Sunday, December 24, 2017
The Fourth Sunday of Advent
Scripture: Jeremiah 31:31-34 & John 1:14-18
Rev. Troy Hauser Brydon


Didn’t Advent just start? It’s hard to believe we’re here already – at the confluence of the fourth Sunday of Advent and Christmas Eve – but that’s precisely where we are. I hope you’re ready to celebrate Christmas tomorrow, but I hope your readiness isn’t just the “all the presents are wrapped” kind. Rather, I hope your hearts and lives are ready to welcome Jesus into the world. This morning we’ll do just a little bit more preparatory work. Return to any of our services tonight, and we’ll get your hearts the rest of the way ready for the coming Christ.

First, though, let’s get into the Word of Advent. Over the past three weeks we have looked at the words light, word, and flesh. Today our focus is on the word fullness and its companion grace. In John 1 we encounter fullness twice. First we learn that Jesus is “full of grace and truth” (1:14). Two verses later we learn that “from [Jesus’] fullness we have all received grace upon grace” (1:16). So John gives us an image of Jesus as not only full or complete but that something about his fullness spills over from Jesus to those who come to him. Jesus’ fullness does not stay with him; it overflows to all who would receive from him.

How did God cram all that glory into one body? Imagine – the fullness of God takes on flesh and somehow the flesh is able to receive all of that glory. The full weight of eternity found in God entered time and space, entered the confines of a body and found a home. It’s truly a stunning concept that our familiarity has caused us to overlook its awesomeness.

Phillips Brooks was an Episcopal priest in the 19th century. Among his many accomplishments he wrote the hymn, “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” after his 1868 trip there. Brooks wrote these words about the eternal cramming its glorious way into the temporal:

“God fills a bush with his glory, and it burns. God enters into the great mountain, and it rocks with an earthquake. When he comes to occupy a man, he must distort the humanity he occupies into some inhuman shape.

“Instead of that, this new life into which God comes seems to be the quietest, most natural human life that was ever seen upon the earth. It glides into its place like sunlight, seeming to make it evident that God and man are essentially so near together that the meeting of their natures in the life of a God-man is not strange.

“So always does Christ deal with his own nature, accepting his divinity as you and I accept our humanity, and letting it shine out through the envelope with which it has most subtly and mysteriously mingled, as the soul is mingled with and shines out through the body.”[1]

The bush burns with the glory of God but is not consumed. The mountain shakes with the glory of God. But the coming of Christ into humanity came into a still Bethlehem night. The cries of the infant Jesus were the only disturbance. God took on flesh as naturally as anyone ever could. Yet people saw God shining forth in Jesus. People saw Jesus and knew there was something unique and desirable about him. This beauty and glory overflowed from him to all around him.

Psalm 23 describes the care of God as his cup overflowing, and I think this image of abundance is a great parallel to the fullness of Jesus in the world. Jesus is like a fountain of never-ending living water. Jesus’ glory washes over us like a warm summer rain that causes you to lose all your inhibitions and dance in the puddles while the water flows all down and around you. This fullness isn’t 100%. It’s one-million-percent and more, ever-giving, ever-flowing, ever-available.

The word for fullness in John 1:16 is plērōmatos. It’s a pretty common word in the New Testament. It is usually translated as “fullness,” but it can also mean “sum total” and “superabundance.” I love that last word. Superabundance. As though abundance fell short of being more than enough, we needed a word that described even more than abundant! The superabundance of God took up flesh and moved into our neighborhood. Imagine with me that LeBron James decided to move to Grand Haven, Michigan. We’d all be talking about it. We’d be tittering around about running into LeBron at Meijer or seeing his family at the beach. We’d be excited about his moving into the neighborhood, right? And while that would be really cool, it pales in comparison to the arrival of God in his Son, Jesus, superabundantly present among us, overflowing with grace and truth.

The Bible wants each of us to know this superabundance. The word never stays with Jesus but overflows to those around him. Paul uses it several times in his letters, but here are two examples. In Ephesians 3 Paul encourages believers in this way, “I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (3:18-19). Not only are we to know this but also that knowledge is supposed to go way beyond rationality, way beyond our great ability to comprehend, way beyond anything that is possible apart from God. This is gift, and it is superabundant. Breadth. Length. Height. Depth. All dimensions of God’s great love for you, flowing through you and back out into everywhere you go, for you, my friends, are called to be superabundant with God’s love for the world too.

In Colossians 2 Paul does something similar. He is concerned that people will get drawn away from this great way of being in Christ, that philosophies that are dead-ends will deceive people. He writes, “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fullness in him” (2:8-10).

