January 3, 2021 /2nd Sunday of Christmas / Richard Holmer
1st Reading Jeremiah 31:7-14 / 2nd Reading Ephesians 1:3-14 / Gospel John 1:1-18
For the larger world around us, Christmas has already come and gone. No more holiday trees on the street, Zoom calls with friends and relatives, but for those in the church the Christmas season is in full bloom, so I want to take a deeper look at the promise of Christmas. The promise fulfilled at Christmas is the promise of Emmanuel – which means “God with us.” Isaiah announced this promise centuries before Christ. Actually, the thought of God coming to earth in person could seem more like a threat than a promise to anyone acquainted with God’s awesome power and irresistible justice. Recall what the Lord said to Moses: “You cannot see my face, for no on shall see me and live.” (Exodus 33:20) It is not without reason that the scriptures warn: “It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Hebrews 10:31) Anyone with a sense of the reality of sin and of their own unworthiness might not be thrilled at the prospect of the all-knowing God coming to be with us in person. So then, how does the promise of Emmanuel come true? How is God with us in a way that blesses us without overwhelming us? A way that brings light without blinding us with heavenly radiance? with heavenly radiance? A way that offers life without scaring us to death?
The answer is INCARNATION. This is how God is Emmanuel – God with us. By putting on human skin, becoming one of us. By the Word becoming flesh in Jesus. Christmas is the story of the infinite, eternal God taking on all the limits of human life – the all-powerful God coming among us, weak and helpless and ordinary – as a baby. It seems quite unlikely – if not downright impossible. That all the glory, power, goodness and grace of God could somehow be contained in a single, frail human life defies all logic. It contradicts the very idea of a God who is holy and transcendent – totally other and apart from humanity. The Creator is not a creature.
Yet at Christmas we are reminded that nothing will be impossible with God. God can make himself at home in a virgin’s womb, in a manger, in human skin and bones. God’s incarnation is the great paradox beyond all paradoxes. The One who exists outside and beyond time enters into time. The One who is pure Spirit shows up with arms and legs and a face. The One who is unapproachable and unfathomable by mere humans becomes a mere human. The Creed summarizes the great mystery of God’s coming to us in Jesus Christ:
“the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one being with the Father. Through him all things were made. For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven, by the power of the Holy Spirit he became INCARNATE from the Virgin Mary, and was made man.”
That’s the “what” of God’s Incarnation: God came among us in the form of Jesus, born of Mary – the word of God made flesh.
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There’s also a “why” to this story – why it happened in this way. Danish theologian Søren Kierkegaard tells why the word became flesh by means of a parable titled, “The King and the Lowly Maiden:”
Suppose there was a king who loved a humble maiden. The king was like no other king. Every statesman trembled before his power. No one dared breathe a word against him, for he had the strength to crush all opponents.
And yet this mighty king was melted by love for a humble maiden who lived in a poor village in his kingdom. How could he declare his love for her? In an odd sort of way, his kingliness tied his hands. If he brought her to the palace and crowned her head with jewels and clothed her body in royal robes, she would surely not resist-no one dared resist him. But would she love him?
She would say she loved him, of course, but would she truly? Or would she live with him in fear, nursing a private grief for the life she had left behind? Would she be happy at his side? How could he know for sure? If he rode to her forest cottage in his royal carriage, with an armed escort waving bright banners, that too would overwhelm her. He did not want a cringing subject. He wanted a lover, an equal. He wanted her to forget that he was a king and she a humble maiden and to let shared love cross the gulf between them. For it is only in love that the unequal can be made equal.
The king, convinced he could not elevate the maiden without crushing her freedom, resolved to descend to her. Clothed as a beggar, he approached her cottage with a worn cloak fluttering loose about him. This was not just a disguise – the king took on a totally new identity – He had renounced his throne to declare his love and to win hers.
God’s courtship of humanity continues to this day. God came as one of us so that we might love God as God loves us. The Word became flesh so humans could truly experience God’s love – and freely love God in return. For as the parable puts it: “it is only in love that the unequal can be made equal.”
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John tells us the consequences of God’s incarnation. Because he came in weakness, not in overwhelming power, as a peasant and not as a king, as one willing to serve rather than demanding to be served – not everyone recognized him or accepted him. “But (and this is a major but) to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God . . .” God came among us as a child in order that you and I might become children of God – and so we are!
Some like to say, “Christmas is for children.” If by this they mean it is a sentimental holiday, made of traditions and celebrations and wonders that we eventually outgrow as adults, then they have not understood what John is telling us. Christmas is for children – children of God. It’s for all of us who have come to believe this great paradox of the word made flesh, we who have come to rust that Jesus Christ is God in person – come to love us and save us, we who have come to love the grace and truth revealed in Mary’s son, we who have been born, “not of blood or of the will of the flesh, or of the will of man – but of God.”