The Word Became Flesh…So We Can Be Our Child-of-God Selves
A meditation by Dave Shull
Spirit of Peace United Church of Christ
The Fourth Sunday of Advent – December 18, 2011
Every year around this time, pastors dust off a Christian teaching with the grand name of the incarnation. The incarnation is the Christian idea that in this baby Jesus Christ, and the adult he grew into, God took on a body. The incarnation says Jesus Christ was both fully divine and fully human. More than anyone or anything else, Jesus shows us who God is and what God is like. And more than anyone else, Jesus shows us what human life can look like. That’s a Reader’s Digest take on the incarnation. Over the centuries, arguments about what the incarnation means and how it works have gotten quite nasty.
I’d be surprised if, during the prayer time today, any of you stood up and said, “I’d like to ask for prayers for me and my best friend. Our relationship is under a lot of stress because our passionate disagreement about the incarnation.” One of the reasons I’d be surprised is because I think pastors and theologians have done a good job turning the incarnation into an abstract, irrelevant fossil. A Christian writer has said, “The incarnation is one of the most powerful parts of my faith. But the church has turned it into something so disembodied and abstract that it floats above the human condition” (Parker Palmer).
No teaching that floats above the human condition can change lives. Or heal brokenness. Or bring joy to the world. A week before we celebrate again the birth of this baby whom the Christian church proclaims is fully God and fully human, I’d like to talk about the incarnation. Not because I want it to become a cause for tension among your family and friends. But because the incarnation lies at the heart of what Christmas means. And it has everything to do with changing lives, and healing brokenness, and bringing joy to the world.
The incarnation shouldn’t be an abstract idea because it started with Jesus. The idea that God would take human form as one who is fully human and fully divine wasn’t hatched by some priests who were bored one Sunday afternoon and had nothing better to do. The incarnation wasn’t created by pointy-headed pundits in some church tower. The idea of God taking human form didn’t come first.
Jesus came first. And it was the people whose lives Jesus changed, and the people Jesus healed, and the people whose worlds Jesus filled with such joy who came up with the idea of the incarnation (the concept of the incarnation as a “from below” theology comes from Stanley J. Grenz, Theology for the Community of God, Eerdmans Publishing Co, 1994, p. 310). Because in this person Jesus, they felt God fully present. In this person Jesus, they came to see the joy and fullness of being human.
Many of the people Jesus came across during his three years travelling through the Galilee were dying. Some were dying from illnesses. Most were dying a slower kind of death. They had a condition, or they had done something. And this had led their families and communities to throw them out. So many of the people who let Jesus into their lives were dying from being totally alone and totally cut off. Because in Jesus, day, being expelled from your community meant you had no identity and no source of support.
Others Jesus came across were stuck in blindness. They were blind to hope and joy and non-violence and second-chances. Jesus came as light that pierced the blindness.
What did Jesus do that led people to see him as Life and Light? Over and over again, Jesus restored isolated individuals to communities of loved ones (John Koenig, New Testament Hospitality, Fortress Press, 1985, p. 30). You know what it’s like to be expelled and excluded. And then to feel a community open their arms to you. And welcome you into belonging, into love, into being human again.
For three years, Jesus the Life-Light created ways for people to be restored to communities of life and light. For three years, Jesus the Life-Light called people to change their lives, healed their brokenness, and showed people they could be joy to the world.
Then everything came crashing down. Rome decided all this talk of changed lives and healing and joy and love of enemies was too dangerous. So in the year 30ad, Rome murdered this Life-Light. And Jesus’ followers scattered. They thought it was all over. They thought the only thing left for them was to go back to where they’d been before Jesus talked to them. Back to their slow dying. Back to blindly making their way through the world.
But then the impossible happened. Easter happened. God emptied the tomb of death. God emptied the tomb of Jesus’ body. And suddenly people who had walked beside Jesus before Rome murdered him felt him with them again. Jesus was alive. He was talking to them. He was walking beside them. And they told everyone of this miracle. This Jesus who had shown them what it was like to live like their Child-of-God selves was alive.
And then something even more outrageous happened. People who had never met Jesus while Jesus was a flesh-and-blood human began to feel him beside them. And hear him. People born long after his murder felt his arms around them. Felt his love. And heard his call to turn away from violence and love even those who hated and feared them. The Living, Risen Jesus began to drawn more and more people who were born long after Rome murdered him More and more people born long after Rome murdered him felt themselves drawn into the presence of the Life-Light.
These were the people who created the Gospel of John. People who’d never walked beside the flesh-and-blood Jesus. But people to whom this Living, Risen Jesus was so powerfully and personally present, they knew God was in him. They knew God was totally present in this Jesus. And they also knew there was no one who was more human.
So these early Christians had to try to figure out who this Jesus was. And all they could come up with was that he was both fully divine and fully human.
That’s how the idea of the incarnation came to be.
And that’s what the community that created the Gospel of John was celebrating when they sang this hymn of wonder and joy to the Life-Light who showed them another way.
The Word was first – the Word present to God, God present to the Word.
The Word was God, in readiness for God from day one.
Everything was created through him;
nothing—not one thing!—came into being without him.
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.
There once was a man, his name John, sent by God to point out the way to the Life-Light.
He came to show everyone where to look, who to believe in.
John was not himself the Light; he was there to show the way to the Light.
The Life-Light was the real thing: every person entering Life he brings into Light.
He 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.
But whoever did want him,
who believed he was who he claimed and would do what he said,
he made to be their true selves, their child-of-God selves.
These are the God-begotten,
not blood-begotten, not flesh-begotten, not sex-begotten.
The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.
We saw the glory with our own eyes,
the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son,
generous inside and out, true from start to finish.
(John 1.1-14, The Message Re-Mix © 2003 Eugene Peterson)
Look at your life. Look at the communities you’re part of. Look at your world. Where do you need to change your life? And where can you help someone make the changes they long to make. Where do you need some brokenness to be healed? And where can you heal some brokenness? Where do you need joy? And where can you be joy to someone’s world?
O come ye, O come ye, to Bethlehem (from the carol “O Come, All Ye Faithful”, which we sang earlier in worship).