John started his life as a fisherman. He started following John the Baptist, looking for spiritual answers. John the Baptist had a simple message. “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near.”
People would find him. They would say, “I messed up my life. I want to straighten it out.” He’d baptize them. And then he’d tell them how to live differently.
That’s a great start. But there was a big risk that they could think that the way to make God happy was to live differently.
Fortunately, John had another thing that he did.
He pointed to someone else, to Jesus.
“I’m not the important one,” John would say as he got popular.
“I’m not the one to follow,” John would say as people hung on his every word.
“I will decrease and he will increase,” John said to people who would listen.
It was a strange message to hear.
But one day, John the fisherman heard John the Baptist say, “Follow him” as he pointed to Jesus. And John the fisherman did.
He became a disciple of Jesus, listening to him teach, doing what he said.
He became an apostle of Jesus after the resurrection, telling what he knew about Jesus to everyone he saw.
He became a pastor, caring for people in at least one city, maybe more.
Finally, he became a writer, capturing all that he had learned about Jesus.
And when he wrote his story of Jesus, he didn’t start with what we are supposed to do, with how to live, with the five most important steps in growing your faith for a new year. All of those were part of his experience. But that wasn’t the start of his experience.
He started with talking about Jesus.
“In the beginning was the word,” he wrote. “And the word was with God and the word was God.” And he talks about John pointing to Jesus and he talks about God putting on a body and walking around with people. God with us, God in the flesh, God so in love with people that he became fully God and fully human to make relationship possible.
John made it clear that the story of us and God doesn’t start with our good behavior, or our good intentions or our resolutions or commitments.
The story of us and God starts with God. Every time.
When we are concerned about talking to God and God not listening, there is value in thinking back to find out if God said something that we missed.
When we are concerned about being good enough so that God will notice us, there is value in considering what it means that God noticed us first, that he came to us, and that it was people who didn’t notice God, not the other way around.
When we’re concerned about our inconsistency and inadequacy and inattentiveness, there is value in remembering that there is not one character trait or human struggle or imperfection that surprises God. Not one. He is completely aware from the inside.
And is willing to talk with us and care for us and welcome us again and again.
He’s willing to weep with us and to weep for us.
He’s willing to sit with us and listen and talk.
He is willing to be with us at the end of an awful year and the beginning of an uncertain year.