“And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us…full of grace and truth.“
A Happy Christmas to you all!
Today we celebrate and ponder the great gift of God coming into our midst to save us and to lift us into the divine life, the life that is eternal.
God made that promise of salvation in ancient times. Our first lesson today is from the prophet Isaiah, through whom God spoke to the people of Israel about 700 years before appearing to us in the flesh in Jesus Christ. God spoke both to warn Israel of the exile that was going to come to upon them from the Assyrians, but also to give them hope that salvation would come to them from that exile.
But the message of God through the prophet was not just a message to one people at a particular time, but speaks to the universal experience of every person in every age.
We all know the experience of exile – we lose sight of God and wander about in spiritual darkness, lost, following our own inclinations, our own ideas of what is right and become bound further and further in darkness.
The people that walked in darkness…
they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death…
This is a description of every one of us apart from Christ.
This land of darkness is not a physical place that we somehow need to leave to find a better place, but a place of deep inner confusion. For each us that exile is for different reasons – it may be a place of anger expressed openly or hidden in our hearts, or a place of despair, of utter hopelessness, or of an excessive attention to our senses, or greed. Life can feel like we are in a battle – with confused noise, and garments rolled in blood. It may be we seem to be fighting with others around us. We don’t enjoy a deep inner peace and so we cannot share that peace with others.
Into this land, that is, the state of every person born into this world, God sends the Christmas message of hope, and more than a message, He sends His Son.
THE people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them has light shined.
And the message to us is not of the bringing in of a heavenly kingdom in the way that earthly kingdoms are often established – by force, by war – with confused noise and garments rolled in blood. The kingdom God brings about is a kingdom with burning and fuel of fire: it is a kingdom of light – founded on Truth; and, it is a kingdom of heat – founded on the kindling and purifying of the fire of love.
In the Incarnation God’s kingdom is brought about in our midst and within us in a hidden way at first. God promises through the prophet that it will be as in the day of Midian. What does he mean? Isaiah is referring here to the time of the Judges (12th century BC) when a small Israelite army led by Gideon carried no weapons except trumpets and flaming torches hidden in clay pots. Under cover of darkness they snuck up and surrounded the much larger Midianite army that was encamped in a valley at night. Suddenly they shattered the pots and blew trumpets to reveal themselves openly. They did not fire one missile, they did not use one stroke of the sword for victory, the Midianites were not overcome by force but by the sudden sound and light. They assumed a great army surrounded them, and were thrown into confusion, and ran away.
Just so, as in the day of Midian, God appears hidden to us in clay, in the flesh of the baby Jesus in a manger [Gen 2:7; 2 Cor 4:7]. The appearance of this child was accompanied by miraculous signs: the message of angels and a star in the heavens. Yet who Jesus really is was revealed, and our salvation brought about fully, only when that clay vessel, his flesh, was shattered – when Christ died on the Cross and rose again for us – then he was revealed as God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God.
God’s enemies are scattered and overcome at the revealing of the Word made flesh – by the rod of his mouth, (His words of truth) by the breath of his lips (His Spirit of Truth poured forth). [Isa 11:4; Jn 20:22]
Our Gospel this morning has been seen through the ages by all the major biblical commentators as perhaps the most important passage in the Bible – it is a kind of window, the prism through which the whole of Scripture makes sense.
IN the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made… He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not… And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. [from John 1:1-14]
The first verses parallel the first verses of Genesis and makes clear that the Word of God is God the Son, the eternal offspring of the Father. In the same way that before we speak a word, the idea is conceived in our minds, and when it is spoken by us, our words are the children of our mind – even so all things have their existence by God thinking them. “Without that thought, without that Word, was not anything made that was made.” God has never been absent from His creation, but is ever present in His creation by His Word – but being blinded by sin we can’t see it. His coming to us in the flesh is not the sudden appearance of an absent God, but His revealing of Himself in flesh and blood, so we could see him with our physical eyes and hear him with our physical ears and touch him. [1 John 1] He appears in our midst to lead us to know the eternal purposes of all that we see, to know the mind of God, to know that God is love and in Him is no darkness at all. [1 John 1] [see the wonderful sermon by R.D. Crouse, Advent 2 sermon]
But how quickly our minds, would cover over the wondrous, the divine. Christ is dwelling in us in a hidden way at first – as in the day of Midian, before the clay pots were shattered. His dwelling in us becomes more clear to us when we receive Him, through our baptism and through faith. To as many as received him he gave power to become the children of God.
But many people are baptized; not all know the miraculous gift of their baptism. Many people hear the teachings of Christ; not all take them to heart. Great things are happening in our lives all the time, divine gifts, moments of the revelation of God’s Kingdom, the breaking through our darkness by the kingdom of light and of love. Do we recognize them for what they are?
The Word was made flesh in the Christ child so that we might see the eternal Word behind all of creation. Our experience of exile, of God at a distance, of fear and sadness or even hatred, is turned to hope and love by Jesus. It is a change mysteriously brought about in our own hearts by the grace of God – one person at a time. And seeing this in ourselves, this hope, this love, we can then share this gift with others.
I’ve seen many examples recently in people in this church who have allowed the light of Christ in them to shine in the darkness for me and others – I will share with you a couple of examples, which I spoke of last night.
- Sandra van der Hoofd, Betty’s daughter who has decided to learn Arabic. Why? She said, “We Dutch are very good at being hospitable to foreigners by learning English so that those from away can feel more at home (breaking the language barrier). But very few of us learn Arabic, to make those from Morocco or Turkey feel more at home.” So she’s taking lessons from a Muslim woman, who she is befriending, and when she goes to the market she stops at the stall of a Moroccan man, and speaks to him a few words in Arabic, and he lights up.
I’m not saying we should all learn Arabic, but this is one person’s response, in the midst of the daily discouraging world news we hear, to try to build bridges rather than higher barriers between people.
- Another example is Ella Schoonhoven, in our choir, who wrote a beautiful poem which she shared to describe how she responds to the “fear and sadness that reign” – the poem finishes with this…
so I have to sing
to relive the wonder of an exquisite truth
irreplaceable as the
infinite character of a poem
framed in beams of light
referring to love
creating beauty in the awaiting.
Ella has agreed to allow her poem to be in our January newsletter. Her response to the darkness, awakened in me a questioning about whether I had allowed fear and sadness to reign, rather than hope and love. Whatever we do as Christians, whatever our ministry is in this or any church, it is all in vain, unless hope and love are what motivate us.
- There are some other people, who I’ve been greatly blessed to come to know here, who I will not name, but who, motivated by love, have shown great courage in choosing to bring to light the hidden things of darkness, despite the fear and great personal cost involved. They are an inspiration to me and give me hope.
We have a Saviour and His Gospel speaks into the darkness of every age.
When we rejected God, God did not stay at a distance, he did not put the barriers up even higher… and send in the bombers – God dropped all the barriers, and entered past our barricades, beginning in a humble… small… way… and, at first, hidden.
When we leave this life on earth, when our bodies, these clay pots, are shattered, will our lives reveal, as in the day of Midian, the fire of the love of Christ so that all may see what motivated us, Who motivated us?
Will that divine fire dwelling in us begin to shine out through the cracks in our mortal lives, our clay, even today?
And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, and we have beheld His glory….
To all who received him… he gave power to become the children of God. [John 1]
You are the light of the world… Let your light so shine before others,
that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. [Matt 5]