It was 7:33 in the morning on July 27th when we first heard Atticus’ cry. This sound was the most remarkable, breath-taking, heart-filling sound I have ever heard. He was here! After nine months of anticipating his arrival, after fifty-nine hours of labor, after years of dreaming, first apart, and then together, what our first child would look like and sound like, Elena and I had our little one, whom we cherish.
I remember a lot about that week in the hospital. We went in on a Sunday evening for an induction. Because of Elena’s having gestational diabetes, our doctor was worried that Atticus might be too big, and they didn’t want us to go too far past our due date of July 26th. Over the course of two and a half intense, full days, we had one thing after another attempted, but progress was slow, and then stalled. We slept in fits, sometimes in too much pain to rest comfortably. We were uncomfortable. We were anxious.
But through it all, we kept looking ahead to the end, to the result we were working towards, to the birth of our son.
It is amazing how different times can stick in our heads, certain events leave such an indelible impression that the dates and times stay with us. Occasions of joy and celebration, and instances of pain and suffering; national tragedies and commemorations. “We don’t say, ‘our wedding was in the evening sometime’ or ‘our baby was born sometime in the morning’ or ‘grandpa died sometime in the afternoon.’ No, we remember these moments with particularity. It was a Tuesday. It was 5:01. The event started at 4:00. ‘I remember the specific moment he said that he loved me. I remember the exact moment she walked across the stage to accept her diploma. I remember the particular moment when I heard my diagnosis. I remember the precise moment when I heard about…’ (Lewis).
In our scripture text this morning, the gospel writer places us in a specific time. In verse 39, John writes, “It was about four o’clock in the afternoon.” We have to remember that none of the gospel writers, but John especially, put in any details that were not intentional. He doesn’t tell us that it was about 4 o’clock in the afternoon as a way to spruce up the story. It isn’t a way to simply add some depth to the narrative. It is intentional.
But it can be difficult to figure out just why he puts it in there.
“This is a tough one if you know anything about John. The importance of light and darkness, what light and dark represent. But four o’clock in the afternoon? Is it still light? Getting dark? What time of the year is this again? If the meaning isn’t something about being in the light or being in the dark, believing or not believing, why mention the time of day when these first disciples get to hang out with Jesus?
“Here is where we have to think incarnationally. Since the incarnation is at the heart of John’s Gospel, that the Word became flesh, time matters and marking time matters. Life happens in time and we remember life with time. Important events are not general references… No wonder the time of the first encounter with Jesus had to be recorded. There’s no way you can forget that kind of moment, right? When did you first meet Jesus? ‘Well, it was about four o’clock in the afternoon…’” (Lewis).
In our lives, we have all sorts of events that we remember and hold with us in our hearts and our minds “that time has to acknowledge. What are your personal events? What are your communal events? What are our national events? What are our global events? that then time helps us remember. Helps us feel. Helps us know that it mattered. Time anchors the event” (Lewis).
What are some of the events in your personal life? Births, deaths, milestones, graduations, illnesses, anniversaries… “Can you name the time when you first met Jesus? Name the time you first realized how much Jesus loves you?” Those two questions can be a little harder, especially for those of us who grew up in the church. Like many of you, I was baptized as an infant, and I was raised in the Church, so I feel I have always known Jesus, and have always been told that he loves me. But for some of you, that is not a familiar story. For some, Jesus was introduced later in life, and for still others, Jesus’ love wasn’t something that was experienced until you were grown. Maybe you are even sitting there this morning wondering if you have ever felt that love. Maybe this is one of those times that you will remember…
“Time matters in this story, not just to mark time, but to remind us of God’s time. That God entered into time when God didn’t have to. That God chose to be limited by time when God didn’t need to. That God decided time matters when omnipresence could give God a very easy out.
“For these first disciples, about four o’clock in the afternoon was their first time, by invitation from Jesus, to abide. Not just to come and see,” as our translations so inadequately put it, “but to come and be (emphasis mine). Outside of Jesus’ baptism in [verses] 32-33 in reference to the Spirit, [verse] 39 is the first occurrence of the verb meno in John.” Meno is a word that is used well over forty times in John’s Gospel, and it means “abide.” “It is the primary word to describe the intimate relationship into which Jesus invites us” (Lewis).
