Incarnate Love

+ A sermon for the Second Sunday of Christmas (Year C) at Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Bellevue, WA on January 2, 2022 +

Text: John 1:1-18


Ten days ago, on Christmas Eve, Christians around the globe gathered to celebrate the birth of Jesus.
We sang beloved carols, we lit candles to the strains of “Silent Night,” and we listened to hear again that familiar nativity story from Luke’s gospel full of angels and shepherds and a baby laid in a manger.

Here on the Second Sunday of Christmas, we are still gathering together to celebrate Christ’s birth, we are still singing beloved hymns, but the story we hear in the gospel lesson today is far different from the one set in that little town of Bethlehem.
Rather, we hear John’s version of Christmas which is sometimes called the Hymn to the Word.
It’s a story that starts long before the reign of Emperor Augustus and takes us all the way back to the beginning of all things.
“In the beginning,” John sings for us, “was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
In the beginning, way before the earth was created and seas were separated from the dry land, way before light and darkness were divided into day and night, way before the earth and sun and stars came into being was the Word—or in Greek, the λόγος—God’s instrument of creation.
And that Greek word, λόγος, which we translate as “word,” encompasses so much more than the simple language of speaking or writing.
It’s the word from which we get “logic.”
It means reason, knowledge, the wisdom of God.
The Word by which all things were created.
The Word which brings life and light to all people.
The Word through whom we can know God.

Yes, this may seem a little strange for a Christmas text, so disconnected from the nativity sets we have set up at home.
But for John, the mystery of this celebration of Jesus’ birth is that “the Word became flesh and dwelled among us, and we have seen his glory.”
Which is quite the mystery indeed.
One that I have a hard time even comprehending, let alone truly celebrating.
Why would the Word, the λόγος, the wisdom and power of God through whom all things were made, ever decide to become flesh and dwell among us?
Surely God knows how broken humanity is.
Surely God sees how we have tainted God’s good creation.
Sees the wars and famines and persecutions. 
Feels the greed and poverty and hatred.
Knows our depressions and addictions and diseases.
Why on earth would God want to become human—to be incarnate as one of us?
Why do we have a Christmas to celebrate at all?

On this Christmas morning, we hear the answer to that mysterious question clearer than ever before.
That God loves us so much that God wants nothing more than to be with us as one of us.
That just as we could never earn that love, neither can we ever lose it.
That the divine wisdom of God by which the whole universe came into being is somehow still incomplete until it grows and deepens by learning what it is to be one of us limited creatures, what it means to be truly human.

Theologian Rubem Alves puts it this way, “What the doctrine of the incarnation whispers to us is that God, eternally, wants a body like ours. Have you ever thought about this? That at Christmas what is celebrated is our body, as something God desires?”[1]
And while we celebrate that incarnation in the person of Jesus Christ, God made flesh, Professor Karoline Lewis points out that John is quite deliberate in his word choice in today’s text.
That rather than saying that the Word became an “anthropos,” which means “man,”[2] we hear that the word became flesh, entering fully into what it means to be one of us fully encompassing our imperfect bodies, our yearnings and desires, our pains and our limitations.
This season of Christmas celebrates that despite all our failings, God, the creator of the cosmos, loves each of us so much that God longs to be one of us so God can know each of us better.
To laugh and cry with us, to feel joys and pains with us, and enter every aspect of our lives.
That our bodies, our experiences, our very selves are so beloved and desired by God that the Word became flesh and dwelled among us.

And this gift of incarnation is not for God’s benefit alone, but is meant for all flesh to experience.
As Jesus will say later in John’s gospel, he came that we might have life and experience it abundantly.
Because it is through the Word made flesh that we can know and experience God.
That in Christ we may learn from eternal wisdom and abide in an everlasting love.
That in bodies that look like ours and bodies that look far different than ours, bodies like those we pass shivering on the streets, bodies with different abilities or sizes, bodies that are waiting at border crossings or hospital rooms or refugee camps that we can glimpse the face of God.
That through the incarnation, God encounters the brokenness, the doubt, the despair of our lives, the Word speaks a message of healing and love.
That God has come to seek out every single broken, shadowy part of our lives to shine God’s brilliant light of life and love, and the gloom can never overcome it.
In the beginning was the Word and through his incarnation, humanity has a new beginning because God has come among us to claim us as God’s own, to bestow upon us an identity that can never be taken away from us and declare that we are beloved children of God.
And because we have seen the glory of God through Christ Jesus, since we have experienced the Word made flesh, we have become bearers of that divine Word sent forth from this place so that through our whole lives and actions the world may better know God whose loving nativity among us we celebrate this day.

As we embark on a new calendar year, we wonder what 2022 will bring—perhaps with some trepidation considering the past two years.
But as in every new year, the world around us will encourage us to set resolutions for the year ahead—to view this holiday as a fresh start.
Maybe we’ll resolve to lose some weight, to eat healthier, to get more organized, or to visit family and friends we haven’t seen during the pandemic.
We are told that these resolutions can help us be a better person or bring us happiness and prosperity.
Well, I don’t know about you, but most of the time I’ve made a New Year’s resolution, it doesn’t last more than a couple weeks and ends up with me beating myself up and feeling like a failure—all too aware of my brokenness that still remains from the previous year.

But as the world around us steams full ahead into the new calendar year, we have gathered to continue our Christmas celebration.
And in that celebration today we encounter a mystery that God, knowing full well our brokenness, in infinite wisdom lovingly chose to become one of us and experience the fullness of who we are so we can experience the fullness of God.

So, as we enter this new beginning of a new calendar year, perhaps rather than setting ourselves up for failure and self-deprecation, we can instead dwell in this mystery.
Perhaps rather than looking with scorn on the bodies we have, we can look with wonder on the flesh God has made for us and declared so beautiful and holy that it is worthy to hold the eternal Word.
Perhaps rather than succumbing to a sense of failure and brokenness, we can strive to see how each and every one of us is fully loved and embraced by our God.
Perhaps the only resolution we need this year is to use our lives to better proclaim the love of God for all people through word and deed, letting the God-given light that is within us shine for all the world to see.

The Word has come and is coming into the world, but as John tells us, the world does not know him.
But you and I and all the children of God have experienced the Word of God take flesh within us, a promise sealed in our baptism and renewed each time we come to this table.
We have been called as living witnesses so all people may see and recognize the new beginning God has prepared for all flesh, a new creation that comes to us with the dawning of each new day overflowing with divine truth, with the love of God, with the grace upon grace which we have abundantly experienced through the Word made flesh and dwelling among us.

[1] Alves, Rubem. I Believe in the Resurrection of the Body, tr. L.M. McCoy.

[2] Lewis, Karoline. “Light Shines on a Weary World” on Working Preacher, December 27, 2021.

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