Friday, December 25, 2009

The Word Became Flesh and Lived Among Us

Christmas Day – Year C (RCL)
Isaiah 52:7-10; Psalm 98; Hebrews 1:1-4, (5-12); John 1:1-14
Friday, December 25, 2009 – Trinity, Redlands

“And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)

Wait a minute! This is Christmas! What happened to all the drama and pageantry we heard about last night? What happened to Mary and Joseph? Where’s the child in swaddling clothes? Where’s the manger? Where are the shepherds? And what about the choir of angels singing “Glory to God in the highest?”

After all the build-up of Advent, all the hype that we have endured since Thanksgiving, if not before, is it too much to want more of the well-known and beloved story of Jesus’ birth in a manger in Bethlehem? Does the drama have to end after just one night? Do we have to leave the much-beloved imagery of a young girl giving birth to her child, the Son of God, in low and meager conditions, surrounded by cute and cuddly animals, under the adoring eyes of lowly shepherds and the heavenly host of angels alike? Can’t we go back to Luke’s portrayal? After all, it is so much more heart-warming and touchy-feely than the way John portrays it, with all his talk about the Word this and the Word that. It’s so cold. It’s so . . . so theological.

Sorry, but no. Life goes on. Big events in life can’t last forever – even something as big as the birth of God’s Son. We all know that, no matter how much we don’t want it to, those warm and fuzzy events in life must eventually come to an end. There’s always that let down after a big event. But is John’s portrayal of the coming of the Messiah, with all his cryptic talk like “In the beginning was the Word, and Word was with God, and the Word was God,” and about how “the Word became flesh” really a letdown?

After all the hustle and bustle leading up to today, after the pageantry of Christmas Eve, after all the pomp entailed in “Glory to God in the highest” and “Joy to the World,” Christmas Day is, in many respects, the time for settling in, for adjusting to the life changing event that has just happened the night before. It is a chance for us to stop and catch our breath, to take a few moments and reflect on what it all means. Maybe we need the more esoteric, less sensory loaded imagery of “the Word became flesh and lived among us” to give us the space we need to take it all in, to catch up, to live into what all this really means. As the narrator noted at the conclusion of the Christmas Eve pageant last night: “The Father uttered one Word: that Word is His Son – and He utters Him forever in everlasting silence. And the soul, to hear it, must be silent.” Maybe this is the day we need to be silent, at least interiorly, to let it all sink in.

After bucolic imagery surrounding the humble birth of our Lord and King, maybe the time is right for something a little more abstract, more enigmatic, something entailing the language of mystery that is befitting such a profound, if not unfathomable, event. This is the time to reflect, and to realize that life following the events of Christmas Eve will never be the same again – life in the aftermath of the birth of the Messiah will never be the same.

No, the Prologue to John’s Gospel does not meet our expectations for drama, but it provides something even more profound – even more profound than the scene at the manger. The very fact that the Word became flesh proves that God does not conform to our expectations. Before this day, we knew God in more of an indirect, abstract way. We knew God through the revelation of scripture. We knew God through second-hand information, through the words of the prophets. Through such second and even third-hand accounts, we were able to come to believe in and worship God who was unseen, and who seemed, in so many ways, to be out there, out of reach, just beyond our grasp. But now, through the Word-made-flesh, we know God in a different way – we know God in the flesh. God-made-flesh is God manifest in body so that we might have a conception of the unseen Father, so that we might know God as we ourselves are.

The well-beloved story from Luke deals with the birth event of God-made-human. The Prologue from John serves to move the church beyond this singular birth event. It moves the church theology from “birth” to “incarnation” – to an ongoing state of God with us – a God who is no longer unseen and out there somewhere, but instead, is now God-made-flesh, who is with us, in the same form as we ourselves are. The point of the Gospel of John is that God became human through Jesus, and that as a result, He is one of us. As a result, God is not distant, uninvolved, impersonal, static. Rather, God is ever-present, involved, personal, dynamic.

In the Word-made-flesh, in God-made-human, God is brought to our level, seeing humanity as we are, experiencing humanity as we do, in all its fullness – in the joys and the sorrows, in the good times and the bad. And the flip side is that in Jesus, God reveals His vision of what humanity is supposed to be. He provides the ultimate example of what humanity can be. Jesus reveals the way to true human life – to what we are intended to be. And in the Word-made-flesh, in God-made-human, we see humanity as God sees us. We see how much God loves us and cares for us, to come and be among us. God did not have to do this. But God chose to do it out of sheer love. That’s the true miracle of Christmas. That is the unfathomable mystery of Christmas.

This is why we need, on this day following the birth of our Messiah, to hear such abstract and mysterious language as the Word-made-flesh – to let the message sink in. The events of last night, despite all the pageantry, all the beauty, was a one-shot deal, a singular event. On the other hand, the mystical language of Word-made-flesh, the revelation of Incarnation, of God come among us, and all that that entails, is an ongoing event – the ongoing gift of our God living among us and sharing our lives with us, the ongoing assurance that we are not alone, the ongoing gift of our God who loves us unconditionally.

“And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth” – God-with-us, the ultimate expression, the ultimate glory, of God’s love, given to each and every one of us, his beloved children.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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