Elizabeth M. Deibert
All-powerful and unseen God, the coming of your light into our world has brightened weary hearts with peace by your presence. Open our eyes anew to the great good news of your Word made flesh, Jesus, that we might forever seek to know him, to love him, and to serve him. Amen.
We heard the familiar lessons and carols which tell the story of Jesus’ birth last night, and today with the help of John’s Gospel, the poetic prologue of John’s Gospel, we reflect on what happened. By energy level and by attendance and by mood, we all know that the climax has come and now we begin to wind down the Christmas season, but in the church officially, the Christmas season is just beginning. Europeans understand this, as some of them culminate with gift giving on Epiphany, the traditional time of remembering the arrival of the Magi with their gifts. But we tend to start as soon as Thanksgiving is over with an enthusiastic and vigorous Advent, and when Christmas comes, we’re done, we’re exhausted. Some of us keep the decorations up, and we Deiberts are among them, so we will encourage you to remember Epiphany by coming to our house with gifts of leftover food and drink and we will make merry and light many candles on the 12th day of Christmas, to remember the light of Christ, the light we celebrate this morning in the Word made flesh, who is God from the beginning.
Hear the Gospel:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
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. (NRSV)
How can the Word share at the same time both the life of the Creator God and the life of the enfleshed creature? It is no wonder that the world did not know him—why would we accept a fellow human being as the source of all life? Who would expect the divine wisdom to hide under such a thick veil of historical conditioning? How can it possibly be that through a creature darkness is overcome, all are enlightened, and we are given power to become children of God? (Cynthia Rigby, Feasting on the Word)
“And the Word became flesh” is not only an astonishing pronouncement; it is also, arguably, the most significant claim of the Christian faith. According to John, it is the very basis upon which we become the children of God. St. Gregory, a fourth-century theologian, testified powerfully to why it matters that God entered fully into creaturely existence. “That which is not assumed is not redeemed,” he proclaimed. His words have shaped our understanding of Christ and salvation ever since. The humanity of Jesus Christ is no mere costume. Jesus Christ was not just “veiled in flesh” as Charles Wesley’s hymn, Hark the Herald Angels Sing states.
“Fully flesh, the Godhead see” would be a more accurate line to sing. I’m sure Wesley from the heavens knows we should be singing it that way. Apparently Wesley originally named it the Hymn for Christmas Day. And for those who get upset about the words of carols changing, Wesley’s first line was not “Hark the Herald Angels sing, Glory to the newborn King.” It was “Hark how all the welkin ring. Glory to the King of Kings.” If you’re like me, you haven’t used the word “welkin” recently. It appears eighteen times in Shakespeare’s plays, but hasn’t received a lot of play in the last couple of centuries. “Welkin” is a word for the vault of heaven, the place where stars and angels dwell.
Furthermore, written in the mid 1700s, he intended it to be sung to traditional music, not that wild melody of Mendelsohn’s, which Wesley would have considered entirely inappropriate and not sacred at all. And Mendelsohn who lived in the mid 1800’s was not pleased either, for this Jewish composer did not want his music attached to to a poem for Christmas Day. But how much control do they have now?
But back to John’s Gospel, which speaks of the Word becoming flesh. It is not a temporary condition or thirty-three-year experiment on the part of God. The real Word really became real flesh. This is the content of the gospel. This is the miracle of Christmas. It is through entering into our flesh that Jesus reveals to us who God actually is, has been, and will be. It is through plunging deeply into the sinful, ignorant realities of our existence in this world that Jesus restores us to that for which he created us. It is in this unlikely way that he is our true light. Apart from God’s full entrance or assumption of our flesh, God is not really with us. Correspondingly, understandings of the incarnation that compromise on the full divinity of Jesus Christ fail to convey that it is God we know, truly, in him. No theological insight has exercised more influence in shaping Christian doctrine than that the Word—known to us in Jesus Christ—was God. At the Council of Nicaea in 325 CE, the church affirmed that Jesus Christ is not simply like God the Father (homooisios), but is of the very same substance as the Father (homoousios). With John, the church concurred that this particular human being is not only godlike, but actually God. (C. Rigby, Feasting on the Word)
All other Christian doctrines are premised on this crucial truth. But this is not a day to be long-winded about Christian doctrine but to glory in the goodness of the One who joined us here, who brought light to our darkness.
So to conclude the sermon, I’ll share some poetry from Ann Weems about the Word made flesh, the light coming to enlighten all the people.
“In a wave of wonder, in an extravaganza of imagination, in a roar of deafening waters, in a drum roll of thunder, God said let there be Light! And the dazzling sun of Day made her entrance, singing her song of Life. Then in a stunning display of fireworks, lightning leaping in bolts, stars hurling through ink black sky, moon floating above, the Light of Night took her bow.
The stage was set, right from the beginning the Word was there, with God. The Word was God.” “And without the Word was God…Right from the beginning the Word of God was spoken in miracles. Right from the beginning, in the light of God’s love, the people of God were created for covenant-keeping. I will be your God and your will be my people. Right from the beginning the Word was Love and the Word was Light and the Word was Life. Right from the beginning God’s people were invited to way in the way of the Word.
God saw that it was good. It was very good. Until, that is, somebody left the door open in paradise, and Death walked on stage and turned off the light. (Lights off)
Somebody or somebodies thought they didn’t have to listen to God… Somewhere along the way we thought we didn’t have to listen to the Word of god, thought we didn’t have to walk in covenant. We turned off the light and quarreled in the darkness. (Ann Weems tells the story of our brokenness, our sin)…The people of God had chosen Death instead of Life. God was grieved to the heart… But God loved the people, even though they walked in darkness…And God forgave them and God sent a great Light, the Word of God Incarnate…
Our darkness begins where our covenant ends. If the love of God is not written on our hearts, there is no covenant light, and flailing in the dark gets us nowhere.”(Ann Weems, From Advent’s Alleluia to Easter’s Morning Light)
But God entered into that darkness to show us that the Light which was from the beginning, the Word is still creating, is still calling, still leading us to be enlightened. “What came into existence was Life, and the Life was Light to live by. The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness; the darkness couldn't put it out. (as Gene Peterson translate it.) The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.”
Our job is to draw near enough to Christ’s face, to be enlightened by the Light which has already invaded the darkness. What child is this? No ordinary child. This, this is Christ the King, whom shepherds guard and angel sing. This infant is the Light shining in darkness, the Word which IS GOD!