Sunday’s Sermon: Determined to Break Through

Texts for this sermon: Isaiah 11:6-11a and John 1:1-5, 9-14

This year, we will be using the picture book The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski (ill. by P.J. Lynch) throughout our Advent sermon series. For copyright purposes, I will not be able to share the entirety of that story within the content of these blog posts, but I do encourage you to either check this book out from your local library or purchase a copy for your own personal library. It’s an incredible story with stunning illustrations.

jonathan toomey cover

  • Describe idea of sermon series – narrating Advent journey through lens of The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey[1]
    • Brief overview of story up to this point
    • So let’s jump right into more of Jonathan’s story this morning – [read Toomey, pt. 2, pp. 10-17]
      • Last week, we talked about rocky beginnings – about the heartache that caused Jonathan Toomey’s beginning in this story to be so rocky, about Joseph’s rocky start to Jesus’ story.
        • Still see a lot of that rockiness in today’s part of the story
          • Answers the door “muttering and sputtering,”[2] “griping and grumbling”[3]
          • Continues to grumble and declare things are “pish-posh”[4]
          • Continues to act bearish and unapproachable around Thomas and Widow McDowell
        • Certainly see potential for rockiness in OT reading[5] – natural enemies (predators/prey) sharing intimate space
          • Wolf and lamb
          • Leopard and goat kid
          • Lion and calf
          • Bear and cow
          • Deadly snakes and small children
          • The scenarios that could play out in the midst of this set-up are at best something out of Wild Kingdom and at worst a parent’s worst nightmare. There are all sorts of possibilities for violence, disaster, and pain. → sound at all like the world we live in?
            • Needless deaths of black men like Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Trayvon Martin
            • 200 Nigerian girls can be kidnapped by militant group just because they’re girls trying to learn
            • Bullying in our schools and especially online has reached level of such intensity that 1 in 6 high school students have seriously considered suicide while 1 in 12 have at least attempted it[6]
            • Friends, the world we live in is a world in need of Light. A world in need of grace. A world in need of peace. But as we well know, sometimes it can be hard to find that light, that grace, that peace – to let something or someone break through the rockiness and bring in the Light.
              • Jonathan Toomey = perfect e.g. of that need
                • Grief and loss are all he can see → needs someone to bring light back into his life … someone, perhaps, like a precocious, wiggly little seven-year-old boy.
  • Interesting. A child … a little boy … bringing in the light. Sounds familiar?
    • Is – in the face of all those unlikely predatory/prey pairing: a little child will tend/lead/guide them[7]
    • Jn: The Word was first, the Word present to God, God present to the Word. … What came into existence was Life, and the Life was Light to live by. The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness; the darkness couldn’t put it out.[8]
      • What I love about The Message translation here → Eugene Peterson really captures the dramatic, attention-grabbing way that God breaks into the human story here.
        • “The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness” – Gr. = powerful light, engulfing light, awe-inspiring light, light as bright as the dawn breaking over the horizon
      • Another important point that gets a little lost in this translation
        • 2 parts to that last sentence
          • 1st half: The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness. = Gr. is just as the sentence is translated – past-tense → The Light came blazing and breaking into the darkness in the birth of Christ – a particular event that cannot be repeated.
            • Scholar: The Word becoming flesh is the decisive event in human history – indeed, the history of creation – because the incarnation changes God’s relationship to humanity and humanity’s relationship to God. The incarnation means human beings can see, hear, and know God in ways never before possible. … The relationship between divine and human is transformed, because in the incarnation human beings are given intimate, palpable access to the cosmic reality of God.[9]
