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The Word Made Flesh, and the Word All Around Us: Christmas Day 2023

Monday, December 25, 2023:
John 1:1-14

There’s no manger, no shepherds. No Bethlehem. No angels, Joseph, or even Mary. In the first few verses of today’s Gospel, there isn’t even a world yet. In Mark’s Gospel we’re taken back to the beginning of Jesus’s public life. In Matthew we are presented his ancestry and his family. Luke gives us the more famous and sentimental details about his conception and birth. But today, from the Fourth Gospel, we go past all that, back to ‘the beginning.’

For this writer it’s a new creation story. We can append it to the two we already have in Genesis, where, as you’ll recall, God creates by calling things into existence; by ‘word.’

Famous preacher Barbara Brown Taylor, who has a real way with words, writes that “Logos,” which our English Bibles tend to translate as “the Word” is

“not as tame as ‘the Word.” In the world of Genesis, God’s Logos is God’s agency, God’s dynamic intelligence entering the cosmos like a meteor, taking on shape as it passes from the unbounded dimension of eternity into the bounded atmosphere of earth. God’s Logos is God’s rocket ship of self-revelation, the manifestation of God’s divine reason and creativity in the material realm, where it both brings things into being and then holds them together so they don’t fly apart.”*

This is God’s — to use her words — divine reason, creativity, and dynamic intelligence. God’s intellect; God’s glory; God’s wisdom; God’s sense or reason. Nothing less than truly God; as the Creed describes it: “God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one being with the Father.” And yet there is a distinction or differentiation (the “begottenness”) that allows for God to gaze upon God’s Self; and for God to respond to God’s Self. “[F]or some unknown reason, God does not love being alone.”** And it’s this Word… this creative partner of God… this call-and-response, or ‘echo’ of God is what comes to be with us. To the world he created, and yet recognized him not. God came to dwell among us, or as some newer translations put it, God “moved into the neighbourhood” (which to me sounds a bit too much like a British soap, like Coronation Street), so I like another way I’ve seen it put: The Word “pitched his tent among us.”

This evokes the story of the Exodus: the escape from Egypt, and long, wandering walk to the Promised Land: God’s Presence is with the people through all of this; specially present and known in a tent they carry with them through their often tumultuous journey, and their vacillations between faithfulness and stubbornness. It’s our story, too.

And that’s the point here: we might not have the shepherds and swaddling bands, but the message is the same: this is Emmanuel: “God-with-us.” What was at one time just a small nation’s experience has now been made universal: God has taken on not a flag, but all flesh. God’s nature and human nature now share the same postal code. And so human existence, and all of creation, is touched in a special way. And everything has changed. It really is a new start; a new creation.

“He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him.” That was true then, and it’s true now. The issue isn’t that God is absent; it’s that we don’t always have the eyes or the patience to recognize the Word’s presence here in our neighbourhood. The Word came into the world — not just into the Church, but into the world. But… as inheritors of the message passed along by our ancestors in faith (as the Hebrews reading described it), maybe we in the Church do have the eyes, or the patience, or whatever else to recognize and point to the Word’s presence all around us. It’s what we might call a ‘sacramental calling:’ to identify the visible signs of God’s invisible grace (or again, maybe more simply, presence). This cosmic, divine Word became one of us, and the Gospel books point to both his extraordinary and very ordinary experiences. So maybe our task is to recognize the extraordinary hidden within the ordinary. If we can hone our senses in our practice of doing this in holy communion, then we can take that out into the world.

My very favourite Anglican figure, William Stringfellow, who, in a sort of mirroring of the Incarnation, willingly descended from the ivory tower of Harvard and went to live and serve the people of Harlem back in the middle of the last century, wrote that “the things with which an ordinary Christian comes into contact from day to day are the primary and most profound issues of [their] faith and practice….”

a convict writes to ask if a job might be found for him so that he can be paroled from prison.
a college student, unable to find summer work, borrows twenty dollars.
a woman, who has found another man, wants a divorce from her alcoholic husband.
a [black person] is arrested because he protested discrimination in the city….
somebody is lonely and just wants to talk.

These represent [he says] in my life, the real issues of faith, just as the daily happenings in your life, whatever they may be, are the real issues of faith for you.”***

The Word became flesh because God, for some reason, doesn’t want to be alone, and doesn’t want us to be alone as we face the challenges and tragedies of each new day. God came to be with us in whatever we face.
And so I’ll give the last word to Stringfellow, who writes that the vocation of those of us who have had this message of the Incarnation passed on to us is

to live from day to day, whatever the day brings, in this extraordinary unity, in this reconciliation with all [people] and all things, in this knowledge that death has no more power…. What matters is that whatever one does is done in honor of one’s own life, given to one by God and restored to one in Christ… The only thing that really matters is to live in Christ instead of death.”****

For “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.”

© 2023 The Rev’d Matthew Kieswetter

* “The gift of John’s cosmic retelling,” in News of Great Joy: The Church Times Christmas Collection (Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2021), 48-49.

** Ibid., 49.

*** Free in Obedience (Eugene: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 1964), 16-17.

**** Instead of Death (Eugene: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 1963), 112.