St Luke's Anglican Church in Enmore a lively, inclusive welcoming liturgical community

The Word became flesh, Christmas 2018

And the Word became flesh 

Ser­mon preached on Christ­mas Day 2018, St. Luke’s Enmore.

Read­ing: John 1. 1- 14.

I sus­pect that most of us here this morn­ing have done a fair amount of shop­ping in recent days. Some shop­ping exper­i­ences are more mem­or­able that oth­ers. One that is embed­ded in my mind took place many years ago, in Janu­ary 1971. I had recently star­ted work as a Psy­cho­lo­gist class 1, with the (then) Com­mon­wealth Acous­tic Labor­at­or­ies, loc­ated in Grace Build­ing in the city. On the day I received my first pay pack­et I decided to go and buy a new pair of trousers. I had often had trouble buy­ing trousers to fit my atyp­ic­al frame but I was con­fid­ent that a par­tic­u­lar store would provide me with what I needed. In fact this store fam­ously advert­ised that ‘no man was hard to fit.’ So I con­fid­ently entered this shop and I placed myself right under the sign that declared ‘no man is hard to fit.’ A friendly gen­tle­man appeared who asked what I needed and I was meas­ured for a pair of trousers. How­ever, his first words to me after his care­ful meas­ur­ing, were: “I’m sorry sir we don’t have your size.” Words can let us down.

We with in an age where we have become sus­pi­cious of words. We are weary of fake news, of broken prom­ises made by politi­cians who lie and deceive. We are sur­roun­ded by words every day: radio, tele­vi­sion, emails, text mes­sages, the writ­ten media. From the moment we wake to the end of the day, words are our cur­rency. But we have learnt to be care­ful about words, which to believe and which to ques­tion.

The New Test­a­ment read­ing on this Christ­mas morn­ing began with the words: “In the begin­ning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” The pro­logue to John’s Gos­pel is John’s birth story of Jesus. There are no shep­herds, no angels, no Mary giv­ing birth to Jesus in a Beth­le­hem stable, John skips all of that and simply tells us that the Divine Word who was with God at the begin­ning of time and shared in the cre­ation of the world, this Word became flesh and lived among us. It is an extraordin­ary state­ment. To make sense of what John is say­ing it helps to under­stand what the Word, the Logos meant to John’s first hear­ers. The Logos would have com­mu­nic­ated to both Jew and Gen­tile in John’s audi­ence. Jew­ish ears would have been reminded of the open­ing words of Gen­es­is: “In the begin­ning when God cre­ated the heav­ens and the Earth…God said, “Let there be light.” As the Psalm­ist expressed it: “By the word of the Lord the heav­ens were made and all their host by the breath of his mouth.” (Ps 33.6)

Stu­dents of the Hebrew Scrip­tures knew that God’s word is act­ive and power­ful: able to cre­ate, trans­form and sub­due. Fre­quently through­out the Scrip­tures we read that the Word of the Lord came to his proph­ets telling them what to say, what mes­sage they were to com­mu­nic­ate to their people. But when John spoke of Jesus as the Word, he was say­ing far more than Jesus spoke the words of God, he was actu­ally identi­fy­ing Jesus with the act­ive and cre­at­ive word of God.

Of course not all of John’s hear­ers were from a Jew­ish back­ground. Some of them were Gen­tiles, famil­i­ar with Greek philo­sophy and think­ing. In Greek philo­sophy, the Word, the Logos was a term used to describe the divine prin­ciple of order and reas­on in the uni­verse. In a world where there was so much change, the Logos provided some sense of order and pre­dict­ab­il­ity. So when John described the Word com­ing into the world he was using a term that res­on­ated with both cul­tur­al groups. But when he then went on to announce that ‘the Word became flesh and lived among us’ he shocked both the Jew­ish thinkers and the Hel­len­ists. The Greek word for flesh is sarx, the Lat­in is car­nis from which we get words like car­nal. In Greek philo­sophy the term flesh spoke of weak human nature and was incom­pat­ible with the divine. Greek gods might pay a vis­it to earth but to sug­gest that a God would come and live with us was absurd. God tak­ing human from and com­ing to earth was equally dis­turb­ing for Jew­ish hear­ers. Paul described this concept as “Fool­ish­ness to the Greeks and a stum­bling block to the Jews.” After cen­tur­ies of Chris­ti­an tra­di­tion we have become used to the idea of God tak­ing human form and we for­get how strange it seemed to those who first heard it. But on this Christ­mas morn­ing it is worth being reminded of the sig­ni­fic­ance of John’s state­ment: “And the Word became flesh and lived among us and we have seen his glory.”

These verses of John’s Gos­pel explain the great truth that in the baby of Beth­le­hem God him­self was com­ing among us, tak­ing human form in a quiet unob­trus­ive way, born of a young teen­age girl in a bor­rowed stable in an obscure part of the great Roman Empire. Now sur­pris­ingly the word John uses that we usu­ally trans­late ‘as lived among us’ is a verb that lit­er­ally means, ‘He pitched his tent among us’. Pitch­ing his tent among us is a good descrip­tion of the life of Jesus. From his humble birth in Beth­le­hem, to the flight into Egypt as refugees, escap­ing Herod’s wicked edict, to the jour­ney back home to Naz­areth in Galilee, Jesus’ infancy was spent on the move. Fur­ther­more, dur­ing the years of his min­istry as an itin­er­ant teach­er and heal­er, Jesus was a per­son of no fixed address. Once a young man wanted to join his group of dis­ciples and Jesus warned him that although foxes have holes and birds have nests, ‘the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’ Only fol­low me, Jesus was say­ing, if you are will­ing to leave the com­forts of home and nor­mal earthly secur­ity. At the end of his life Jesus’ body was bur­ied in a bor­rowed tomb and even that was a short stay only. Jesus left this earth with no last­ing monu­ment to his pres­ence, no books writ­ten, no temple con­struc­ted in his hon­our just a band of rather ordin­ary men and women who said he is alive and he has changed our lives.

John tells us that he, Jesus, “was in the world and the world came into being through him, yet the world did not know him.” When Jesus lived among us there were many who failed to recog­nise who he really was or why he did the things he did. To many he remained an enigma. A man sent from God wouldn’t be born in poverty and live the life of an itin­er­ant preach­er, with a bunch of pretty ordin­ary men and women as his fol­low­ers. And surely he wouldn’t end up dying a pain­ful and humi­li­at­ing death on a cross. John says that Jesus came to his own and his own received him not. Two thou­sand years later, things haven’t changed very much. There are many who acknow­ledge Jesus as a great teach­er and regard him as prob­ably the best human being that ever lived but to receive him as the Word of God made flesh and wor­ship him is a bridge too far. But we have gathered here this morn­ing to give thanks to God for the great gift he gave to the world by send­ing Jesus among us. John tells us that to all who received him, who believed on his name, he gave power to become chil­dren of God. Christ­mas tells us that God is with us, he is near us wherever we are but we still need to invite him to share our lives. He does not force him­self upon us but says today as he said to his dis­ciples so long ago, ‘Come and fol­low me and find life.’

Philip Brad­ford