Follow Me – Biblical Practices for Faithful Living
Go Tell: “Break the Good News”
Rev. Dr. Todd Speed
Decatur Presbyterian Church
First Sunday of Advent, December 4, 2022
In the Gospel of John, there is no birth narrative, no angel appearing to Mary or Joseph or shepherds in the field. John, the gospel last written, begins with a theological treatise which proclaims the good news that the Eternal Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us in order to make known to all people the grace and truth of God.
Hear the Word of God from John 1:1-18
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become 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.
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 testified to him and cried out, ‘This was he of whom I said, “He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.” ’) From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.
The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
John 1:1-18 (The Message)
The Word was God, in readiness for God from day one… The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, Generous inside and out, true from start to finish…
We all live off his generous abundance, gift after gift after gift. We got the basics from Moses, and then this exuberant giving and receiving, This endless knowing and understanding—all this came through Jesus, the Messiah.
No one has ever seen God, not so much as a glimpse. This one-of-a-kind God-Expression, who exists at the very heart of the Father, has made him plain as day.
The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Sometimes we may forget that the gospel of Jesus Christ is news, good news, a news story that must be told again and again.
In the summer of 1993, I traveled to Homestead, Florida with two youth groups from South Carolina.
These youth were raised in the thick of the Bible belt. You could hardly go to the grocery store in the Upstate of South Carolina in the 1990’s without experiencing some message from the Bible – whether a billboard on the side of the road, a church sign that you drove by everyday, a bumper sticker on the car in front of you, or the t-shirt of a fellow shopper at the store.
When we arrived in Homestead, Florida, we found a different world, especially the neighborhood where we were working. Homestead sits 26 miles southwest of Miami, with an Air Force base and a prison nearby. Homestead had been devastated by Category 5 Hurricane Andrew in the fall of 1992. The devastation was palpable, and the culture was different.
We were a long way from the cultural assumptions and opportunities of the Upstate. In Homestead, there were no churches on every corner, at least not in the neighborhoods we served. There were not many grocery stores in those neighborhoods either, if any at all. If my memory serves me right, this agricultural area had become what they call a “grocery story desert”, where fresh fruits and vegetables are hard to come by.
During our week in Homestead, we hung sheetrock on walls and ceilings, and we nailed tar paper and shingles on roofs. It was 103 degrees in the shade, and it was hot.
During a portion of our time, we led a Vacation Bible School for the children of the neighborhood. There was not a church to partner with nearby, so our youth made up flyers and walked around the neighborhood with them, inviting all the children they met to come to Bible school the next day.
The first day ten or fifteen showed up, then the word began to spread about the nice teenagers who were playing with the children and feeding them snacks. Over the next few days, the Bible school grew from 30 to 50 to 60 kids. Craig Foster, who was a junior in high school at the time, was leading the Bible story on the second or third day.
He was telling one of the gospel stories about Jesus to this group of kids sitting in front of him on the ground. Suddenly, a six year old shot up his hand, waving furiously. “You keep talking about Jesus”, he said. “Who is…who is this Jesus?”
17 year old Craig, at first was taken aback, somewhat in shock, then he set aside his carefully prepared curriculum and simply began telling that boy and the children around him all about Jesus, about who Jesus is, about what Jesus said and did, about his life, his death, his resurrection.
The children asked Craig all sorts of good questions that afternoon, the kind of probing, down-to-earth questions that children will ask. The experience affected all of us and probably changed the direction of Craig’s life. Craig would later become an ordained minister; he currently serves in Tennessee.
To those children in Homestead, Florida in the summer of 1993, the story of Jesus of Nazareth was news! Good news! News they had never heard before!
We may forget that even here in Decatur, there are children, and young adults, I might add, who walk by this sanctuary every day who do not know anything about Jesus. They walk by here every day on the way to school or work, but they have never stepped foot into a sanctuary.
They have never witnessed a Christmas pageant with the angel Gabriel proclaiming: “Fear not! For I bring you good news of great joy for all the people!” They have never sung “Joy to the world! The Lord is come”.
For those of us who were born into and baptized in the church, It can be difficult to remember that the gospel of Jesus Christ is still news to some. It is and always will be shocking, earth-turning news, news that helps us see the world differently, news that enables us to live differently. You and I may be so familiar with the story that we forget that many others simply do not know the story, and have never heard.
And we also may forget that many others who do know the story have been told a corrupted version; they have been taught to worship a Jesus who is very different from the One whom we meet at this table.
The One whom we meet at this Table loves and welcomes all who would love and trust in him. Not everyone knows this Jesus.
This past Thursday evening, our Outreach Team was on the sidewalk handing out hot chocolate to anyone who would receive a cup. We met some forty or fifty people on their way to the lighting of the tree on the square and we gave them a 3×5 card inviting them to our Christmas Eve services.
Friends, we just may have visitors on Christmas Eve who have never before been to a Christmas Eve service before, who have never heard the good news of the birth of Christ, the Word made flesh.
In a post-pandemic, 21st century world, the mission of the Church is changing, becoming more akin to the early church in the first several centuries after Christ’s birth.
In John 1, the author makes clear: The man sent from God, whose name was John came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.
This is the role of the Church. The Church is not the light, but the Church exists in this place to testify to the Light. The true Light is in the world, and from his fullness we have all received grace upon grace.
And this is news, good news!, that must be shared.
Some years ago, the Atlanta Marathon was initiated. The original route came through downtown Decatur on a Sunday morning. Some of our members, including Elinor Cook, got ready for the runners by providing a water station and warm southern hospitality on the sidewalk. On the second year, I believe, someone had the idea to market the city of Decatur by asking folks to come up with signs that described Decatur in 7 words or less.
When the runners came panting through town, about halfway through their run, they were greeted with such phrases as: Decatur – Where It’s Greater! Decatur – A city of homes, schools and places of worship. In Decatur – there’s a festival for that.
The signs were engaging and creative and offered a bit of introduction to the city and its benefits. Imagine if marathon runners were to be running by our church next Sunday. How might we proclaim the good news of the gospel in seven words or less? I asked this of my Wednesday afternoon Faithful Living class. At first, they looked at me with quizzical faces, but then they responded on 3×5 cards:
The good news of Jesus: “God is love”.
God sent his Son to be the light.
The true light was in the world; we can be saved!
God is light, love, comfort, healer.
God cares for you and for me.
Peace, good will toward all.
God gave himself that we may live eternally.
You are God’s beloved child.
God moved into the neighborhood, and changed everything!
I love this last one from Mike Florence: Jesus knows me…and still loves me.
Friends, the world is passing by the doors of this church every day. Some of them have known the good news of Jesus all their lives. Others have yet to hear. The mission of the Decatur Presbyterian Church community is to share Christ’s love for the world.
Our stated goal is that Every child of God would have the opportunity to know belonging to God, to become engaged in Christ’s mission, and to experience transformation by the Holy Spirit.
Following Jesus means that we not only hear, but also share, that God is with us, always, and that we need not be afraid. Let us hear, and share, that in Jesus, we have been granted divine wisdom and divine guidance, divine comfort and divine strength.
Let us hear and share that in Jesus, we are forgiven and we are enabled to forgive.
Let us hear and share that in Jesus, we are invited to live joyful and peaceful lives, lives reconciled to God and others. And let us hear, and share, that in this place, down to earth, probing questions about Jesus and God and the Church are welcomed and encouraged!
The Eternal Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us in order to make known to us and to all people the grace and truth of God. This is good news, good news intended to be shared.
To God be the glory as we do so. Amen.
Rev. Dr. Todd Speed
Decatur Presbyterian Church