Wednesday, December 23, 2015

God Became Human (John 1:1-18) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

I don't know if you've heard the news, your probably not aware of it, since the movie has received such little hype in the media, but the movie Stars Wars opened in theaters on Friday.  Star Wars, the Force Awakens, Episode 7.   Yes, “long ago, in a galaxy far away.”   No, I haven't seen it yet, I may be the only one on the planet who hasn't.  It has a huge cult following like no other movie series.  I remember when Nancy and I were driving along highway 1 in Santa Barbara earlier this year and we saw a storm trooper walking along the highway.  Our son Eric and our grandson Wyatt both have storm trooper costumes.

Pop culture has long employed a concept called King or Queen Incognito, where in film and books you run into an apparently nondescript and unimportant character like a beggar, and later discover that this person is someone of great fame and power, like a king or queen or powerful wizard, who has disguised himself to walk unnoticed among the common people.

In Star Wars there is such a character, Queen Amidala, the queen of the planet Naboo, who frequently disguised herself as one of her own handmaidens, and went out into public incognito, in order to walk among the populace and fulfill her mission of liberating her planet from the evil Federation.

Christmas dares to make this astonishing claim: God, the king of kings, came among us in human form. This humble birth of a baby named Jesus, born in a tiny town called Bethlehem, is in reality the incarnation of God, the ruler of the universe Christmas announces that in this baby's birth, God appeared in a human body. God was in Jesus. God came to the town of Bethlehem and that meant God entered our neighborhood, our world. C.S. Lewis wrote in his Chronicles of Narnia:   “A stable once had something in it bigger than the whole world.”

Why is this Christian truth-claim revolutionary? Humans have long been plagued with a haunting question – “Am I alone in this vast universe?  Am I merely a fleeting spark in a dark abyss?”  Is this world impersonal, capricious, devoid of some core principle or power which unites, sustains and directs it?

Christmas declares that an eternal light has broken into the darkness of the world. John says:  “In Christ was life, and the life was the light of all people.  The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.” Christmas is Christianity's answer to these existential questions.  In Jesus, God has made himself, his character, his heart, his mind, his voice, his nature known to the world.  Christmas proclaims that you and I are not alone. “Joy to the world, the Lord is come.

Some people today see Christmas as a fairytale, like the brother's Grimm fairy tales, remember those stories, Snow White, Rapunzel, the Frog Prince.  They view Christmas as a sentimental tale about a poor peasant family giving birth to a baby surrounded by angels, animals, shepherds and kings.  But is is just a romantic story.  The Christian faith strongly disagrees.  I strongly disagree.  Christmas is based upon a historical event.  It is based upon a unique and joyous and astonishing birth.  An ordinary and humble birth of the king of kings and lord of lords, which occurred in a world of Caesar's and Herod’s and Pilates, and a Jewish people under the power of the Roman Empire.

Christmas announces that Jesus is truly God, very God, fully God.    In the Gospel of John we read:  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God, 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.”  The letter of Colossians says it succinctly: “In Jesus Christ, the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.”   The letter of Philippians says: “Though He was in the form of God, Jesus humbled himself, and was born in human likeness.”   The Letter of Hebrews states:  “In these last days God has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds.  He is the reflection of God's glory and the exact imprint of God's very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word.”   And our Gospel writer John says:  “No one has ever seen God, it is God the only Son, who is close to the Father's heart, who has made him known.”   So on the one hand, Jesus' is God’s self-communication, God’s self-revelation, Immanuel, God is with us.

But paradoxically, Christmas also declares the exact opposite, Jesus was a human being.  Jesus was fully and truly human.   God entered the world as a fragile and helpless baby.  The letter of Hebrews says:  “Since God’s children share flesh and blood, Jesus likewise shared the same things.   For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect was tested as we are, yet without sin.”  Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary.  Jesus was human, born of a woman like you and I are born. No, the story of Jesus' birth is no fairytale.

Yes, for some today it’s a scandalous claim. The Jews considered it blasphemy, an unforgiveable insult and offense to God because God is Spirit, not flesh and blood.  They also called it idolatry.  How can one say a man named Jesus is at the same time God and worship Him as such.  Some unbelievers today despise Christmas and argue that it’s a myth, a fallacy, a lie and put their energies into trying to eradicate Christmas from our culture.

We Christians declare this truth: in Jesus of Nazareth, God and humanity are united in one personal existence. We also acknowledge that this truth is a mystery. Ultimately, comprehending it lies beyond our mind's ability to fully grasp it.   We recognize that our minds are limited in our capacity to fully understand the incarnation.

Is the controversial debate about Jesus today surprising?  No.  Jesus was born into controversy 2000 years ago and that controversy continues today.  But on the other hand let us never forget that the celebration of the birthday of Jesus also continues to be honored and observed by 2.2 billion Christians around the world today.  Jesus is the visible image of the invisible God.    In Jesus the God of the heavens stooped down to earth. In Jesus the glory of God appeared as Immanuel, God with us, God one of us.

Why did God enter into the world in Jesus?  To fulfill His messianic promise which the prophets declared that the messiah, God's anointed one, would come to the world. To send a savior to bring salvation from our sins, to establish His Kingdom, to open up for us the heart and character of God, to show us who God is, to allow us to see God and know God, to demonstrate God's love for the world, to come into your life and my life.   

God is so passionate about human beings that He was willing to reach out to humanity by coming personally. God chose to bend down to our level, like an adult bends down to speak to a child face to face.  God became Immanuel, "God with us," so we might spend eternity with him.

The distinguished 5th century Church Father St. Augustine said: “God became a man for this purpose.  Since you, a human being could not reach God, but you can reach other humans, God became a human so that following a human, something you are able to do, you might reach God.”

I close with this story about a Roman Catholic priest named Father Damien.  For 16 years, in the late 1870’s and 80’s he dedicated his life to serving lepers.  He moved to a village on the island of Molokai, Hawaii that had been quarantined to serve as a leper colony.  He lived among them.  He learned to speak their language, he ate with them, he bandaged their wounds, he embraced the bodies no one else would touch, he preached to hearts that would otherwise have been left alone.  He organized schools and choirs.  He built homes so that the lepers could have shelter. He built coffins by hand so that, when they died, they could be buried with dignity. Slowly, it was said, the village became a place to live rather than only a place to die, for Father Damien offered God’s love and acceptance and affirmation.

Father Damien was not careful about keeping his distance. He was close to them.  He did nothing to separate himself from these people. He dipped his fingers in the poi bowl along with them. He shared his pipe. He did not always wash his hands after bandaging open sores.  For this, the people loved him.  Then one day he stood up and began his sermon with two words: "We lepers…." Now he wasn't just helping them. Now he was one of them.”

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.  But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born not of blood or the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God."

Let us prepare to celebrate Jesus’ coming into our lives through faith, and to witness by our words and deeds to the Savior of the world.  Amen!

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