Two seminary professors asked my classmates and me this question:
“What is Gospel?”
What? Aren’t we supposed to know what Gospel is? Isn’t part of being a Christian knowing this stuff. Even if we are sort of a part-time Christian? Or even a couple-times-a-year Christian?
Oh Crap. I’m in seminary and I’m Googling the definition. If anyone is supposed to know what the Gospel is, it’s people like me.
Google is good though. I get “the revelation of Christ.”
Revelation, now that’s an interesting word. It’s from the verb, to reveal. Reveal meaning make known, disclose, tell, release. So are the Gospels like God’s version of reality TV’s “big reveal?” Like God’s big makeover? God not happy with God’s image or God’s house? Or both? Or is this revelation something else?
I’m banking on a combination of all of the above. Beginning with Old Testament metaphors. Words used to describe God by comparing God to other stuff like king, father, ruler, rock, fire, water, tree, potter, beekeeper, shepherd, stronghold, fortress, and high ridge. God, according to these comparisons, is a leader, a collection of necessary natural resources, a creator of earthly goods, a farmer, and a protector. All image with some relationship stuff.
The Old Testament also speaks of a savior. Someone or something being sent by God some time in the future. This savior also has many names. Names such as branch, son, gift, prince of peace, counsellor, signal, and Immanuel.
Immanuel, a different word than the rest. A name rather than a metaphor. A word meaning God with us. But how? How is God with us?
Back to the metaphors. God has been with God’s people from the beginning. In a variety of odd ways. God the seamstress made clothing for Adam and Eve as they left the garden. God the burning bush got Moses’ attention. God the natural resource produced water from desert rocks for thirsty Israelites. In the Old Testament God shows up story after story sticking with people. Regardless of their actions. Regardless of their doubts. Regardless of their complaining.
And then comes the New Testament. Beginning with the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John. Four books called “the Gospels.” Four books about Jesus’ life on earth including his death and it’s afterwards. Stories revealing who this guy was and is. And because Jesus is both fully human and fully divine, these same books reveal who God is as well.
So what do we find out about Jesus and God in the Gospel stories? What is revealed? Uncovered? Made clear? Discovered?
In Immanuel, God is made known in a new way. A more intimate way. Immanuel God is God of the burning bush and the whirlwind and the shouting prophet and a collection of odd metaphors and something more.
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 came 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.
Words from the beginning of the fourth Gospel, the Gospel of John. Jesus, the Word, the message, the light, the past, current, and ongoing story. Jesus, both with God and with us as well. Humans depicted as the metaphor of darkness in contrast to the metaphor used for God, light. Humans never God or able to overcome God even though we try obliterating our own humanness and all of creation instead. Reading verse 5 as: “God loves into our humanness, and our humanness did not succeed in overcoming God.”
In the beginning was the Word creating life, everlasting and continuing life. Life-giving life for all people, all creation. Our life always with God and God always with us. Where ever we are. In suffering. In joy. In sorrow. In hope. Sometimes in crazy talking burning bushes. Sometimes in the skilled hands of a surgeon. Sometimes in the embrace of a friend. Sometimes in a smile from a stranger. Sometimes in a wrong that has been made right. Sometimes when we reach out to help someone else.
God with us, in us, loving us, always. Love, a gift. Called grace. For everyone. Grace given when we try to cover up God. Grace given when we stop and see a glimpse of God instead. Grace, relational, forgiving, feeding, caring, repairing. Grace calling us to do God’s work on earth as it is in heaven.
The Word, a metaphor. Containing enormous meaning. Word as message, story. In the beginning was and is our never-ending story of being human. Of being God’s beloved people and of who God is. God known to us, not only in a collection of words. But God as human being. In Jesus Christ. Jesus, “the word of life…revealed.” (1 John 1: 2) Always with us through Spirit’s breath, wind, energy, and call. God, Immanuel still. Then. Now, Tomorrow. Always.
Scripture quoted is from the NRSV.