The Word Became Flesh

It is the 8th day of Christmas and the 2nd day of 2022, and I am guessing that a few of you are getting things back to normal. The presents are opened, except for those few stray packages that are waiting to be able to be together for the opening. Some of you have already taken down the tree and packed away the stockings. The feasting must surely come to an end!

Back to normal. On Epiphany, the 12th day after Christmas, we celebrate the arrival of the visitors from the East who had followed a star to worship the Christ Child. We don’t know when they arrived. Did they come just after he was born, led by a save-the-date star to the place he was born? Or did the star appear at his birth, and they arrived 18 months later? What we know is that if Mary and Joseph were beginning to settle into parenthood, feeling like they were getting into a routine, and the rush of the census was waning, and things were getting back to normal, a group of seekers arrived. Scripture doesn’t tell us they were kings or that there were three of them. We don’t know how many of them there were, but tradition has made them 3 because they brought 3 gifts. Matthew tells us they are magoi, Magi. The only other use of the word is in Acts where Barnabus and Saul meet a Jewish sorcerer (magi) and false prophet named Bar-Jesus. Likely this group of men watched the night sky to make predictions about the future; they brought Jesus three gifts, appropriate for his future: gold (a tool of the trade of a king), frankincense (a tool of the trade of a priest), and myrrh (a tree sap used for treating wounds, and also used in preparing a body for burial).

When the shepherds left, Mary tried to memorize every moment of that night, pondering what it all meant. When the magi left, Joseph was warned that the child was in danger. Herod was searching for him to kill him. As they packed the gold, the frankincense, and the myrrh and fled to Egypt, surely they wondered as they held the baby when they stopped walking for the night and tried to get comfortable in the cold desert air, “Who are you, little one, turning our world completely upside down?”

This is the question the Gospel of John is trying to answer. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” In the beginning, when the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the deep chaos, the Spirit of the Lord hovered over the waters and spoke. “Let there be light.” The Word has power; the Word brings into being God’s vision. And the Greek for Word, logos, also means reason. The Word is the Reason of God, the visioning of God.

Jesus isn’t a super human with an extra portion of God’s image. Jesus is God – Emmanuel, God-with-us, God incarnate. Mysteriously, fully person and fully God. How can this be? Believers have pondered, doubters have questioned, possible answers have been considered.

Early on, a heresy emerged that came to be known as Docetism. Dokein means “to seem to be.” Docetists believed that Jesus just seemed to be human, but that he didn’t really experience any of the pain or suffering of life, no hunger, no physical experiences. Their concern was the polluting of God by associating too closely with matter. For the 1st Century Greek, the body was a live-trap for the soul. So, John emphasizes physical sight, “We saw him.” John even claims eyewitness status to the life of Christ, which is debatable from a historical perspective, but I don’t think that is John’s point. He isn’t claiming that he is more knowledgeable or better than because he saw Jesus. He is emphasizing that Jesus was seen in the flesh – the Greek word is sarx. Jesus was not a vision, didn’t appear in dreams, wasn’t otherworldly or ghostly. He was physically a human being.

John writes, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

The creator of all that is chose to become one of us, to have our limitations, to experience our joys and our sorrows, to feel our pain, so we could see how much we are loved. There is no going back to normal, not when we see the meaning of Christmas.

The One who first thought of you said these words, not through a messenger, not through a dream, out loud, to people who heard him, “Consider the ravens: they don’t plant or harvest, they don’t have a silo or a barn, yet God feeds them. You are worth so much more than birds!”

The creator of all that is realized our inability to trust, our doubt, and spoke to a group of Galileans, who had gathered to see him, “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will never believe.” And then he healed and fed and taught.

And when they asked him “What does God require us to do?” he answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the One he sent.” “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. 36 But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. 37 All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. 38 For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. 40 For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.”

“Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. 56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them.”

God with us remains with us. Those of us who worshiped together Christmas Eve experienced a God-moment. The service went off script, which often happens when God is active in our midst. We stood in the darkness with our candles, all was hushed, Silent Night was finished, the organ began playing what did not seem to be Joy to the World, as the bulletin said. The lights came up, the organ continued. What about “Joy to the World”? What would we do? We stood, candles burning, looking at the tree, trying to enjoy the moment, but what we expected was taking too long. What would happen if we didn’t sing “Joy to the World”? What should we do?

The longing, the expectation, the hope of the Word made flesh hung in the air as the candles burned and we began to look at one another. Would we just blow them out and leave?
The joy we experienced on Christmas Eve as we heard the familiar tune, and this Sanctuary reverberated with joy as we sang, “Joy to the World, the Lord is come! Let earth receive her king!”
We could chalk it up to the organist skipping ahead to the Postlude and then realizing it and modulating back to “Joy to the World.” Or we could ponder the mystery, the longing we felt as we knew we would not be complete without proclaiming his birth. The Word became flesh, unto us a Child is born, Joy to the World. And as we eat this bread and drink this cup, we receive him anew into our lives, and there is no “getting back to normal” after Christmas, we are changed forever by the wonder of this love. Amen.