When I was five years old, my parents took me and my sister to a farm – I think it was a farm – I wasn’t paying attention to my surroundings so much as the reason for the trip. We were getting a puppy! Pretty soon I was standing in front of a wire-fenced, makeshift kennel in which a litter of mutts happily yipped and played together. They were a mix of Golden Retriever and German Shepherd, and the one with a white tip on his tail immediately caught my attention. So did the fact that he nipped me. Yep, this was going to be our dog.
My parents gave me the privilege of naming him, and for reasons I still can’t remember, I named him Tag. Tag was the greatest dog. He hated motorcycles and dirt bikes and would chase them whenever he could. As he grew older, no leash or chain could hold him when he wanted to bolt after a rider. I don’t think he ever caught one, but he wouldn’t have hurt him even if he did. He was fierce enough to drive a Doberman out of our yard one day with its stub of a tail between its legs, but gentle enough to let small kids roughhouse with him. I remember as a kid leaning up against him when I wanted to take a nap or just relax, and I regret every single time I felt too tired to immediately go out to see him when I got home from school. And I remember thinking: “You’re going to regret not doing this.” I’d see him later, but his bounding about as soon as I got home, with the excited whine and madly wagging tail deserved more than my lazy response. He really was the best.
When I was a young teenager, my family moved from Massachusetts to Indiana. We couldn’t take Tag with us, and I was devastated. The thought was that we’d come back for him at some point. My uncle and his family would take great care of him, I knew that, and they did. But German Shepherds often develop problems with their hips in old age. He was getting old, and his life was increasingly pained. After a long time in Indiana, we went back to Massachusetts for a family visit, and it turned out to be my last time with Tag.
As we pulled up, he was bounding about behind the chain-link fence in my uncle’s front yard. It had been some time and he was old. I was worried he wouldn’t recognize me, and I was right. But I didn’t care. This was my pup. I rocketed out of the car. Ever protective of his keepers, Tag barked menacingly and ran back and forth, making sure I didn’t come any closer. But I did anyway. I knew he would remember me. My eyes met his, and nothing. Still the snarl and bark from a dog who could definitely back up his threat. But then I reached my hand through the fence. He sniffed, and immediately his ears went down, he whined excitedly, and his tail started wagging madly. I vaulted the fence and gave my dog a bear hug. I had never forgotten him, and now he remembered me. I’m so glad for that final day or so with him, and I will never forget him. The bond between a boy and his pup is beautiful, and not easily broken.
In John 1, the Apostle tells us of a far deeper bond, the breaking of which tore a hole in the fabric of the universe. The first five verses tell us of the Word, who is God, and who according to verse 14, became flesh and dwelt among us. Jesus, of course, come to save the world from the sin into which our first parents, and we in them, plunged it. In verses 10-11, John lets us know how bad it was: “He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.” The bond between God and humanity was broken beyond any natural means of reparation.
That’s the point behind the several paragraphs honoring my childhood buddy, Tag. Despite time and distance, he still knew the scent of his master. When Jesus came into the world, the world made through him, the world did not know him. The people through whom he took on humanity did not receive him. And when they and others got a whiff of the real reason for his coming – not to free them from subjugation to Rome but from slavery to sin – they were enraged. The rage became rabid when, after a farcical trial, they called upon a pliable politician to sentence him to the cruelest capital punishment ever devised. They wanted him condemned, dead by any means necessary, and they eventually got it. The creation crucified the one through whom it was created; the people murdered their Messiah.
How deep must sin have stained us, that we would declare war on the Prince of Peace, and call for the unlawful death of the giver of life? How badly must sin have damaged us such that even we who belong to him still snarl against his law when it dares to suggest that we are not our own masters? And therefore, how great must God’s grace be, if we find our hearts broken in the aftermath of our snapping angrily at our Master, our bolting away from his protective care? That we turn to him for forgiveness, that we want not only freedom from the consequences of sin, but from the sin itself, is one gift among countless unconditional others in the grace that is ours in Jesus Christ.
Jesus is our Savior, our Lord, and our very best friend. He will never leave us nor forsake us. He will not abandon us to the sin which He put down once for all, the sin which still seems so enticing in our moments of spiritual senility. He accomplished the work his Father sent him to do, and by his blood, He has made a bond with us, a covenant, which can never be broken. He is with us by His Spirit who applies to us all that he’s done, and he is returning one day so that we can see him face to face. And unlike the horror John describes in verses 10-11, we’ll know him. We’ll recognize him. We who by his grace receive him by faith in this life, and in so doing become his siblings in the family of God, he will receive into His immediate presence, forever. We’ll be bounding about, sinless, in the new heavens and the new earth. We’ll be home.