As Christ bears the fullness of God, the Christ in us bears that same fullness of God into our lives. In these jars of clay that are our lives, we bear an incredible treasure, and the light gets out of the cracks and into the world and even more, when we’re open to God working through us, the light doesn’t just escape, it overflows to all who need it. God’s superabundance is for you and for the whole world. Fullness is such a beautiful word, particularly when it floods the world with the glories of God’s grace and truth.

Mike’s Envelopes
I read an anonymous story this week where that light overflowed into the world. A woman wrote this about her husband at Christmastime. “The small, white envelope stuck among the branches of our Christmas tree has peeked through the branches of our tree for the past ten years or so.

“It all began because my husband, Mike, hated Christmas – oh, not the true meaning of Christmas, but the overspending, the frantic running around at the last minute, the gifts given in desperation. Knowing he felt that way, I decided to do something different.

“Our son Kevin was wrestling at the junior high school. Shortly before Christmas his team played a team sponsored by an inner-city church. These youth, dressed in sneakers so ragged that shoestrings seemed to be the only thing holding them together, were a sharp contrast to our boys in their spiffy blue and gold uniforms and sparkling new wrestling shoes. As the match began, I was alarmed to see that the other team’s boys were wrestling without headgear.

“It was a luxury they obviously could not afford. We ended up walloping them. As each boy got up from the mat, he swaggered in his tatters with false bravado….Mike shook his head sadly. ‘I just wish one of them could have won,’ he said. ‘They have a lot of potential, but losing like this could take the heart right out of them.’

“That afternoon I went to a local sporting goods store and bought an assortment of wrestling headgear and shoes and sent them anonymously to the inner-city church. On Christmas Eve, I placed an envelope on the tree with a note telling Mike what I had done as my gift to him. His smile was the brightest thing that Christmas.

“Each Christmas after that, I sent Mike’s gift money to a different group – one year sending a group of youth with mental disabilities to a hockey game, another year giving a check to elderly brothers whose home had burned down the week before Christmas.

“We lost Mike to cancer. When Christmas rolled around, I was so wrapped up in grief that I barely got the tree up. But on Christmas Eve I placed an envelope on the tree, and in the morning it was joined by three more. Each of our children had placed an envelope on the tree for their dad.”[2]

One dad’s frustration with the commercialization of Christmas didn’t just end in sarcasm or a throwing up of the hands. No, it passed from him to his wife. It planted a seed in her that led her to see the same injustice he saw and do something about it. It turned into the envelope in the tree that burst forth with far more light than the strings of light they had wrapped the tree with. It didn’t stop with her. It overflowed from her into their kids, and even after Mike was gone from them, the light shined brighter than it had ever before. This is fullness. This is superabundance.

It may come as a shock to you, but did you know that the word “grace” doesn’t show up that much in the gospels? Sure, it’s all over Paul’s writing, but it’s just not all that common in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Except in the four verses we’re looking at today. In those four verses, the word “grace” happens four times – the only four times it happens in the John’s whole gospel. But listen to how it happens. “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth….From his fullness we have all received grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:14, 16).

Four times in four verses, all to set the tone for the rest of the gospel. Jesus brings grace and truth to the world. From Jesus we have received grace upon grace. Grace squared. Grace cubed. Grace times infinity. It flows to us, through us, around us, and out from us into a world that doesn’t now this superabundance, a world that is focused, selfishly, on clinging tightly to survival. This grace is infinitely huge and available for all. “The Good News is … God in Christ is ever finished with doling it out. Grace is where we live. Grace is the ocean in which we swim. Grace is the atmosphere we breathe.”[3] We only but glimpse this grace. Even at our best, we are only scratching the surface of it. How amazing is that?

As amazing as that is, it doesn’t stop there. John writes, “We have seen his glory” (1:14), but this early Christian community hadn’t laid eyes on Jesus, so how had they seen him? In the same way that we do – through the witness of others, through the confirmation of the Holy Spirit in our lives, and through encountering the fullness of God in someone else. We are not eyewitnesses, but we are a confessing community. We have seen his glory. We have met his grace and truth. We bear witness to it and see it go from us into the world – wild and wonderful.

So, as this is both the fourth Sunday of Advent and Christmas Eve, I truly in my heart of hearts pray that you know this wild, wonderful, superabundant love of God in Christ. I hope that you return this evening in joy and expectancy, excited to welcome Jesus once again into the world. I pray that you may space in your lives tonight and always for Jesus because he’ll not only fill that space you’ve made but also overflow from that space into places you never knew you needed his love and into the lives of others who need a word of hope this Christmas. Amen.

[1] Larson, Craig Brian and Phyllis Ten Elshof. 1001 Illustrations that Connect, p. 114

[2] ibid. pp. 102-103.