Associate Rector, Rebecca Tankersley Sermon by: The Rev. Rebecca Tankersley
Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration | Dallas, Texas
December 25, 2018
The Nativity of Our Lord

 

The Word Became Flesh

Texts:

“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.”

In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

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Merry Christmas!

I am glad to be with you this morning. Christmas morning can be so full – of passing presents, sharing stockings, crowding kitchens, and feasting on fineries. Christmas morning is delightfully fun. E’en so, I’m glad we’ve gathered – glad we’ve stepped away from the hustle and bustle to pause and ponder a great mystery.

I am also glad for our reading from the Gospel of John. More than any other evangelist, he invites us to pause and ponder – to enter into the mystery of the Incarnation. I wish we had a Lectionary Year D in which we could wade deeply into John each week for a whole year. Instead, we read from John’s Gospel at particular times every year.

  • We can choose to read the prologue of John on Christmas Day and we always read the prologue on the first Sunday of Christmas;
  • We follow Jesus to the cross through John’s Gospel every year during Holy Week;
  • We read John’s account of the resurrection every Easter; and
  • During Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, and Easter, we regularly turn to John’s Gospel.

Notice the trend. When we are preparing for and celebrating the deepest mysteries of our faith – the Incarnation, Passion, and Resurrection – and in the seasons preceding and following those celebrations – as we seek to discern what’s about to happen or what has happened, we turn to John.

Today is just such an occasion. We’ve gathered together “to hear again the message of the Angels, and in heart and mind to go … unto Bethlehem, to see the Babe lying in a manger.”[1] John is here with us, holding our hands – hoping to lead us into contemplation of the mystery before our eyes and its import for our lives. That’s what this Prologue of John is all about: it’s a beautiful piece of poetry. It is, as New Testament scholar Ray Brown puts it, a “confession of faith set to music.”[2] Let’s take some time to listen to John’s melody.

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.

“In the beginning” … it’s no accident John opens his Gospel this way. John knows this opening – “In the beginning” – will call to mind THE opening, “In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth…”.

This mystery, John wants us to understand, is a continuation of God’s ongoing work in and through creation. John is about to tell us, not a story of one person’s history – a long, long time ago in a place far, far away – but an game-changing story about God’s cosmic history which begins in the beginning, develops through ancient and modern times, and is continuing right here and right now for us.

In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, … God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness.”

It’s as though John is saying, “Remember that word ‘us’ that’s been mystifying the people of God for centuries? I can help! I can share with you who the ‘us’ is! You see,” he continues:

In the beginning was the Word … 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.

“In the beginning,” John says, “Jesus, who is the Word of God, was there. The soul of this Jesus – the essence of this one – is the one through whom everything was made.” From Luke, we learn that we will find the Christ wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger. John reminds us that what we behold in that manger is God’s “let there be.”

John’s opening calls to mind not only the original “in the beginning”, but also the conclusion of that narrative. When God has finished creating, God looks around at everything and says, “It is very good.”

At least it was for a moment, however fleeting. I suspect John knows that his “In the beginning” will next call to mind Genesis 3. It took God’s people only two chapters before we violated the one rule given in a vast sea of grace and gift, the rule intended to protect us and to teach us about our maker. God’s love and provision – God’s grace – offered us everything we needed; yet, we figured we could DIY. The sin of eating of the fruit which God had prohibited was the sin of rejecting God’s place in our lives – the sin of forgetting that we were made – were already – both “like God” and not God. Only two chapters takes us from “God saw that it was very good” to the all-too familiar, heart-wrenching question: “Where are you?” spoken to two human beings, “naked and ashamed” – hiding in the shadows of darkness creeping into God’s good creation.

All that – John tells us – all that is necessary to understanding what we behold when we come to Bethlehem to find this child in the manger. Because this child is the light of the world who will right our wrong:

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

Look with me at the light of the world. This child – this is the Word of God in flesh, who “lived among us.” I’ll continue Father Casey’s Greek course (begun last night if you missed us) to say that this word we translate as “lived among us” can also be translated “tabernacled.” Indeed, perhaps the best translation I’ve come across, is “pitched a tent.”

This word that appears frequently in Scripture. In Exodus, God directs the Israelites to construct a tent – a tabernacle – in the wilderness for the Ark of the Covenant, the place in which God’s presence will reside among the people as they wander in the desert. When the Israelites settled in the Promised Land and built the Temple, the innermost chamber was the Tabernacle – the Holy of Holies – the place where God was present with them. We have a tabernacle right here at Transfiguration in which we keep left over consecrated bread and wine, the means by which God is present with us today.

The Word of God took on human flesh and pitched a tent among the people of God. John’s message for us today – his good news – is that this child whom we behold this morning, has united once and forever humanity with divinity. For the Word became flesh and lived among us … pitched his tent with us … united us to himself.

I wish I could explain how this is so. I wish it because part of me longs to know. Yet this is not our task today. Today, we are called to ponder the mystery. I invite you to ponder with me. To that end, I offer the words of one who pondered long ago, St. Augustine. Of the mystery of the Incarnation, he wrote:

And now, with what words shall we praise the love of God? What thanks shall we give? God so loved us that for our sakes he, through whom time was made, was made in time; older by eternity than the world itself, he became younger in age than many of his servants in the world; God, who made man, was made man; he was given existence by a mother whom he had brought into existence; he was carried in hands which he formed; he was nursed at breasts which he filled; he cried like a baby in the manger in speechless infancy – this Word without which human eloquence is speechless.[3]

Brothers and sisters, draw near with me and give thanks and praise to God for this great mystery, for this great love. “Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness” (Ps 96:9). O come, let us adore him.

And all God’s people said, amen.

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[1] Prologue to Lessons and Carols in the Book of Occasional Services.

[2] Raymond Bryan Brown, “The Prologue of the Gospel of John: John 1:1-18” in Review & Expositor, 62:4 (Fall 1965), 429-439 (at 429).

[3] Augustine of Hippo, Christmas Sermon No 6.