December 29, 2019

Christmas 1A

And the Word Became Flesh

GOSPEL

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.'”) From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 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. John 1:1-18
SERMON
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. And the Word became flesh and lived among us.”

For Saint John, this is the Christmas story. He sets the story if the birth of Christ in the language of creation. “In the beginning.” But for John Creation is not an event of the past, but rather the ongoing life-giving action of God for and with His people. John begins his gospel by echoing the story of creation recounted in Genesis. “In the beginning God said, “let there be….and there was….” Land, sky, vegetation, living creatures from the water, birds of the air, living creatures of the earth, and humankind made in the image and likeness of God.

Christmas is God continuing His creative act and bringing it to ripeness. “And the Word became flesh and lived among us.” Saint Gregory calls Christmas the “festival of re-creation”. It is God giving God’s own life to his people. It is as if God said, “I want humanity to see my face. I want them to hear my voice. I want them to touch me. I want them to smell my sweat. I want them to eat my body. I want them to live their life. I want them to live my life.” “And the Word became flesh and lived among us.” This is God in the flesh. It is the divine become human. This is humanity made whole and made holy. “From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.”

This festival of re-creation is God’s celebration of humanity. It is God’s entrusting God’s very Self to human beings, to you and to me. It is God’s re-affirmation of humanity’s goodness. It is God’s endowment of humanity with divinity.

That is why the early church could say that God became human so that humanity might become God. The Son of God became the Son of Man so that the sons of men might become the sons of God. Divinity was clothed in humanity, so that humanity might be clothed in divinity.

Such a presentation of the origins of the Christmas moment puts all else into perspective. The primal and eternal explosion of love within the mystery of 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, 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 woundedness of our world and the brokenness of our lives. Choosing to love us without condition and beyond exception even to death.

God sees humanity as the opportunity and the means to reveal Himself. Yet far too often we use our humanity as an excuse. “I am only human,” we declare, as if we are thereby somehow deficient. We fail to see, to believe, and to understand that in the Word becoming flesh and living among us we are made God’s first sacrament. Human beings are the tangible, outward, and visible signs and carriers of God’s inward and spiritual presence.

Have you ever thought of yourself as a sacrament? Have you ever looked at another and said, “Hey, look! There is the sacramental image of God?” Why not? Why do we not see that in ourselves and in each other? After all, “The word did become flesh and does live among and within us.”

In Jewish tradition, the rabbis say that each person has a procession of angels going before them and crying out, “Make way for the image of God”. Imagine how different our world and our lives would be if we lived with this as our reality and as the truth that guided our
relationships.

Everywhere we go the angels go before us announcing the coming of the image of God and reminding us who we are. That is the deep truth of Christmas for us. It is also the Christmas truth for the person living next door to us, for those we love, for those we fear, for those who we see as like us, and those whom we see as different from us, for the stranger and even for our enemies.

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 caste out: caste out of their parent’s love; caste out by the fracture of a relationship; caste out of their children’s care; caste out because of a disability or illness they suffer; caste out because of who they are; caste out because of whom they love; caste out because of the color of their skin; caste out because they are not native born; caste out for what they believe; caste out by tyranny, caste out by violence; caste out by hatred; caste 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 Caste Out, and the first to receive power to become children of God.

It you are caste out, find hope in Christmas. If you caste 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 outcastes, so that light might continue to shine in the darkness, such that the darkness will not overcome it.

The Rev. Frank J. Alagna
December 29, 2019