          • 2nd half: the darkness couldn’t put it out = Gr. in this part is special – continuous verb, more like “the darkness will not put it out” → There is a timelessness in this sentence. While the coming of the Light was a singular event, this part of the sentence recognizes that even though the darkness remains a part of our lives, so does the One with the power to overcome that darkness. “The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness, but the darkness will not ever be able to put it out.”
  • Nothing about this breaking-in is easy – takes serious dedication and determination
    • Tenacity reminiscent of little Thomas → Imagine how apprehensive he must have felt given …
      • Jonathan Toomey’s reputation – remember village children’s nickname for him: Mr. Gloomy
      • Jonathan Toomey’s demeanor
        • Constantly “mumbling and grumbling, muttering and sputtering, grumping and griping”[10]
        • Doesn’t even speak to Thomas at first – Thomas works up the nerve to ask a question, Jonathan Toomey’s response: The woodcarver glared at Thomas, then shrugged his shoulders and grunted. Thomas decided it meant “yes,” so he went on. “Is that my sheep you’re carving?” The woodcarver nodded and grunted again.[11] → Okay, I’m almost 31 years old, and the thought of finding myself in Thomas’ shoes – faced with such a seemingly-insurmountable barrier – is intimidating to me.
      • And just think how many seemingly-insurmountable barriers are a part of our daily lives. – Jn talks about this: [The Life-Light] was in the world, the world was there through him, and yet the world didn’t even notice. He came to his own people, but they didn’t want him.[12]
        • Things that keep us from noticing – that get in the way of our relationships with each other, things that get in the way of our relationship with God
          • Pride
          • Stress
          • Grief
          • Prejudices
          • Unrealistic expectations
        • Thankfully, God shares Thomas’ tenacity. – particularly beautiful and inspiring in-breaking in Jn: The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.[13] → Friends, God loves this world and all the people in it so much that God chose to “move into [our] neighborhood” – to experience life the way we experience it with all its ups and downs, all its joys and pains, all its stress and inspiration and uncertainty and love. What an incredible way to express that devotion and determination.
          • Scholar: God did not stay distant from [humanity], remote and isolated; father, in Jesus, God chose to live with humanity in the midst of human weakness, confusion, and pain. … To become flesh is to know joy, pain, suffering, and loss. It is to love, to grieve, and someday to die. The incarnation binds Jesus to the “everydayness” of human experience.[14]
          • God:
            • “You’re struggling? Let me struggle alongside you.”
            • “You’re hurting? Let me share that burden.”
            • “You’re celebrating? Let me celebrate with you.”
  • Now, I have to tell you that this is one of those times when I really wish I could share the illustrations in this book with you. When you listen to the story, while Thomas’ determination to break through Jonathan Toomey’s tough outer shell is palpable, it’s hard to tell in these few pages whether it’s actually working.
    • Only faint glimmer in words – Jonathan Toomey’s brusque mention to Widow McDowell at the start of their 2nd visit that the teapot is warm à slightest hint of reaching out
    • Pictures – each page includes a small illustration
      • Two sheep that look distinctly happy
      • One cow that is unmistakably proud
    • Sometimes God breaks into our lives in dramatic, awe-inspiring ways like a powerful light dawning. And sometimes God breaks into our lives in ways that are more subtle, more indirect, more gradual. But make no mistake, friends, God’s love for each and every person on this earth is so strong that God is determined to break through so that all are free to feel and participate in that love. Amen.

[1] Susan Wojciechowski. The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey. (Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press), 1995.

[2] Wojciechowski, 10.

[3] Wojciechowski, 14.

[4] Wojciechowski, 13.

[5] Is 11:6-8.

[6] Meghan Neal. “1 in 12 teens have attempted suicide: CDC finds suicide among high school students on the rise” in New York Daily News, 9 June 2012., accessed 7 Dec. 2014.

[7] Is 11:6.

[8] Jn 1:1, 4.

[9] Gail R. O’Day. “The Gospel of John: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series, vol. 9. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1995), 524.

[10] Wojciechowski, 2.

[11] Wojciechowski, 13.

[12] Jn 1:10-11.

[13] Jn 1:14.

[14] O’Day, 525-526.