From Incarnation to Identification, Christmas 1 – 1998
December 27, 1998
This First Sunday after Christmas has come so quickly. Can it be that only a few short days have passed since Christmas? For some of you, perhaps, Christmas Day is already beginning to recede rapidly into the past. In many places, the commercial displays and selling of Christmas goods began well before Thanksgiving. By the time the real thing got here, you had tired of blaring music about Santa’s reindeer and Christmas cheer. You had enough of the press of crowds of holiday shoppers. You were worn out by the preparations for Christmas dinner with family and friends. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were almost anti-climactic. Decisions have been made as to exchanges and returns of presents. Children have begun to tire of toys without meaning. Some have already been broken, discarded, to be noticed only in passing. Most of the turkey is gone. What’s left has been designated for “turkey a la king.”
So, here we are, trying to pull up enough energy to focus on the First Sunday after Christmas. For us as Christians, the twelve traditional days of (real) Christmas have only just begun. We’ve already celebrated the coming of the “baby Jesus.” What do we do now with this cosmic Word of God, somehow become flesh? The writer of the Gospel of John says the Word was “in the beginning.” “The Word was with God.” “The Word was God.” “In him was life and the life was the light of all people.” He says further, “The light shines in the darknessâ¦.”
God only knows that we need all the light that we can get in our world. It sometimes seems as if the darkness of what people do to each other and to themselves, sooner or later, will put out the light. But John says of the light that is Christ, “and the darkness has not overcome it.” That’s the Gospel– which is indeed “good news.” We need to know that there is something which cannot be overcome by the darkness of this world’s death and destruction.
If we can get past the sentimental image of baby Jesus in a manger, surrounded by three miniature wise men in bathrobes, then the real Christmas can do its work. John’s Gospel is speaking of that which becomes the most cherished of Anglican beliefs, the Incarnation. This unusual word means that not only does God care, but acts upon that caring. God knows about the darkness which we face in this world. And the darkness has not, cannot, and will not overcome the light which is God shining in and through Jesus. The most simple definition of Incarnation is “enfleshed.” The love and grace of God have become real in the human flesh of Jesus of Nazareth. John says, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth,. . ..” The literal meaning of “dwelt among us” is “pitched his tent among us.” God’s coming to us in the flesh is a way that we can understand. But more than that, it means that God has come to stay for good. Jesus is God’s way of identification with the human condition. The great church Father, St. Irenaeus, said it this way, ” The Word of God, Jesus Christ, on account of his great love for mankind, became what we are in order to make us what He is Himself.” God knows totally what it means to be us. God identifies completely with our life and journey of struggle.
Isaiah tells us part of the story of the people of Israel. They knew first hand about the darkness which tries to overcome the light. They had been exiles in Babylon. They have returned to the land of Judah. Rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem has begun. Yet, life in Judah is very harsh for those who have returned. It is so tempting to give up when life threatens to overwhelm you. But Isaiah reminds the people of God’s promises, God will vindicate his people. The shame and humiliation of exile will be turned into joy and celebration. The people shall be given a new name. This change in status means that all the nations will recognize the salvation and glory of God’s work through his people. The stage is set for the coming of the cosmic Christ when all conditions are right. This is the fulfillment of God’s promise begun in Isaiah. In the lesson from Galatians, Paul puts it this way, “But when the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons and daughters.” The response called for on our part is acceptance of God’s gift of faith. This gift of faith precedes the gift of the power to obey. In Galatians 5:1, Paul declares that it is this faith which sets free his converts in Galatia. We are the inheritors of Judah’s salvation, glory, and freedom in God. Only for us the salvation, glory and freedom are found in Jesus.
As marvelous as all that sounds, John says that “his own people received him not.” On the other hand, “…to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God . . .” It is this which brings us to the crux of the matter. We live in a fallen and sinful world. In this world, many neither recognize nor confess that Jesus is Lord. Yet, there are many who do. As Christians, as the Body of Christ, this is the only world we have. It is here that we are to live out our lives as witnesses to the saving power of God in Jesus Christ. The Gospel is God’s Word for those who are trying to live each day faithfully. It is for those who have been bruised and battered by the storms of life. It is for those who are tried mightily and yet hang on to faith. It is for those who are willing to let the Word become flesh in their lives. This is the Incarnation continuing to be present in the world. It is to be found in those men and women, boys and girls, who are willing to be used for God’s purposes and the sake of God’s kingdom. John says, “We have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.” The proof of whether we have truly beheld his glory is in a life lived for him. Have you truly seen his glory? Or, have you become caught up in the darkness of this world? Not in the sense of being consciously evil, but centered in your own life and well-being. So self-centered that there is no room for God’s light to get in.
The goal is to become fully human as Jesus was fully human. The process is a life lived with Christ, daily. In Jesus we see who God really is. God identifies himself with us in Jesus. We are to identify ourselves with those for whom Jesus lived and died. We are to become one with them as Jesus has become one with us. Jesus Christ has revealed God as he is. Our task is to continue the revelation through who we are. May God bless us in all our efforts to reveal him. AMEN!
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