Nativity of Our Lord, Christmas Day
Texts: Isaiah 52:7-10 | Psalm 98 | Hebrews 1:1-12 | John 1:1-14
“The Word became flesh and lived among us.”
The same creative Word that in the beginning brought forth light in the midst of chaotic darkness…
The Word of eternal wisdom that gave order to the universe and governed it throughout the ages…
The Word of God that was spoken to our ancestors in many and various ways by prophets and teachers, by out-of-breath messengers and harp-playing poets…
Today, on Christmas Day, that cosmic Word is revealed in a new way – this time, clothed in flesh and bone: human. earthy. breakable.
The eternal divine crosses over into the realm of time and space – and it doesn’t only pay a visit: it “lived among us.”
This isn’t just a general ‘among us,’ as in ‘the divine became one human among humans’ – No, the connotation of the Greek σκηνόω gives a sense of making one’s dwelling; pitching one’s tent; moving into the neighborhood to stay. We have real, up-close and personal access to the divine because the divine made its home in the fleshy things of the world, in the ‘stuff’ of our lives, right next door.
And what a difference it makes when the divine is present in our reality. When an ordinary body is capable of bearing the very presence of God, what might our bodies be capable of doing? And when ordinary things like water and bread are made holy, what other things might God be making holy? When the lines between sacred and mundane become so blurred, it becomes impossible to say with any certainty where God is or where God is not. The Word spoke all this matter into being, and the same Word became this matter, and made this matter its home.
What a difference it makes that God put flesh on God’s Word.
You know, our words have flesh on them too, sometimes.
And sometimes they don’t.
Maybe you can remember a time when you heard words that rang empty, words that didn’t match the reality of your experience.
I’m remembering my 14-year-old self. Thinking about what she looked like, what she wore. How she moved and spoke. How she felt, what she feared. Things were good sometimes, and sometimes terrifying, and sometimes dark. What word did she need to hear?
My ideas begin to swirl… Well, she needed to hear that she is enough. That she is loved. That it doesn’t matter if she doesn’t do all the things (it’s impossible for a human to do all the things). That her body is good. That her voice is important. … But almost as quickly as these words come into my mind, I can hear myself laughing at the idea of saying them to my 14-year-old self —
There is no way in creation that hearing these words would change anything for her. She had heard nice, empty things like this before, like when one role model said, “It doesn’t matter what people think of you” – she knew that actually, it did. Or when another said, “True beauty is on the inside” – she knew that there were actually very specific body types, hairstyles, skin tones that were beautiful, and others were not.
Hearing words of compassion and grace wouldn’t change the way she felt about herself, because her reality said otherwise. Those words – well intentioned as they were – didn’t take form in flesh, they just rang out like nice sounds.
What a difference it would have made to put flesh on those words. How it would have felt for a divine reality to take shape in my time and space. If my reality had supported the word – God’s Word – that I am enough, that I am loved, that my body is good, that my voice is important. If my neighbors and community and friends and family all put flesh on those words by the way they cared for me… How much easier would it have been to feel, and to believe them.
Now I’m remembering how it felt the first time I participated in civil disobedience. It was last November at the Moral Mondays action protesting the state budget cuts. I, along with 40 others, blocked the doors at the Chicago Board of Trade while hundreds more sang and chanted and spoke outside. We did this because we support a “La Salle Street” Tax – a tax on financial transactions that would raise revenue and make it more possible for the state government to keep its commitments to serve low-income families.
I sat there, in my leather jacket (which I had chosen because it made me feel extra strong), blocking a revolving door, and it felt good. I had been hearing for years that God is on the side of the oppressed. In campus ministry, in global mission, in seminary, it had become more and more important to me to name systemic sin – proclaiming that there are systems of oppression at work in the world that prevent people from experiencing the fullness of life that God promises. For years I had been saying that this was important to me – maybe the most important thing. And for years I had been frustrated, because I had no idea how to put flesh on those words. How to make them more than just a good idea. How to use my body to shift reality towards those words.
And sitting there in that door, while it didn’t magically make a just state budget appear – felt like a start.
On this day, Christmas Day, when God’s word feels so especially near; when Christ moves into our neighborhood, putting flesh and blood on God’s promises, we can collaborate with God in the work of making the Word incarnate.
We make our homes in those most ordinary places. We are the flesh and bones that bear the divine there.
We can do this because in the mystery of the incarnation, our ordinary bodies, lives, and voices are nothing less than messengers of God’s peace. They are nothing less than the bodies of those who have become children of God, born not of worthless or empty matter, but of the very same ‘stuff’ as the one who came that we may have life, love, peace, and joy. Amen.