- Date: January 2, 2022
- Bible Reading: John 1:35-51
- Free Resource: Pointing to Jesus (Cross+Gen Education, NL)
- Unit Theme (December 26—January 16): Encountering the Messiah
- The Point: Our faith grows as we follow Jesus.
Our perspective can change a situation. It takes an intentional effort to see things in a way that God would see them.
As we wrap up the season of Christmas, the sounds of Christmas carols are still echoing in our thoughts. For me, these carols often bring back memories of childhood. I can remember listening to carols on vinyl in my grandparents’ living room. One of Grandma’s favorites was “Do You Hear What I Hear?” (as recorded by Bing Crosby) It’s one of those sounds that sends me back in time whenever I hear it, and the repeated refrain is one that I think is stuck in my young mind because of how simple it is. The pattern is similar to one used in children’s books and rhymes, bringing back a familiar phrase from the point of view of different characters in the story, embedding itself into our long-term memories with the repetition.
As an adult, now, I find I am left with questions when I hear this song. Would hearing or seeing just one part of the story be enough for me? What if you just heard the angels? What if you only saw the star? Or witnessed the unusual scene at the manger? What would you think of each of those pieces? And what if someone else told you about it in an unflattering way? Would God’s wonderful gift be obvious to you, or would it take more? What would you need to experience to better understand what was happening?
What Do You See?
Over and over in scripture, we see God doing impossible things with improbable people. Abraham and Sarah. Moses and the Israelites. David against Goliath. Elizabeth and Zechariah. Mary and Joseph. God challenges expectations and changes the situation dramatically. An encounter with God makes everything different, bringing a change into the world that brings hope and help to God’s people.
We have the benefit of two stories in this passage. In the first story, Andrew and Peter have been prepared for who Jesus is by John. “Behold, the Lamb of God!” These disciples have heard John and believe what they have heard. They have an understanding before they experience Jesus personally. They are then willing to go and follow—changing their lives. John prepared them with a “Do you see what I see?” moment and they are open to experiencing God in a new and exciting way.
Nathaniel, on the other hand, has a very different viewpoint. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Nathaniel is jaded and skeptical. He asks, “Do you know what I know?” because what he knows of Nazareth isn’t good. Even when his friends tell him about their experience with Jesus, Nathaniel doubts. He needs something more convincing that God’s anointed could come from such a lowly place. Nathaniel knows Nazareth—and he has developed a bias against it. His reaction is a very human one. Jesus even seems to know that Nathaniel will be honest with him about this doubt by proclaiming him to be someone without guile. Jesus provides Nathaniel with an encounter that puts that doubt to rest and welcomes him into the group of disciples.
Changing Your Point of View
How often is our understanding of God limited by our human point of view? Let’s be honest—we all have our blind spots and biases. Sometimes life experience informs our actions but can also cloud our judgment when we have been wounded by loss, pain, or misplaced expectations. Sometimes we aren’t even sure where our biases come from. We place ourselves at the center of desired outcomes. We see the places where negative news occurs, and—like Nathaniel—decide that nothing good can come from there.
Simply looking at the world around us, it’s not hard to see examples of where the human point of view brings a negative outcome. People are excluded from the community based on how they are seen. Racism, sexism, classism…any way that we find to divide people into groups can be used to cloud expectations. It changes how we talk about each other and how we treat each other daily—whether we realize it or not. We reduce people to stereotypes and act on our fears. We ignore the call to follow Jesus toward a better way of being, despite our best efforts.
The Good News
The good news in this story is that—no matter their initial reaction—Jesus calls and uses all of the disciples in the story. Whether they believe easily or take convincing, there is a place for all of them in the story that will continue to unfold. That same grace applies to us. No matter what we do, Jesus continues to call us to follow. My prayer is that as I answer that call, I learn and grow into more of what God intends for me to be each day.
Confronting my own biases is not easy; essentially it comes down to an act of faith. Can I put aside my own fears and strive to have faith that allows me to see the world as God would? Can I acknowledge I may not be looking at things in a way that God would want me to when God says, “Do you see what I see?” That is hard work. It takes stepping out of my comfort zone to seek out places where marginalized voices are given space. It takes intentional reading and learning about cultures that aren’t my own. It takes listening to the pain of those who have been victims of injustice without becoming defensive of my complacency. Every time I fail to see others as God does, I am forgetting my call to follow.
The reality is that every one of us needs to pray daily, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.” God hears that prayer and continues to walk with us through life. God knows that we will make mistakes and continues to love us and use us in building the kingdom. God continues to give us examples of grace—encounters with Jesus—and doesn’t give up on what we can do. Thanks be to God.
Ways to connect this story in congregational life:
- Challenge your congregation to look for God in unexpected places. Provide a place for people to share their stories: in an online forum, posting on a bulletin board, or through small group conversations.
- As a leader, this can be a good time to share your own personal stories. Are there times when you find your faith clouded by human limitations? When are you prejudiced about how a situation will unfold because of your view of a person or where they come from? What biases do you sometimes have to confront in yourself?
- Our own biases sometimes keep us separated from each other and prevent us from living as God intends. What biases exist in your community? How is your congregation working to break down divisions to welcome everyone to encounter Jesus?
Striving to see in a new way,
Michelle Ketepa is a coach and author. She is a mother of three girls and has 25 years of professional experience in family, youth, and children’s ministries. She currently resides in Southeast Michigan and continues to serve God as a volunteer at First Presbyterian Church in Warren.
During the main Narrative Lectionary year (this year: Sept 12 to June 5), we provide a free activity download from one of our products to help you in your faith formation ministry. This week, download “Pointing to Jesus,” an activity that helps intergenerational groups play a game to demonstrate our call to point to Jesus as John did from our Living the Word: Cross+Gen Education (NL) curriculum, though this can be used with many ages in many contexts!