1 Samuel 3:1-20 and John 1:43-51
Come and See
This week’s Faith Study group had an excellent discussion on being called by God based on this morning’s scripture passages. In the Old Testament lesson, Simon hears God’s voice calling to him in the night and then, in the New Testament, Nathanael is called by his friend Philip to “come and see” this man Jesus. Our discussion Tuesday morning raised the question: Who calls us to come and see Jesus? As I was pondering this question later in the week, I was also reading a book by the Vermont theologian Frederick Buechner and I am indebted to him for some of the thoughts in this morning’s sermon.
A number of years ago, I returned home from two weeks’ vacation late one evening. I was living in a small town just outside of Toronto. Early the next morning, I awoke realizing that it was garbage collection day and so put on my dressing gown and got the tub of garbage that I had forgotten before leaving for vacation and wheeled it to the street. I walked back up the walkway to the front door and turned around to see one of my parishioners powerwalking up my driveway. I wondered what on earth she was doing there at 7:00 am. She smiled, waved and yelled out, “Davey’s cancer is in remission!” Over a coffee, she told me that she just couldn’t wait to tell me that our prayers had been answered.
Have you ever had a piece of good news and you just couldn’t wait to share it with someone? Philip was like that. He could hardly wait to tell someone and the first person he found was Nathanael. Like lots of Jews of the day he had been waiting for the expected Messiah to show up, not that after hundreds of years of prophecy and expectation he really and truly expected the Messiah to show up in his lifetime, but God had finally turned up. Who would have guessed it would be a man named Jesus from Nazareth?
“It’s Jesus of Nazareth.” “You know, the son of Joseph the carpenter.” Have you ever been telling someone a story and in the midst of it you realize your words are falling flat. It wasn’t as if he had said the name of some great rabbi from Jerusalem. Nazareth. A small hill community overlooking the bustling Roman town of Sepphoris. No wonder Nathanael replies, “Can any good come out of Nazareth?”
Philip presses his friend: “Come and see.” When Nathanael meets Jesus, Jesus says to him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” It seems that’s all it took for Nathanael to have faith in Jesus: “You are the Son of God.” “You are the King of Israel.” Jesus then says to him something like “stick with me kid and you are going to see some wonderful things.”
I spent some time this Christmas wondering about the details of Jesus’ birth and it seems that the longer I live, the more inclined I am to believe in miracles. I think that if I had been present in Bethlehem that first Christmas, I would have seen and heard things that would be hard to reconcile with modern science. But the Gospel writers weren’t interceded primarily in the details of the birth but in its significance. Like Philip, they wanted to tell others of the impact that Jesus had upon their lives.
It’s kind of like when my children were born. The twins followed less than two years later by another who just happens to be named “Nathanael” after the fellow in this story. I really don’t think much about the details, what hospital they were born in or at what time or who the doctor was. What I do remember is the impact that the three of them have had upon my life. Staring at the twins in incubators and thinking I had never seen anything so wonderful, precious and fragile. I recall driving them home from the hospital. I had never driven so carefully in my life. I recall that the world was never the same again and that my whole life was charged with new meaning.
So, with Jesus, whether there were ten million angels or just a mother and her fiancé there when Jesus was born, the significance is that the course of Western history changed. It’s art, music, literature, have been greatly affected as have our political institutions, our whole understanding of ourselves and our world have been affected. It is hard to imagine how differently history would have been if that little child had not been born.
Then there’s something called “faith.” For the spiritual journeys of countless people, the birth of that child into the darkness of the world has made possible not just a new way of understanding life but a new way of living life.
I want to read to you a paragraph written by the Buechner in his book, Secrets in the Dark. He just nails what Nathanael was experiencing the day he met Jesus:
Ever since the child was born, there have been people who have gotten drunk on him no less than they can get drunk on hard liquor. Or if that metaphor seems crude, all the way down the centuries since that child was born, there have been countless different kinds of people who in countless different kinds of ways have been filled with his spirit, who have been grasped by him, caught up into his life, who have found themselves in deep and private ways healed and transformed by their relationships with him, so much so that they simply have no choice but to go on proclaiming what the writers of the Gospels first proclaimed: that he was indeed the long expected one, the Christ, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace – all these curious and forbidding terms that Christians keep on using in their attempt to express in language one thing and one thing only. That in this child, in the man he grew up to be, there is the power of God to bring light into our darkness, to make us whole, to give a new kind of life to anybody who turns toward him in faith, even to such as you and me.
This is what the writers of the story of Jesus in the Bible are trying to say. When they talk about how Jesus was born, by being called to Jesus, they were impacted by a man and felt a truth in their lives that was so miraculous that ordinary thought and words just couldn’t express it. The question which we, the modern believer, are faced with is how do we know whether or not this truth is in fact true? How can we determine for ourselves if, in this man born in Bethlehem, now from Nazareth, there really is the power to give us a new kind of life in which both suffering and joy are deepened? If there is a new kind of truth that gives us the power to live and to love in ways in which we never imagined possible.
There is a carol which we sing every Christmas which was originally written in Latin called Adeste Fideles. These words simply tell us how we find out if all of this stuff about Jesus is true. Adeste Fideles. In English, it’s O come all ye faithful. Come all ye faithful and all ye who would like to be faithful if only you could, all ye who walk in darkness and hunger for light. Have faith enough, hope enough, despair enough, foolishness enough to draw near and see for yourselves. Didn’t Jesus say, “Ask and it will be given to you” and “Seek and ye shall find”?
Jesus is telling you to pray for him and he will come to you. There is only one way to find out if this is true: try it. Quite often when you pray for Jesus and wait to see if he comes, you will notice that he comes in ways that only you will recognize. He says to follow him, as he did to those early disciples. To walk with him into the world’s darkness. He says that if you follow him, you will end up on some sort of cross, but in doing so, you will find your heart’s desire and the peace that surpasses? all understanding. Again, as far as I know, there is only one way to find out if Jesus is true and that is to reach out to him and to be open to any way that he might come to you.
Adeste fideles. Come and behold him, born the King of Angels.
I will leave you with some final words from Buechner:
Speak to him or be silent before him. In whatever way seems right to you and at whatever time, come to him with your empty hands. The great promise is that to come to him who was born at Bethlehem is to find coming to birth within ourselves something stronger and braver, gladder and kinder and holier, than ever we knew before or than ever we could have known without him.
The invitation today is to come and see.