Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Day

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.”

I understand why we read this passage from John’s gospel every Christmas Day, but, I’m not always happy about. To me, it sounds bloodless, the abstract ruminations of a cloistered philosopher who comprehends the mysteries of the divine, but can’t get a date for Friday night. Maybe I’m missing something but John’s message of the Word made Flesh doesn’t quite make it down to earth. His words to describe The Word betray his message.

After all, we’re here this morning not to theologize about the nature of the incarnation or speculate about the inner-relationship of the Trinity.

We’re here to greet a baby. A tiny creature who cries all night and fills his diapers. We sing songs about mangers and barns, shepherds and angels, sheep and donkeys. And last night we heard stories so earthy that they have dirt on them and made our clothes smell. Today’s reading only leaves us lost in our thoughts.

So I worry about John’s Jesus. I worry that he can’t relate to me. Or to us. Or to anyone with a pulse and who bleeds red. I worry that he might come across as human in name only, that he doesn’t understand the limitations of a mortal life. That he’s comfortably abstract, afraid to touch our skin, uninterested in changing our lives or the world. I worry that he came just to have a really interesting conversation.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word WAS God. The Word was with God in the beginning. All things came into being through him, and without him, not one thing came into being.”

Hmmm. Upon reading this again, I wonder if John might be up to something here. But I’m not sure what. It appears that he’s asking us to open up our bibles and turn to page one. What’s going on?

“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. God called the light Day, and the darkness God called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.”

“And God said...” There were six more times “God SAID...”

Why is John asking us to re-read the creation story? What is John trying to tell us?

Is he somehow connecting Jesus to the creation story? It could be that John is telling a “New Creation” story, with the word that spoke creation into being in the beginning is now speaking something new into existence. Is “in the beginning” now “in a NEW beginning?”

It could be that John is reminding us that words have tremendous creative power, that words create a world, words shape us, words build a life. The words we use tell us who we are. Words fashion a people and form a community.

Maybe John was on to something and I just didn’t see it. He knew the power of the Word to save us. If I was worried about John’s Jesus I had no reason to be. John knew that the Word made flesh did more than just think lofty thoughts. John was saying that the Word of God, the Word that spoke creation into being, speaks into our lives TODAY, shaping them, re-molding them, tearing them down and building them up again, John was saying that Jesus - the Word made flesh through whom all things were made, speaks us into salvation. This is a Word we could not speak for ourselves, but speaks on our behalf. This Word is not our’s, but God’s.

This is why I’m suspicious of attempts to make Christianity intelligible to non-believers. This is were I part ways with the so-called “seeker-sensitive” approach to evangelism, or so-called “emerging church” leaders. They say that our job as Christians is to make it easy for visitors to our church to understand the message. That they shouldn’t have to make an intellectual or cultural commute1 in stepping into our churches and experiencing our worship. They say that we have to use the language of the culture for people to hear our message. That we have to penetrate the cacophony of competing voices to make OUR voice heard. Some suggest that it’s an act radical INhospitality to make non-Christians intellectually or culturally uncomfortable during the liturgy.

And while, yes, we welcome all people the way people welcome guests into our homes. We make sure they have a place to sit, we ask them their name, But there comes a time when there will be a disconnect between where the visitor is and where we are. There will be a gulf, a distance, between what we say and how a non-believer will experience it.

And that’s okay. It’s meant to be like that. After all we preach a message that does not belong to the world. Jesus may be the Word made flesh but even his own people didn’t recognize him, so what makes us think that people today would be any different? The distance between us and the non-believer is where Jesus does his best work. It’s a holy discomfort where we realize that the Jesus’ message of new and everlasting life isn’t something that we create on our own, but it comes from far beyond us, yet also has taken up residence deep inside us.

I’ve heard it said that becoming a Christian is like learning a language. I really like that idea. When you learn a new language you are given a fresh lens in which to see the world. You’re given a whole new vocabulary to describe what you see.

Christmas. The Festival of the Incarnation. The celebration of the Word made Flesh is about God speaking a new world into being. It’s about God giving us a whole new language, a fresh set of eyes through which to see the world. No longer do we see the world in the darkness of sin and death, but God has given us eyes to behold the light of mercy and peace of everlasting life.

And the Word never stops speaking. The Word never stops becoming flesh. In us, as the Body of Christ, the Word speaks it’s message of life and salvation, so we can speak that Word.

In the love we give to the world, in the joy we have in receiving God’s mercy, in the tears we wipe dry, and the compassion we show to the hurting, the Word becomes flesh and lives among us full of grace and truth.

May this Word be always on our lips. May this Word always become flesh and live among us. Amen.


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