"New Year's Transformation"
Have you heard them yet? Those ads that say "we can help you with your New Year's Resolutions"? You know - the sports clubs, car dealers, hawkers of diet pills, and, yes, even hypnotists telling you they can help you get rid of your bad habits.
Well, it IS the New Year and what do we do in the new year but make resolutions - about all sorts of things. We have to make resolutions again and again because in the end we don't always keep them. One year I gave up chocolate. It lasted until April - Easter to be exact. My mom still, even when we were in college, insisted on making Easter baskets for us. Gotta love those Cadbury eggs. That put an end to that resolution!
Why do we make resolutions? Usually it is because we want to change something about our lives, become healthier or have a better outlook. The problem with resolutions is that they are external strictures we place upon ourselves. If we want to be the best we can be, we have to rely on something that works within, something that transforms.
My friend, John, was our senior class president in high school. John was a partier - wild, fun-loving. He liked to drink, among other things. He was great for livening things up - soccer games, pep-rallies, dances, you name it.
John's way of life followed him long after graduation until one day the drugs and alcohol caught up with him. He literally found himself in the gutter. Lying there it was the voice of God that illuminated his life, showing him a different path. He told me, "You know, Sue, most of the people I was running with were either dead or in prison. I knew that this was my only chance. I took God's hand and he pulled me up. I put my life in God's hands and I haven't been the same since."
John is now a minister. He works a regular job but also helps kids, especially boys, who have found themselves in trouble with drugs or alcohol. John's life was transformed one day at a time, and still continues because he relies on his faith to work from within. John will tell anyone that it is his relationship with Jesus that makes the difference. He sees Jesus as his divine savior; his judge, and his conqueror. He knows Jesus accepts him as he is. But what is really at work is the transforming power of Jesus' spirit that makes the difference in his life, daily.
Underlying the mystery of the gospel of John is the message of transformation. To transform something means to change its form, shape, direction; to turn it towards a different goal; to reorient it. It is this reorientation of life that the prophets of God could never quite help people understand. "The Word made flesh dwelt among us." In ways no other gospel writer does, John steps beyond the images of a God who is "other", and makes God known when "no one has seen God."
It is in Jesus, the Word, the source of all being, that we can know God in more than one image -the divine other, judge, conqueror. According to the gospel of John, God in Jesus is all of these and more. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. All things came into being through him . . .What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people."
John doesn't offer us concrete images but rather a mystical sense of a light that illumines our lives. He uses the word "light" because light is ethereal, intangible. We can't place a shape or a space or a time on light - but it allows us to see. It is an abstract concept, to know Jesus as " the light of life". What John means is that Jesus is the light of transformation - the "One who makes all things new", not just once but over and over again.
Our preconceived notions gleaned from the other gospels are re-oriented in by the "light of life" that John talks about. For instance, if we emphasize the divinity of Jesus, then it means we see Jesus as temporarily stooping down to our human condition and taking us up into his divinity. The image of the divine Jesus takes us out of our human, sinful state and out of this world. But the transforming Jesus orients us world and sheds light on those places where we can do something about what is wrong with it.
Then there is the image of the conquering Jesus - the one who is a judge over the world and all that
is in it. This is an image of power and victory that is not creative or transformative. The Jesus who sheds light doesn't ask us to take over the world but to befriend it. The transforming Jesus recruits stewards and reconcilers and co-creators to act in the world, not to take sides against it.
What about the image of the accepting, all-embracing Jesus? When Karl Barth answered a nervy theology student's question by saying, "Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so," he didn't mean that "Jesus likes me, accepts me, and makes no great demands on me. In reality Jesus loves me, therefore I had better be prepared for some embarrassing moment of truth and some hard work.
John wants us to see Jesus as here and now, transformative - calling us to responsibilities we may never dream of accomplishing on our own.
In this new year, the mystical gospel of John calls us to look to Jesus as the light that shines in our own darkness and day light. It calls us to daily transformation. Forget the New Year's resolutions that are so easily laid aside. Remember the One who comes and continually calls us to take part in his transfiguration of our own lives and all of creation.
Douglas John Hall, "We Would See Jesus", Christian Century, January 1998