Again, this morning, we hear that God’s Word became flesh and dwelt among us. This is of course the Gospel passage that we read annually on Christmas Day, our annual proclamation of the Incarnation, of the mysterious reality that shapes our lives and our community and the our destiny: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God….And the Word became flesh and lived among us and we have seen his glory…full of grace and truth.” We read it on Christmas morning and we are reading it again today, just two days later.
Those words made us “hit our knees” on Christmas morning, and in the grandeur and joy of our Christmas Masses we could feel that we were going some little part of the way toward honoring their importance appropriately. That’s a crucial part of Christian worship: we consecrate some times and places and words as holy, we set them aside as sacred, and we show them reverence as a way of acknowledging God’s infinite glory.
But what do these words sound like to you this morning, hearing them again as the rush of Christmas is beginning to settle down a bit? Are they getting cold like the leftovers of a Christmas feast? Stale like the cookie crumbs in a tin on a kitchen counter? Dry like a tree that has been decorated and lit for a little too long? It happens to many of us at this time of year. We want to stay in the bliss of Christmas but we gradually become aware that the calendar is advancing and the days are passing and the rhythms of life are inching toward normalcy again. And by the light of day, it seems a little more awkward to be on our knees worshipping the newborn king.
I don’t mean to rush us. It’s only December 27 and Christmas is twelve days long, but we are realists, aren’t we, and we know that Christmas can’t last forever. And if Christmas day was a day of celebration, we know that not every day will be.
And I’d actually like to encourage you to take that view. I’d like to encourage you to hear that glorious, mysterious, Christmas Gospel—“the Word became flesh and dwelt among us”—with the ears of someone who is looking toward a life after Christmas, a life of everyday ups and downs. Just for a moment, if it’s not too soon for you, get your head out of the holidays and into the notion that this is a day just like every other.
Because that’s the kind of day into which Christ was born. He dwelt among us, God dwells among us, in plain, ordinary life. There may be tinsel and ribbons, there may not be tinsel and ribbons, but God dwells with us and we behold his glory, full of grace and truth. All the time. And everywhere. And if we aren’t hearing that word fully, we aren’t really celebrating the Incarnation in Christmastide. It’s not so much about a special thing that happened in a manger one special night. It’s about what’s happening right now among us and within us. Let’s hear those words a little differently this morning.
Let’s hear the word “Word” differently too. Let’s hear it as much more comprehensive than we usually think it is. Not a word but the Word, the eternal word, logos. God’s mind, God’s reason, God’s logic, God’s meaning. The pattern of God’s thoughts, God’s will, God’s very desires. God’s order, God’s harmony. Why stop there? Let’s embellish a little: God’s imaginings, God’s self-perception, all of God’s big ideas and creative projects. What makes God tick. Dwelling among us, in the flesh, full of grace and truth for us to behold. God is holding nothing back from us.
And if this God dwells among us every day, our ordinary life must be unfathomably precious.
And how precious this is, right here: this life we live together as the Body of Christ. What we are doing now, in this church, acknowledging and receiving and worshiping this Word who is made flesh, who fills every moment and every place. The very life of God is among us here. What makes God tick, all of God’s big ideas, right here among us, right down in us. Whatever state we are in this morning, whatever occupies our thoughts, whatever ability we have to stay aware of God’s presence, God is as close to us as our own breathing and the coursing of blood through our own veins.
If you sit with that reality for very long, and acknowledge it the way we try to do here, something changes. It gets harder to hold back. If God has put everything on the line with us, everything in our hands, if God’s will is in us and God’s thoughts are in us and God’s desires are becoming our desires, we may find ourselves longing to respond. We may find that we are vulnerable to God despite our firm determination to remain in control of our own lives. We may find more and more that we seek the rest that comes from resting in God. We may find that we thirst for the living waters that come to us from God. And it may be true, despite our best efforts to maintain some image of ourselves as powerful grownups, that we are more like newborns in the arms of God. Some part of us, hesitant and awkward and frighteningly dependent, may reach out to be held by the one who created us and loves us and wills us into being in every moment.
In this as in all things, of course, Jesus has shown us the way. The eternal Word, made flesh, the fullness of all things, came among us in just this condition: naked, helpless, awkward and uncoordinated, reaching out to be held. At that moment in Bethlehem, Jesus could be nothing but present.
And so here we are, if we have the grace to know it, in our own Bethlehem, in the place of our own profound vulnerability. Our spiritual infancy. Nothing to offer God but our own need for God. If it’s hard to keep coming back to Church, if you feel embarrassed that you haven’t outgrown being here, if you can’t put all this religion stuff behind you and get on with your adult life, if you haven’t yet found a good explanation for the fact that faith has seized hold of you and brought you to your knees, if you don’t know how to look good doing this, if you really would rather be an unchurched person but you just can’t get in that groove, rest assured. Rest deeply. Your vulnerability to God, even if it’s only fleeting, barely felt, is the sign of a great gift. You have been given power to become a child of God. You are being born, like Jesus, with Jesus, in Jesus. Vulnerability is what it looks like when the Word becomes flesh.
Be reassured by that baby in the manger. Great things happened on that ordinary night in that ordinary town of Bethlehem. And great things are happening in you, with every breath you take, in this Bethlehem on Locust Street in Philadelphia.
No, if you’re like me, being given the power to become a child of God has not given you the power to rise above all suffering or solve all problems (not even other people’s). No, it doesn’t feel like winning at life. If you have answers, it may not be clear to you exactly what they are. It’s messy and a tad embarrassing and almost entirely baffling at times to be a follower of Jesus. But the Word dwells with you and in you. It is becoming flesh in you, as you become one with God in Christ. We don’t know why, but we know that this is God’s big idea. This is God’s creative project. This is God’s desire. Trust it.
Together, almost in spite of ourselves, we are beholding that glory, the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father. It is full of grace and truth. We are full of grace and truth. Thanks be to God.
Preached by Mtr. Nora Johnson
27 December 2015
Saint Mark's Church, Philadelphia