Christmas 1 B
And the Word Became Flesh
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see– I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”
[When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. ] Luke 2:1-14(15-20)
Saint Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus is a most heart warming and memorable story. It is filled with deep sentiment and engaging images: mother and child, shepherds and angels, oxen, asses and sheep, stables and mangers – all the stuff from which Christmas carols, cards, crèches and pageants are made.
Luke’s story can inspire real devotion. It can inspire us to receive the Holy Child with that love with which we would easily receive any child and which we would hope that every child would be received.
But we know that the sentiment that can inspire love can disintegrate into something less. We know that it is possible to celebrate Christmas avoiding any faith content, spiritual meaning or eternal significance, or exhausting its meaning in the tinsel and glitter that ornament the feast.
And so Luke’s nativity narrative is only fully read in tandem with the Prologue of John’s gospel. Here the origin of the Child who comes to love us and be loved by us, in time, is found in eternity – in the very mystery that we dare to name God. John writes, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.”
Such a presentation of the origins of the Christmas moment puts all else into perspective. The eternal explosion of love within God, referenced by John as the Word, is the primary Big Bang of which the Bing Bang of creation itself is but a reflection. And the Big Bang of creation is but a prelude to a Bigger Bang, of which John proclaims when he says, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld His glory, glory as the only Son of the Father, Jesus Christ, who is in the bosom of the Father.”
When the awesome, expansive and exploding power that is God makes a choice to constrain itself; makes a choice to contain itself, even within our flesh; makes a choice to render itself not only vulnerable but absolutely vulnerable, as in a newborn baby who shivers in the night and searches desperately for a mother’s nursing breast – how can we not but be blown away – as were the shepherds by the sight and sound of the heavenly host. Explosive creating love, personally enters our time and space and embarks upon a journey of ever deepening, ever intensifying and ever more intimate transforming love – one heart at a time.
My sisters and brothers, as important as they all are, Christmas is not first and foremost about the many things, even otherwise good things, that we so easily and readily make it.
Christmas is, first and foremost, about the awesome mystery of creating love, choosing to be born of a maiden named Mary, who was betrothed to a man named Joseph, choosing to become a specific human person, whose name was Jesus, choosing to share, in every way, the bentness of our world and the brokenness of our lives. Choosing to love us without condition and beyond exception even to death.
If we dare to chew on this for a while, we can reclaim Christmas and carve the real meat out of what can otherwise dissolve into a generic winter holiday event. There is nothing that can take the place of a faithful celebration of the becoming flesh of the eternal Word.
Returning for a final time to John’s gospel, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us….yet the world which was made through Him, knew Him not. He came to His own and His own, who though they were made through Him, received Him not.”
The Son of God, without whom nothing was made, not only took our flesh, but took our flesh, when and where it is most weak and most powerless, even when it is despised and rejected. John reminds us, that the Word became flesh and became an Outcast.
He dwelt or, in the Hebrew, pitched His tent, most intimately, with all who have been, all who are and all who will be cast out: cast out of their parent’s love; cast out by the fracture of a relationship; cast out of their children’s care; cast out because of a disability or illness they suffer; cast out because of who they are; cast out because of whom they love; cast out because of the color of their skin; cast out because they are not native born; cast out for what they believe; cast out by tyranny, cast out by violence; cast out by hatred; cast out because they are not well heeled, well born, well bred or well educated.
Christmas is the Feast of Outcasts, those whom the gospel refers to as the poor, those ever marginalized in a world that values power, and money and status before all else, all those for whom there is not room in the inn. It is the poor, represented in the person of the shepherds, who are the first to hear the good news of redemptive love; the first to receive and be received by the Word who became flesh and who became as One Cast Out, and the first to receive power to become children of God.
It you are cast out, find hope in Christmas. If you cast out, then be transformed and take new direction from Christmas. If, by grace, you are neither, then renew your commitment to pitch your tent with the outcasts, so that light might continue to shine in the darkness, such that the darkness will not overcome it.
December 27, 2020
Rev. Frank Alagna