A congregation of the United Church of Canada
Yr B ~ Christmas 2 ~ John 1:1-14
The world has moved on, and it probably feels a bit odd to us, but we’re still in the season of Christmas in church. There are 12 days of Christmas, after all, and today is just ‘swans-a-swimming day’. The gospels of Matthew and Luke famously have Christmas nativity stories that we always focus on for Christmas Eve. Mark’s gospel doesn’t have a nativity, and neither does John’s gospel. Except that it kinda does! Today we hear the opening of John’s gospel – and instead of a nativity with Joe, and Mary, and angels, and shepherds, and a manger we get a completely different kind of birth narrative – not of a little baby, but of the cosmic Christ.
The first three words we hear in John’s gospel should instantly trigger something for us – “In the beginning…” – and we’re transported back to the first book of the bible – Genesis – and the story of the creation of the universe. This is the canvass that John’s gospel chooses to paint upon – and the subject of his painting is “the Word” of God. It’s an important painting because it lifts our gaze from our usual Christmassy stuff, and fixes our attention on God. Somehow, someway, the very stuff of God – God-ness – expressed as God’s Word – not all of God but definitely “of” God – became flesh. Like us.
It’s both beautiful and bizarre at the same time. It’s like we know what the Word of God is, but we can’t really put it into language that makes sense. Neither could John – so he chose metaphors and poetry. But instead of getting bogged down in trying to figure it all out, just step back and look at what John is suggesting. It’s the same thing that Matthew and Luke are suggesting in their own unique ways.
There was a guy named Jesus. And Jesus walked around Judea teaching about God and helping people. And when people encountered Jesus they came away sensing that they had somehow, uniquely and acutely, felt the presence of God in him. He moved people. Lives changed. And when he was killed as a criminal, and then later somehow appeared as a present reality to his friends and followers, they knew that Jesus was more than just an ordinary guy. So they wrote about their experiences of him, and their experiences of God that Jesus revealed to them.
Now, when you encounter something that powerful, that miraculous, you gotta wonder how it all began. How’d he get that way? What made him special? John described it as the Word of God incarnate – enfleshed, within a bodily form – God-ness in a human.
“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.”
The Word, or maybe Spirit, of God was so powerful in Jesus that it felt like the creation of the world all over again – a totally new beginning – only this time it wasn’t the physical universe that was created – it was the creation of a new way of understanding how God and humans relate – not just God above and beyond, or even around – but God within!
We speak of Jesus as being the Word of God incarnated. Isn’t it funny, then, that we seem to put such a heavy emphasis on the written and spoken word? John 1 says God’s Word became flesh in Jesus. Author Steve Stockman says, “(Over the last 500 years) the church has coerced Christianity into taking the flesh and making it into words again.”
God’s Word became flesh – and we’ve turned Jesus right back into words – words to be revered, or maybe dissected – and we’ve lost sight of the living, breathing, active, stumbly, awkward, inconsistent, honest, real, human, powerful, interconnected truth of faith – Incarnation.
When we do this we effectively neuter the power of the Gospel to really speak to our whole selves. We lose touch with the reasons why God’s Word became incarnated in the first place – which was, I guess, that God wanted to make Godself more real and more present to us – that Spirit, that incarnation, is meant to be alive – living and breathing – with us in every aspect of our living.
Incarnation is about transforming an intangible thing into a visceral, tactile, unavoidable reality. You can’t put incarnation on your bookshelf – you can’t keep incarnation housed in a special building and tune it in once a week or so – you can’t take or leave incarnation – it’s part of you – it is you! And it doesn’t come neat and tidy with pretty wrapping, and easy answers, and a behaviour list. Even an incarnated life is at times hit and miss, hot and cold, sacred and profane – but it is what it means to be more fully human.
This is a huge part of what I think Christmas is about – it’s putting the flesh back on our faith. That’s why we celebrate it every year (and for 12 days!) – because we’re so prone to try to elevate our spirituality above the dirt and grime of real life where it might get smudged or soiled – and we forget that that’s exactly why we wanted faith in the first place.
The Word became flesh – so that God’s presence could be expressed in the midst of what it means to be alive. I’m a preacher – so I trade in words – the Word of God even – but my words are just possibilities – they float around like disembodied spirits searching for somewhere to land. And maybe a few of them land on you, and you think to yourself, “Hmm – I wonder what I should do with that?” No matter how beautiful, or profound, or riveting the words might be, until they land and are accepted and acted upon, they are limited in their power. Until they provoke an action or a response, they’re nice but they don’t really matter. Until they are internalized and incarnated, in you, they can’t change a life.
Just like the Word of God!
That is God’s great gift to us at Christmas. We see more than just a baby born 2000 years ago – we see that the Word of God was made incarnate through the life of that baby. The Word of God landed on, and was accepted, and was acted upon in Jesus – and the power to change the world was born. In Jesus we learned a new way to know God – through incarnation – we can know God from within – and it can change our world too.
The Word of God isn’t found in a book – or in a sermon – it isn’t in a metaphor or a story – it’s in us – incarnated – enfleshed. John 1:12-13 “But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of humans, but of God.”
We are children of God!!!!! How awesome is that!!!! We receive the Word of God – and we are spiritually reborn – no longer of blood, or will, or even just flesh, but of Spirit – we become sons, and daughters, and children of God. God’s gift to us is nothing less than everything!
1:14 “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.”
Does this mean Jesus? Surely, it does – but only him? It follows that as we are spiritually reborn and receive the light that we are of God – and through us God’s Word becomes flesh and lives among us. God has given us this great gift – and now we are the gift. And the real joy of any gift, is in the giving. In this blessed Christmas season (and beyond), may God’s Word become flesh in your life.