This is the text of a message I gave today…
It is the Second Sunday of Christmas and I have been looking for the perfect icon for Christmas.
It is the 9th day of Christmas, so, on the 9th day of Christmas, my true gave to me…wait for it…Chile con Carne!
OK, so that’s not really a familiar icon of Christmas. It is actually more like a joke.
What does chile con carne and Christmas have in common?
Con carne = with meat
In our passage, it says that the Word became flesh. The theological term for that is Incarnation.
In carne = in the flesh or meat
That means Christmas is God con carne.
So, it wasn’t even a really good joke. But, you see the point.
Today we are going to look at the “other” Christmas story.
Luke’s version of Christmas is all about the shepherds and how Jesus came to liberate the poor and the fringe of society.
Matthew’s version of Christmas is all about the Magi and how Jesus was the Messiah and the true King of Israel.
John tells a very different story. John’s Christmas is more theological in nature.
It is found in John 1:1-18.
This morning we are going to focus in on verse 14.
And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory
Specifically we’ll look at three parts:
Lived among us.
The word word is one of those words that can have many meanings.
When John wrote this he had two kinds of people in mind.
The first was the Hebrew mind.
When a Hebrew person would have read the first part of this chapter..
“in the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God and all things were created through it,” they would have, most likely, associated this with the concept of Wisdom.
In the Old Testament, wisdom is personified as a woman.
Proverbs tells us that wisdom is like a woman who calls out to the young men and invites them to come to her house where they can learn and grow strong and healthy. As opposed to Folly or foolishness who seduces men into pleasure that ends in destruction.
In Proverbs 8 it says that Wisdom was there when the world was created.
It is as if Wisdom is the cosmic force that drives the universe.
The second person John had in mind was the Graeco/Roman mind.
Ancient Greek philosophy had this idea that there was a cosmic force, a mind, called reason, or Logos, or, in our language, the Word, that governed everything.
The Word was above the Greek and Roman gods and was the true source of all things.
It was out there, in the realm of spiritual perfection.
When John said, “in the beginning was the Word…” both the Hebrew and the Greek mind would say, “Yes, we understand what you’re talking about.”
Now let’s look at the Flesh.
This is the greek word sarx.
At one level it simply means meat, like saying that we are made of flesh and bones.
At another level it means something deeper than that.
As I did a study of this word through the New Testament, it became apparent that to speak of the “flesh” had a negative connotation.
Look what Paul writes in Galatians 5
Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these.
The flesh is all that is nasty about humanity.
All religions believe that there is something wrong with humanity.
Even systems that don’t believe in depravity or original sin, and believe that humans are essentially good, still acknowledge that something is wrong with this fleshly world we live in.
In the ancient world that John lived in, most people believed that there was a distinct separation between the Word and the Flesh. The Word was perfect. The Flesh was corrupted, some kind of dark shadow of the Word that was lost and broken.
Now here comes the mystery and the scandal of Christmas.
The Word became flesh.
The perfect entered into the imperfect.
The creator became the created.
Why did God close the gap?
Look what Hebrews 4:15 says,
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.
Jesus took on our weakness so that we would know that God knows what it is like to be us. God met us where we are with all our imperfection.
But, that still begs the questions, “why?”
Our lesson from Ephesians says it well.
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us…to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
God wanted to break down the false idea that there is a separation between the Word up there and the flesh down here. God created everything and is in everything.
God is at work in the world, continually creating and recreating and redeeming all things.
Now, all that is familiar to us if we have been the church for a while.
I could stop right here and we would all say, “wasn’t that a nice little sermon about the incarnation.”
But, there’s a third piece I want to look at, that might not always be addressed.
John said the Word “lived among us.”
The literal translation of this, and the words the Hebrew reader would have heard, is he “pitched his tent” among us and we saw his glory.
I think this was an intentional choice of words that would have connected the incarnation with another important, foundational story for the Jews.
In the beginning of the story of Israel, when Moses led the slaves out of Egypt, God pitched his tent among the people.
