There’s quite a bit of sentimentality that accompanies the Christmas season in modern America. Do these sayings sound familiar?
- Jesus is the reason for the season
- Keep Christ in Christmas
But we know there’s more to it. Christmas is about the Incarnation:
- He came down from heaven;
- He became incarnate;
- He suffered, died, and rose again;
- And he ascended to heaven, where he is now seated at the right hand of the Father and he will come again to judge the living and the dead.
Descent and ascent. And this is all true!
But there’s even more to it than this.
And here, in today’s passage in John, we are invited to go deeper. For the Gospel writer John starts talking about Jesus in a different way than the other three Gospels. John doesn’t start with events surrounding Jesus’s birth—as we read in Matthew and Luke; John doesn’t start with the events surrounding the beginning of Jesus’s ministry—as we read in Mark. Rather, John starts at the beginning of all things.
“In the beginning,” he writes: a direct reference to the first words of the Bible.
So what happened when God created the heavens and the earth? “In the beginning was the Word,” John continues. “And the Word was with God. And the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.”
So, John points out, in the beginning Jesus Christ, the Word, was there. At the beginning of all things, it wasn’t just God the Father there creating it all. The Word was there too. He was with God. And yet, enigmatically, he was somehow also God.
So when we think of the Incarnation, we shouldn’t limit our thinking just to the sentimentality of the season. Also, we shouldn’t constrain our thinking to descent and ascent. The Incarnation, rather, has always been present.
Now, this eternal perspective puts something of a different spin on how we view the holiday season at the end of 2014.
“Jesus is the reason for the season,” yes; and we should strive to “keep Christ in Christmas.” But the Incarnation runs so much more deeply. The Word of God has become flesh. The creator of the universe has descended to human realms of time and space as a baby named Jesus. The God of all things has been born in a manger!
Think about Jesus’s life—what we know of it uniquely from the Gospel of John.
John tells the story of Nicodemus, a Jewish leader and teacher who came to Jesus in the dead of night out of fear of what the other Jewish leaders would say. But Jesus doesn’t reprimand him. Rather, he has compassion and tells Nicodemus a glorious and paradoxical parable about being born again. Out of this story comes the most quoted verse of the Bible, in fact: John 3:16: For God so loved the world. . . .
John tells the story of Lazarus. Remember this one? Jesus hears that his friend Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha, is sick. But he doesn’t go to him right away. When he finally does arrive, Lazarus is already dead. In fact, he’s been dead so long already that there is a stench. Lazarus is dead—and decaying! Mary and Martha seem both desperate and hopeful. Then, right here, before Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead, what does he do? He weeps! Jesus, incarnate God, weeps with his friends!
There are other revealing stories unique to this Gospel too:
- Jesus stoops and writes some unknown message in the dirt before a crowd ready to stone a woman caught in adultery—writing until all the crowd departs.
- Jesus rebukes his stingy treasurer, a guy named Judas, for his reaction to a woman pouring expensive ointment on her savior’s feet.
- Jesus heals a man born blind—and compassionately loves him after the synagogue excommunicates him.
What do these stories teach us? Jesus knew all the joys and heartaches we know. He was compassionate. He was loving.
God is beyond our comprehension in many ways. But we know God through Jesus Christ, the Word, the Incarnation.
The Incarnation, then, is not the sentimentality of the season. The Incarnation is not some dried up, old academic theory. The Incarnation is not ancient history, irrelevant to us and the lives we live today.
Rather, the Incarnation is the living and present Word of God. He forever has been; he forever is; and he forever will be.
We encounter him here, at church—in our fellowship with one another; in the Bible, the Word of God, read and proclaimed; in confessing our faith together in the Creed; in our prayers; and especially in Communion.
But we encounter him not just here. We encounter the living Word, Jesus Christ, every moment of our lives—if we’re paying attention!
He’s with us in the making of lunches, in the folding of laundry, in taking out the trash and doing the dishes, and in the daily commute. He’s with us at the family holiday meal, in the games we play together, and in the opening of presents. He’s with us, too, in the eyes of that homeless person who sits in the downtown park across the street from St. Mark’s.
Jesus is the reason for the season, yes; but Jesus, the Word, the Incarnation, is also our reason for striving to live faithful Christian lives every day, throughout the year, regardless of the season—lives faithful in what we say and think; lives faithful in what we do; lives faithful to the Incarnate God who dwells in us.
May our prayers be not only in our hearts, but also in our hands and feet.