Word Made Flesh
Isaiah 62:6-11, John 1:1-9, 12-14, Christmas Eve, 4:30 p.m.
I do my best thinking when I’m not thinking. Really. I keep a pad of paper next to my bed so that when an idea awakens me out of sound sleep, I can write it down. If I don’t write it down, I toss and turn for the rest of the night, fearing I will forget this new insight.
At 6 a.m. last Tuesday I awoke to find "ΣΟΓΟΛ intention” on my note pad. I admit my handwriting is sloppy and sometimes I can’t read notes I’ve left to myself…but this one baffled me. I had been thinking about this sermon the night before. And this idea that Jesus Christ is God’s Word.
The words on my pad were the Greek word ΛΟΓΟΣ backwards, you recognize intention. That word ΛΟΓΟΣ can be translated a number of ways. Often it means “word” or “logical structure.” Lots of science related words end with “ology,” eg. biology, zoology, entomology,… What if we thought of Jesus, the Living Word, as God’s intention for humanity? That made a lot of sense to me in my sleep last week—and it still does.
The very first words of John’s gospel, the very first words of our New Testament lesson this evening, are a little mysterious, or ambiguous. Presbyterians do a subtle thing with this word “Word.” When it’s capitalized it means “Jesus Christ.” So this reading is completely appropriate for the celebration of Christmas, which I believe is the second holiest day for Christians. (The holiest day, I believe, is Easter. My reasoning is everyone was born. Only Christ rose from the dead. Earlier this year I tried to persuade the Confirmation class of this, but the replied, “If Jesus had never been born, there would be no Easter.” They’re absolutely right…and so am I! Because during the Season of Easter we say, “Christ is risen!”)
So here’s how we might read the gospel lesson: In the beginning was Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ was with God, and Jesus Christ was God….Into Jesus Christ was life and the life was the light for all people…and Jesus Christ became flesh and lived among us….
This is extraordinary. And because we’ve heard this story all our lives, indeed many of us can recite the story of Jesus’ birth as it appears in Luke’s gospel, because Linus has been reciting it every year in the Charlie Brown Christmas special since 1965! We know this story so well, it’s so familiar that it does not shock us, as it should.
Have you ever tried to explain Christmas, the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, to an adult who has never heard the story? Every thing about it is preposterous! A baby born to a virgin; a baby whose birth was foretold by prophets who lived hundreds of years before; the very idea that this baby is completely and wholly God…and completely and wholly human. That this baby is God’s gift to the world, an expression of God’s passionate, relentless love for the whole universe. A baby who grew into a man who performed miracles; and was executed by the leaders of his own religion. The man who was completely God and completely human died…Let that one sink in…and then rose from death. Finally, a man whose death somehow pays for all the sins, all the wrongs that God could justly punish the world for.
If all this was brand new to me, the word that would be response is…”nutty.” I said earlier it’s preposterous. You think of other words that describe just how odd the faith of Christians is.
People often say “All religions are the same,” and it’s true that all religions have a lot in common. And believers of all kinds can get together for common projects like supporting the Day by Day Warming Shelter, or building a Habitat for Humanity house. But only Christians believe that the Living God became a human being…and started out as a baby.
And I said, this idea is so familiar we don’t sit up and say, “Wha..?” So I’m going to close my thoughts this afternoon with some words (small ‘w’) that we sing, words that are so familiar that they don’t shock us. Words that should shock us, or startle us into really hearing and knowing how powerful God’s love is. For humanity. For creation. For each of us, and all of us.
Born a child and yet a king…Come Thou Long-Expected Jesus
Christ our God to earth descendeth…Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence
Your thirst for my salvation/Procured my liberty…O Lord, How Shall I Meet You?
Now come, most worthy Lord, God’s Son, Incarnate Word…Sleepers Awake,” A Voice Astounds us
God with us is now residing…Angels from the Realms of Glory
Now you need not fear the grave: Jesus Christ was born to save… Good Christian Friends Rejoice
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see; Hail the incarnate Deity…Hark the Herald Angels Sing
Word of the Father, Now in flesh appearing…O Come, All Ye Faithful
O come to us abide with us, Our Lord Emmanuel…O Little Town of Bethlehem
He came down to earth from heaven Who is God and Lord of all…Once in Royal David’s City