This tent was called the tabernacle.
When the people pitched this tent, two things happened.
- the glory of the lord filled the tent. In the day time it was a pillar of cloud. At night, the cloud would glow with fire.
- the tribes of Israel would encircle the tabernacle. Everyone would pitch their tents and face the glory of God in the center.
Now look at this passage from exodus 40:
Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled upon it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. Whenever the cloud was taken up from the tabernacle, the Israelites would set out on each stage of their journey; but if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out until the day that it was taken up. For the cloud of the LORD was on the tabernacle by day, and fire was in the cloud by night, before the eyes of all the house of Israel at each stage of their journey.
Not only did God come to dwell among them and be the center of their camp. God moved and led them to new places.
If we had the time we could trace Israel’s history and see that when Israel really got in trouble is when they became entrenched and static and built a permanent structure for God. They tried to contain God in a static place.
God isn’t like that. God is dynamic, ever moving, ever creating, and ever drawing us to new places as he leads us through the wilderness.
When Jesus came. When the Word became Flesh that first Christmas, John said that he came to his own, but they did not recognize him.
Israel was stuck. Their idea of God had become stagnant.
Jesus came as the new pillar of fire that would be dynamic, shake them up, and most importantly, move them away from their bondage and into a dynamic journey with God.
When Jesus, in the flesh, physically left the world, he breathed his Spirit into the disciples, so that the same dynamic presence could lead and shape the church.
So, on this second Sunday of Christmas, and on this first Sunday of the New Year, we need to ask ourselves three questions:
- Is Jesus in the center of our camp?
Do we take the time each day to align our selves with God’s ways and God’s priorities, or have we turned our tents in a different direction and centered our lives on a different set of priorities, like success, pleasure, our children, whatever.
This is why we talk about the Spiritual Habits. By practicing the disciplines like daily Bible Study and Prayer, giving, serving, regular attendance at worship, what we’re doing is aligning ourselves with God.
At a time when people usually make New Year’s resolutions, this would be a great time to commit to growing in the habits.
Maybe you could do a simple things like taking the Christ in Our Home study that leads you through the Bible Readings of the lectionary each day.
That’s a matter of focus and priorities.
Here’s the second question:
- Are we tuned in enough to know when the cloud moves?
The real reason we need to engage in the disciplines is because God is at work in the world. God is moving and dynamic. He wants to take us to new places.
For many of us that is terrifying. We like things just the way they are. We don’t like change. We like our God to be a religion that is predictable and comfortable.
I’m a huge Chronicles of Narnia fan, and I love the way C.S. Lewis depicts Jesus in the character of Aslan the lion.
In the first book, when the children first hear about Aslan, the beavers are telling them about him.
Little lucy asks Mr. Beaver. “Is he a tame lion?”
Mr. Beaver laughs at her. “of course he’s not a tame lion. But he is good.”
You see, that is the nature of God.
God will not be domesticated by us. God will not live in the boxes we build for him. Yet, God is good and loving, and will meet us where we are and lead us on a journey that we can handle, if we trust him.
The question is, are we asking God, are we expecting God to lead us into new places. Are we willing to risk and go outside our comfort zone?
I don’t know what that looks like for you.
I know, in this past year, we, as a congregation, took a step outside our zone and opened our facility to Family Promise. That was a good step.
Maybe there is a ministry that you have been afraid to try, but you sense God is leading you there.
Maybe there is a person, or a situation, that has been gnawing at you, and you feel God wants you to do something about it.
This year ask God to show you where he wants you to go, what new adventure he wants you to take.
Now, there’s one last question.
- Do we have the courage to follow when it does?
It’s one thing to know that God loves us and has become flesh and pitches his tent with us. That the Holy Spirit is present and real, and God reconciled us.
It’s one thing to see that God is moving and leading you somewhere.
But, nothing changes until you take the step to follow.
In 2011, I pray that we can all be filled with the hope of the incarnation, of the Word Becoming Flesh, and be empowered to follow the cloud into new and wonderful places.