Word Made Flesh, Christmas Day (III) – 2001
December 25, 2001
Let this sermon begin with an invitation. Lift your hand in front of your face, and look at it. The reason your hand exists, from one moment to the next, is the Word of God. The Word of God always has been and always will be. All things were made through this eternal Word, and through this Word all things are sustained in existence — including your hand.
Now glance at a person sitting near you. Whether or not you know that person, notice your neighbor. The reason your neighbor exists, from one moment to the next, is the Word of God. The Word of God has always been and always will be. All things were made through this eternal Word, and through this Word all things are sustained in existence-including your neighbor.
Next, take a glance at the room around you. There’s much to see: pews and walls, altar and windows, lights and prayer books, and all the rest. The reason this room and everything in it exists, from one moment to the next, is the Word of God. The Word of God always has been and always will be. All things were made through this eternal Word, and through this Word all things are contained in existence-including this room and its entire contents.
Finally, look with your imagination past the walls of this building, past the atmosphere of this planet, and behold with wonder the vast, dark reaches of the universe, that deep emptiness illuminated by more stars than there are people here on earth; each star a bright, blazing ball of celestial fire. For all our efforts we can picture only a tiny part of the splendor of this universe, but it still fascinates us. The reason the universe exists, in all its immensity, from one moment to the next, is the Word of God. The Word always was and always will be. All things were made through this eternal Word, and through this Word, all things, all things, are sustained in existence everywhere in the vast corridors of intergalactic space.
Now lift your hand in front of your face again and take a second look. Your hand is flesh. Our bodies are flesh. Each of us is also soul and mind and spirit, but to be human means to be flesh. There are wonderful things about human flesh-any portrait painter or medical doctor can tell us of them. But there is also something frail about flesh. It is subject to injury, accident, disease, and death. Our flesh depends utterly on a narrow set of conditions in order to survive. Flame and freezing cold can damage us. We must not leave this atmosphere without a space suit. Some of us cannot linger long on the beach in the summer sunlight without turning lobster red. Yes, there is something frail about human flesh.
During these Twelve Days of Christmas, as the New Year draws near, many of us are reminded of the frailty of our flesh in a very personal way. We recall loved ones with whom we shared Christmases past who are no longer here on earth. Some have died in the last twelve months. Others have been gone for decades. Many of us have the keen memory of a beloved parent now missing from our lives. Many of us have these reminders of the frailty of the flesh.
As we heard in today’s reading, the Gospel according to John starts in eternity. Its beginning tells of one without beginning: the Word of God, who has always been and will always be. All things were made through this eternal Word. And through this Word, all things-your hand, your neighbor in the next pew, this room, and the vast reaches of the universe-all things are sustained in existence from one moment to the next.
From our own experience, we know well enough what is human flesh. This flesh is a wondrous creation, yet it is frail, terribly frail. We are reminded of this frailty at the hospital, the funeral home, the New Year’s party, and whenever we gaze in the mirror and remember our failures, successes, shortcomings, foibles. In the English language, it seems almost redundant to say that flesh is frail. What could be more obvious?
Christianity makes a claim, a unique claim, and it is found in today’s Gospel. Here we have the other Christmas story; not the shepherds and stable that appear in Luke, but the same truth told in different terms. If you know only one thing about Christmas, then know this, what John tells us: the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.
The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. All things were made through this eternal Word, and through this Word all things are sustained in existence.
And yet, and yet this Word became flesh. This Word entered the world, the world that would not exist without the Word. The Word took on all the frailty of our human flesh and came to know our condition, with its burden and embarrassment, from the inside out. The foundation of all existence became as dependent as a baby just born, helpless as a condemned criminal put to death.
It is this dependency, this helplessness, this utter frailty and utter identification with our lowliness that enables the eternal Word to do something new, something otherwise impossible. It is when the Word becomes frail flesh and lives inside the reach of human touch that we finally encounter, face to face, the glory of the Word.
Jesus comes among us, the Word made flesh, and the glory shines through human life and human death and human resurrection. In Jesus, this glory shines out in a way that does not blind or destroy us, frail flesh though we are.
But the glory does change us. The new light of the incarnate Word sets our hearts on fire, not to destroy us, but so that the light may blaze forth in our lives. This light we know as love. It is the light Christ was born to bring.
Let us pray.
Grant us, Lord, that as we are bathed this day in the new light of your incarnate Word, that which shines by faith in our minds may blaze out in our actions, that in this place and time we may bear witness to the glory of your love.
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