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. (Read the Whole Christmas Gospel)
And the Word became flesh.
This morning, on this feast of the nativity, we have made a long journey to be here.
Through the dark places, searching for the light. We have journeyed through Advent. We draped our sanctuary and our selves in the deep and rich blues of Advent, we let our eyes adjust to the dark until the distant starlight began to peek through the darkness. Our Advent waiting and wondering led to this moment of celebration at the birth of Christ.
We began 5 weeks ago with Jesus announcing the end of time, imploring us to Keep Awake. To open our eyes to the world around us.
We continued on with John the Baptist, who was preaching in the dark wilderness to “Prepare the way of the Lord,” the Lord who will come to straighten our crooked paths.
We then followed John to prison, to the dark night of the soul, wondering if all these promises of the Messiah were in fact true.
And finally, last week, we heard the announcement. Mary would bear a child named Jesus. And our darkness, the darkness of the entire cosmos was placed in contrast to the tiny baby growing in one young woman’s womb… and we wondered if this indeed was God’s plan to push the darkness back and keep it at bay. To bring light, THE LIGHT of GOD, into the world through a tiny baby born to insignificant people in a forgotten corner of the world.
And then last night, we walked with Joseph and Mary across country, to the town of David called Bethlehem. We submitted to the Emporer’s decree to be registered, we were denied a place to rest our heads, we squatted like refugees in animal barns, we heard the angels with the outcasts and we found out that God was indeed born into our dark world, bringing real light.
We also discovered, that this 2000 year old story is a story for 2016. That if Jesus was born into a world full of darkness back then, one where tyrants ruled, soldiers killed, people lived in fear, that certainly the darkness of our world is not too much for God. That Jesus does come into our darkness too. Messiah is born today, just as 2000 years ago.
But today, the Gospel of John pulls us back from the details of the story. John gives us the Christmas story again, but without shepherds and angels, barns and journeys, without even Mary or Jospeh.
John takes us to the heart, to the meat of the story.
And the word became flesh.
John’s story of incarnation is hardly one we could reproduce with a Sunday School pageant. John expects that we can separate the details of the story from the meaning of the story. What does it mean that the God of all creation has chosen to become incarnate?
Incarnation is one of those churchy words that pastors tend use, but that actually has a very earthy meaning.
The flower with a similar name, carnation, gets its name from its fleshy colour.
Carnivale, the South American Mardi Gras festival is related to incarnation too. The great festival where you eat all the meat in the house before fasting during lent.
And carnivore, the scientific word for meat eater.
Carne means meat.
So that church word incarnation literally means”to take on meat.”
And the Word became flesh.
The birth of Christ is the moment when God puts on the meat of humanity, the flesh of our bodies. If you want to know what God looks like, look at the people around you, look at their skin and eyes and hair. When Mary and Joseph and those Shepherds looked into the eyes, of the christ child, they would have seen there all of humanity contained in flesh.
When the disciples and the crowds heard his voice, they would have heard the voice of the God.
When the lepers and the lame and blind were touched and healed by Jesus, they would have felt the touch of God.
When the soldiers nailed feet and hands to a cross, they would have pierced the Body of Christ.
But putting on our meat isn’t just about our physical bodies.
The incarnation is also how God puts on the flesh of our humanity. The darkness of sin and suffering and death. The flesh of the human condition, of limited, fragile creation. God takes on what it means to be human, to be created, to be us.
John’s Christmas story omits all the details that we tend to think the story is all about in order to bring us to heart or the meat of the matter. God has taken on our flesh in order to bridge the unbridgeable gap between God and a fallen, broken creation. God has become one of us in order to come near to all of us.
Sure, John’s version of the Christmas story might be missing a few of the familiar parts of the story, but fleshiness of the story, of the incarnation reminds us that of all the Christmas traditions we hold this time of year, the most true of them all is the one carry on with week after week. In the Eucharist as we share in bread and wine, we partake in God’s fleshiness. And we are reminded again and again that God takes on our flesh AND we take on God’s. That God’s light and life comes near to us again and again. Given and shed for us.
And as God comes near, as God becomes incarnate, God begins to reveal the light that has been missing from our world. We begin to see just how pervasive the darkness was. We begin to see that even the smallest bit of real light coming into life through a young woman giving birth in a barn is more light than we can handle. We begin to see that God comes and comes in small space, because even the smallest light pushes the darkness away, but the darkness can never diminish even the smallest amount of light.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
As we began in Advent seeing the dark places of the world, making our way from the end of the world backwards to the beginning, to the announcement of the coming Messiah, to going with Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem and with angels to shepherds, John tells us that our destination was here. Here with the Word in the beginning. Christmas is where God begins creation anew.
Christmas begins all things new, because the darkness of sin and death will no longer have hold over us. Because the old order of things has ended, and now the Christ born into flesh has come today.
Christmas according to John might not have all the details we think are normally part of the story, but John does take us to the heart, to the meat of the matter. John strips the details back to open ears to hear, our eyes to see, our hearts to know that this story of a babe being born to virgin in a stable in Bethelhem, is the story of God coming into our world, coming in order to be near to us again.
Hear John’s final line in the Christmas story once more:
Today, the Word becomes flesh and lives among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.