are limited tools; we need God’s Word (that is Jesus Christ) to infuse them with power. But, like the world that John’s gospel describes, we face a choice to listen. Listening for God’s Word in human words isn’t always easy, because it takes focus, it takes patience, it takes time. It involves stilling our minds and quieting our hearts long enough to hear something other than our own voice, the Voice that is the Word, who makes sense of the words of the Gospel, and gives meaning to our journey of faith and our life together in Christian community.

Will Willimon, the famous Methodist preacher, says that in our context, listening for God’s Word is especially challenging.  Churchgoers assume that they will come to worship, and after preliminaries, the preacher will stand up, and talk sensibly, reasonably, and usefully. The preacher will give something a hearer can take home, an interesting insight, an uplifting thought. People who are busy, intelligent, achievement-oriented, just might be thinking, “Get with it. I haven’t got all day. I’ve already forced myself up on a Sunday, traveled to church on despite cold and snow, sat through a prelude. We’ve sung a hymn and said a prayer. It’s after 11:00 AM, there’s still communion, and I have a long list of things to do today.” Willimon says that we are no-nonsense, pragmatic, practical people.[2]  We want our words dispensed efficiently. The problem is that taking them like a pill doesn’t work. The words must be infused with the Word.

Listening for God’s Word in human words isn’t always easy, because it takes focus, it takes patience, it takes time. It involves stilling our minds and quieting our hearts long enough to hear something other than our own voice, the Voice that is the Word, who makes sense of the words of the Gospel, and gives meaning to our journey of faith and our life together in Christian community.

As you may know, I’m currently moderating the committee charged to search for and recommend a candidate to be the next leader of our regional presbytery. We’ve been working together for about 11 months now, and are nearing the point at which we will begin interviewing a small group of applicants. Our committee is a group of nine, purposely chosen to be diverse: there are pastors and elders, large-church and small-church, urban and rural, theologically right of center and theologically left of center. Some people are more thinkers and some are more feelers.  Some are “Type A” personalities ready to charge ahead, and some are “Type B” personalities who are slower to respond to communication or make decisions.

From the beginning, we committed ourselves to a practice of beginning each meeting with a spiritual exercise or devotional and prayer, nothing perfunctory, sometimes up to 40 minutes. At one particular meeting that was slated to last three hours, we were tempted to ditch the whole “spiritual exercise thing.” I wasn’t the only one thinking “There’s a time for worship, and a time for work.” But we didn’t ditch the spiritual exercise thing. Instead we remained true to the values upon which our work is founded, and the discipline to which we had earlier committed ourselves. The second half of that meeting went very smoothly, surprisingly smoothly, as we completed a lengthy evaluation with a consensus of opinion on top candidates, and quick agreement on who would be responsible for key follow-up tasks. As we prepared for closing prayer, one member of our committee smiled broadly, and said, “See? When we make time to worship, the work flows more quickly.” We had tuned our ears to listen for God’s Word, and were blessed as a result.

Despite that experience, it never will be an easy choice, because listening for God’s Word in the midst of words we hear isn’t always easy, because it takes focus, it takes patience, it takes time. It involves stilling our minds and quieting our hearts long enough to hear something other than our own voice, the Voice that is the Word, who makes sense of the words of the Gospel, and gives meaning to our journey of faith and our life together in Christian community.

Yesterday, I posted a note on my electronic blog alerting readers to the fact that we would be holding worship services today, despite the weather forecast. As I said toward the end of the note, I imagine some were thinking that I was expending a lot of energy to spoil a perfectly good snow day. But I did so because I believe what we do here each Sunday really matters. Worship is the work of God’s people to glorify Christ, a time set apart for God’s people to freely choose to hear and see and touch and taste, through our limited senses, the unlimited mystery of God revealed for us in Christ.The light shines in the darkness.” Today, the darkness — and the snow — did not overcome it ….” So let it continue to be. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. AMEN.


[1] Michael L. Lindvall, “An Outward Sign of an Inward Grace,” a sermon delivered to the Brick Presbyterian Church, New York, 4 January 2009.

[2] William H. Willimon, “The Pointlessness of Praise,” The Christian Ministry, May/June 1989, pp. 29-30.

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~ by JohnH1962 on January 5, 2014.

One Response to “Mystery and Revelation”

  1. I really like this —– if you don’t mind I would like to pass it on to my Grandson Joey —- he is using John 1: 1-18 as his reading. We have been discussing the “Word” as in Christ and “became flesh”; I think this would help him understand. gail

    Date: Sun, 5 Jan 2014 20:04:47 +0000 To: gail_steve@msn.com

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