Sunday, January 3, 2016
Christ Lutheran Church – Manchester, PA
“On the 10th day of Christmas my true love gave to me……” You know the song. Well today really is the 10th day of Christmas, and many people have already taken their Christmas trees down, put away the decorations, started paying the bills, and getting their lives back to normal. But in the Christian Church we are still celebrating the 12 Days of Christmas that do not officially end until Wed., Jan. 6th, or the Feast of Epiphany, when Christ was made manifest to the Gentile world when the Magi saw the baby Jesus. They saw what John in our text today was talking about; they saw that the Word of God became flesh and lived among us. And that event changed their lives because when you encounter God in the flesh, nothing is the same.
“The Word became flesh and lived among us and we have seen his glory…” It’s an interesting way that John tells the Christmas story and it’s a hard one to visualize for many people. We’re used to the Nativity accounts in the gospels of Matthew and Luke that are so easy to visualize. Matthew tells us about the Angel Gabriel, Bethlehem, the star and the wise men, and how the Holy Family had to flee to Egypt from Herod. Luke tells us about the census, how there was no room in the inn, the manger that Jesus was born in, shepherds abiding in the fields, and angels singing songs of praise. These are images of Christmas, the images of the birth of Jesus that we love. John’s account of the birth of Christ leave us without these beautiful images. His choice of words leave us wondering how to visualize this event.
It reminds me of the game charades, where we try to guess the word a person is acting out. If we stick to Christmas words, some aren’t too difficult to act out like Christmas tree, or angels, or even shepherds, but it’s difficult to act out words like grace, glory, truth, or God. These abstract words are hard to visualize and translate into physical reality. We wonder, “what does grace look like? How do you show glory? Is there a way to show truth? And how does one begin to portray God?” To act them out is a real challenge. In order to explain these words we have to try to use other words, and often that’s where we can get into trouble.
Words can be so easily misunderstood. What means one thing to one person can mean something totally different for someone else. Take for example, the word fine. For one person it may mean that everything is okay and things are going great. For another person, the word fine may mean anything but fine. They say that’s what makes the English language so hard to learn, because one word can have so many different meanings. Words are wonderful things. They hold a lot of power and can build people, but they can also tear them down. The media – television, magazines, and even social media like Facebook and Twitter are filled with words that twist the truth and hurt. When we hear words like judgement, busy, critical, or perfectionist, they can hurt. They can remind us of how we fall short of who we want to be. Yet even words like truth and grace can leave us feeling uneasy. We might be afraid to speak the truth for fear others may not want to hear it. We may be afraid of grace feeling that we somehow have to earn it and it can’t possibly be for us. When John says, “the Word became flesh and lived among us” some people hear them as good news and others may be left to wonder as to what they really mean. Are they really words of good news? If God really has become flesh and lives among us, will God embrace us or treat us as harsh as we often treat each other? At times we may even question, “Does God still live among us?”
The answer is yes, God is still living among us. God is still speaking to us and through us. And this is most assuredly good news of great joy! John chooses not to describe the birth of Jesus with the normal words we think of around that first Christmas because John wants to get at the heart of what the birth of Jesus really means and it is anything but normal. It is an extraordinary, life-changing event. John takes us back to the beginning. He takes us back not just to the beginning of Christmas, but to the very beginning, the very beginning of the world. His words echo those from the first book in Genesis…… “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness…..” This light that we hear about in Genesis is the same light that John is telling us exists in Jesus. John is telling us that the same God who took the formless void of the earth and created all living things – came to earth on Christmas day and became flesh. God – the Word – became flesh. Wow! How do we even begin to comprehend that?
Why would Almighty God do such a thing? Because later in John 3:16 we hear “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” This is the Christmas story that John wants us to remember. More than angels, or shepherds, or magi, John wants us to remember why Jesus was born. He wants us to remember always how much God loves us that God would leave the glories of heaven and become human – one of us –so we would never be alone. God loves us that much. When you feel alone remember that.
So how do we describe words like grace, glory, truth, or God? We describe them by revealing Jesus who is grace, who is the glory of God, who is truth, and who is God, the Word made flesh. We reveal Jesus when we speak words of compassion and love and forgiveness to one another. We reveal Jesus when we live lives of peace and justice, when we pray to see people as God sees us – not with judgement, but through the eyes of love. We reveal Jesus when we accept the gift of grace that is given to us in Jesus for “from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” God doesn’t require us to be perfect, he only asks us to be faithful. For God’s grace is sufficient.
In the beginning of this New Year, as we think about resolutions and make plans, John compels us to always begin with Christ. If every breath, every decision, every action we take begins with Christ we will have a year filled with grace upon grace. We will feel the peace of God that surpasses all understanding. For the Word has become flesh and dwells among us still and his light shines in the darkness, and the darkness will not overcome it. Amen!