December 30, 2019

2018 Dec30

Christmas 1 - Year C

A Sermon Preached by The Rev. Ian M. Delinger


“And the Word became flesh and
lived among us.”

 

The poetry of John’s prologue is beautiful. But one doesn’t need to appreciate poetry to appreciate this description of The Incarnation. There are 2 ways to receive this statement:

 

  • A literary view, through which the allegory of Jesus as the Word of God illustrates the close and intimate connection between God the Father and God the Son.
  • The Divine literal interpretation, through which we know Jesus to be consubstantial and co-eternal with God the Father.


A literary, poetic view no doubt conjures up images in our minds about how the Word, which was (and is) God, had everything come into being and then became flesh. Surprisingly, when I searched several different ways for paintings or imagery of the Word made Flesh, there wasn’t anything very interesting. I think there is a gap in the art world there.


Our Christian doctrine of the Word was borne out of our Old Testament and Jewish roots, in which God speaks to Israel through the Law and the prophets. Scripture has, since then, been regarded as the written Word of God. Christianity applied the Word to the crucified and risen Messiah. This concept, written here very concisely by John, presents the Word as Jesus, through whom scripture is fulfilled, the future unveiled, and the New Creation generated.


Thinking of the Word of God as those spoken by God and as Scripture is simple and requires little contemplation. There are conversations about how literal to interpret Scripture and the inerrancy of Scripture as the Word of God. Many throughout our Christian history, mostly Protestant theologians, have viewed the Word of God as solely Scripture, and have taken a literal view of Scripture, and they emphasize the preaching of scripture. The infinite difference between creator (God) and creature (the created world, but mostly humanity), for them, can only be reconciled by scripture, preaching, and the testimonies about Jesus Christ.


A more catholic (with a small ‘c’) view of the Word of God affirms the simultaneous transcendent and immanent qualities of the Word. The transcendent quality is all the Divine Realm “stuff”, including the coming to fruition of God’s plans – past, present and future – being embodied in Jesus Christ, The Word made Flesh. The immanent quality is, in particular, the incarnate Jesus of Nazareth and the blessed Sacraments.


Paul, in his letter to the Galatians, illustrates a shift from the Word of God as Scripture to the Word of God as Jesus and all the implications that come with that belief:


“The law was our disciplinarian until Christ came,
 so that we might be justified by faith.”

 

The law, for Paul, would have been primarily that which we find in the Pentateuch, the first 5 books of the Bible. Jesus fulfilled the Law, so the Word, for Paul, is no longer Scripture, but Jesus the Son of God, the Messiah.

 

The Divine literal interpretation, as I’ll call it, focuses on that second aspect of The Word, and involves considering the Gospel text in a literal way. Shifting from a literary interpretation to a literal one is challenging, because it requires us to define the undefinable. In the Word becoming Flesh and living among us, we have to understand that, as a Divine action is beyond our comprehension because they are within the Divine Realm, which is not limited by what we know of the natural world. Through this Word, God is revealed in creation and in history in ways which transcend and go far beyond what we understand as the Word of God that is scripture. For the Word of God to literally exercise its creative power and to be the Incarnate Jesus Christ, we have no choice but to understand that God’s abilities are far beyond our comprehension.


The Word of God – whether spoken by God, as in some Old Testament Stories, or as Jesus Christ now Crucified and Risen – can only be described with the language and symbols generated by human beings. Because the Word of God is in the Divine Realm, this means that there is no pure, unmediated Word of God which we receive as humans – whether as Scripture or as what Jesus accomplishes as the Word. As humans, we can receive the Word of God; we can be the beneficiaries of the Word of God; but we cannot adequately parse the Divine Word for the purposes of full human comprehension.


The first revelation of the Word, according to John, was before the beginning and at Creation when Life and light which were created. John uses the theme of light, making visible the glory of the Word. Through the Word – both light and life – God who is both invisible and unheard is revealed.
No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father's heart, who has made him known.


The Word is explained as:

 

  • Past: the world came into being through him
  • Present: The light shines in the darkness
  • and future.


As we begin to understand the Word as a christological title which applies in the absolute only to the God-Man Jesus Christ, as we become more comfortable with that,


the more open we become to
receiving that Word.


The Word as Jesus of Nazareth, what we are presented with today, and what we understand the first Christmas, the Incarnation – the en-Fleshing of the Word – to be, is the revelation of God. To draw from Colossians: He is the image of the invisible God. The phrase “lived among us” is literally translated as “put up his tent among us”, a reference to Sirach.


Charting the scriptural history of God dwelling among us, we first have the tabernacle carted around since the time of Moses receiving the 10 Commandments. The tabernacle is replaced with Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem as the dwelling place for God. Now, God’s presence among the people is the Word made Flesh.


The implications go well beyond what we read in the Bible. Our final hymn [at the 10am service] is “Love came down at Christmas”. While it is much more poetic, and intended to be poetry, it can also be interpreted in the sense of Divine literalism as a Divine reality. The second verse includes “Worship we the Godhead, Love incarnate, Love divine.” If the Word was God, and God is Love, we find in this hymn the theology of the Logos, the Word. The Incarnation brought God closer to use, brought God’s love closer to us, and brought to us salvation and everlasting life. And as we become more comfortable with that, the more open we become to receiving that Word.


This is the primary purpose of John’s unique Gospel: is to show that Jesus really is the Messiah, the Son of God, to tell us that the Word made Flesh is God, Love and Salvation. John’s efforts in expressing this truth go beyond those of the other Gospelers. John’s telling of Jesus’ story is told “from a transcendent and eternal vantage point”, as one scholar put it (Stibbe 1993: 22-3). Therefore, there is no doubt that John wants us to at least flirt with a literal interpretation of the Word becoming Flesh. Another scholar writes “As elsewhere in the Jewish tradition, light, life, and darkness, which are elements of the creation, are meant to symbolize spiritual realities.” John wants us to be open to the Word.


As we celebrate Christmas, let us
never let leave our minds that the
Word was made flesh and lived
among us.


Many want that idea to remain pretty poetry that is soothing and placating – it’s the big red bow on the Lucan Christmas Story. But it is more than that; it is a deep theological truth that God is among us, past, present and future. God came closer to us through the Word made Flesh, so let’s take this opportunity to get closer to God. Transcending all the nice poetry in the world, for us,

 

Love came down at Christmas.

 

Header Photo: Christ Child, also known as In the Beginning or the Millennium Sculpture, is an outdoor sculpture by Michael "Mike" Chapman, located under the portico of St Martins-in-the-Fields at Trafalgar Square in London, United Kingdom. The opening text from the Gospel of John is inscribed around the sculpture: "In the beginning was the word and the word became flesh and lived among us".

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