What does it mean to ‘abide’? Abide is a verb which means to “continue without fading or being lost,” or “to live or dwell.” It means to continue, remain, persist, endure, adhere to, stick to, stand by, acknowledge, and respect. “To abide is to belong. To abide is to be saved (John 4:42). To abide is to be assured of a future with God (John 14:2). To abide is to feel a real and committed relationship (John 15:1-17). No wonder you remember four o’clock in the afternoon. Your first abiding with the Word of God can’t be some generic memory. And presence in time is the promise of Epiphany. Epiphanic moments need timely demarcation. The incarnation anticipates and even demands timely matters. Why? Because time matters to God and our times matter deeply to God” (Lewis).
Which brings us back to John the Baptizer. He is the one who points toward Jesus, always away from himself. As the gospel writer points out earlier in chapter one, “he came to testify to the light.” He is a witness, and once he sees Jesus, “he immediately keeps the ‘movement moving’ in the direction of Jesus. From John’s perspective, he was kingdom-focused on what the Messiah was doing. Surely John had knowledge of the prophecies foretelling of the Messiah to come. What’s amazing about John is that he wasn’t just waiting for Jesus… he was expecting him!” (del Rosario).
As people of faith, we are called this morning, and every morning, to point toward Jesus. And while that may sound easy, it is actually really, really hard. It is hard to maintain the energy for something when we don’t know when it will happen. We are really good in the Church at praying, “until Jesus comes again,” or talking about that glorious day when God’s kingdom is realized. But consider how difficult it can be to keep saying that, to keep believing it, to keep living with that same anticipation every single day, for weeks, months, years, and even centuries at a time.
In the days of the early Church, the Christ followers who gathered themselves into secret house churches in Corinth and Rome, in Philippi and Thessalonia, all believed that Jesus’ return was imminent; that it was only a matter of days, maybe weeks, until Christ’s triumphant return. But those weeks stretched into months… months into years… until the first generations died away… and then further generations…
So we have to admit that, the waiting is, sometimes, really hard. If you hold your hand out, pointing at something, continuing to point, eventually your arm will become so tired that your hand will begin to drop, slowly, but surely.
“How do we expect and anticipate that Jesus is coming again? Are our worship services, our planning and meetings steeped in the knowledge that Jesus is coming? If we don’t live and act with anticipation… why not? What keeps us from fully letting go and completely living into the faithful belief that Jesus is coming?” (del Rosario).
One of the things this story reminds us of is that John had disciples. We tend to pretty easily forget that. As I re-visited this passage in preparation for this sermon, I discovered something I hadn’t noticed before. “One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother.” What this means is that Andrew, one of the first two disciples called to follow Jesus in John’s Gospel, was first John’s disciple. Andrew himself was living and acting with anticipation, and once he encounters the Messiah, he leaves John to follow Jesus.
This raises a whole host of questions, but the one that is most pressing for me this morning is, are we as willing as Andrew to leave behind what we know and love, to follow the Christ? Andrew was likely pretty comfortable in John’s crowd. In verse 35, we learn that Andrew was one of two disciples standing with John. There’s John the Baptist, just hanging out with two of his followers… that shows Andrew likely had a pretty good relationship with John, maybe even a position of some authority or importance. But then John points out Jesus, and Andrew leaves it all behind.
Are we as willing? If Jesus were to come through Palmyra this afternoon, around four o’clock, and invited us to abide with him, would we? Would we walk out these doors and never look back? Would we trade in a comfortable life for an itinerant one? Would we give up our security for a life of vulnerability, relying on others for our next meal or a warm place to lay our head?
Jesus invites us this morning “to ‘come and see.’ ‘Seeing’ has a lot of resonance in the fourth gospel. To ‘see’ is to trust and follow” (Petty). Will we abide in him? Do we have the courage to live and act in a way that anticipates his coming again? Maybe now is the time. Amen.
del Rosario, DJ. “January 15, 2017.” Abingdon Preaching Annual 2017: Planning Sermons and Services for Fifty-two. Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 2016. 7. Print.
Lewis, Karoline. “Timely Matters.” Working Preacher. Luther Seminary, 8 Jan. 2017. Web. 13 Jan. 2017.
Petty, John. “Lectionary Blogging: John 1: 29-42.” Progressive Involvement. N.p., 10 Jan. 2011. Web. 13 Jan. 2017.