Last night at our Christmas Eve Mass we read in the Gospel according to Luke we heard about the Angels proclaiming the good news to the shepherds, and the holy family in the stable with the baby Jesus swaddled and lying in a manger. It is a familiar and beautiful story, one that is reflected countless works of art and poetry and drama throughout the ages including the pageant performed yesterday by the children of this parish and our own crèche that you see before you. But today we hear something a bit different. Today’s Gospel is not so easily rendered into images, you won’t see it depicted in many paintings or acted out on stage, and when people do try to render this passage artistically, it invariably winds up in one of two places, the beginning of Genesis where God spoke and created life out of the chaos of nothingness or back in the manger with the swaddled baby and the shepherds. This makes sense, in this opening passage of John these two distant parts of the bible come together. The Word was there in the first chapter of Genesis, before creation. “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light.” It was with the Word that God brought light to the darkness in the beginning. God spoke his Word and light came into being. God spoke his Word again and again and the sparks of life were lit in creation. Of course the Word of God is spoken throughout scripture. The force of God’s Word is at work throughout the Old Testament because as John said ‘the Word was God and the Word was with God’. Whenever we read about God interacting with Israel, we are reading about the Word of God as well. Whenever we read about Moses and the law and when we read about the prophets and martyrs we know that they have been inspired by God’s Word. The problem is that the nature of God and our nature are so radically different, at least from our perspective, the perspective of the created. We are stuck between our natural desire to want to know God and our desire to keep God at arms distance. We want to enshrine God in a tabernacle, but we also want God there with us in the difficult moments. We want God to butt out and we want God to take charge. We paint God with all sorts of different ideas, ignoring what we don’t like, twisting God into what we deem a suitable image. Humanity is indeed conflicted about God. We see this again and again throughout scripture, we see Israel resist the call of prophets, we see corruption and self interest drag God’s chosen people away from God. We see it throughout the history of the Christian Church as well.
“He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him.”
It is true that God is not easily understood, God is so big, so far beyond our imagination that we think we cannot possibly know God, not really. We are created, limited by our physical selves, We all have a beginning, and we certainly seem to have an end as well, at least for a while anyway. We are stuck in time, possessing only a brief time to do anything at all, and because we are imperfect many of us tend to waste a lot of that time on petty, unimportant matters. But God, God is eternal, God is infinite in every way, and yet after so many attempts to connect with us, his creation, God does something different. God takes on humanity, closing that unfathomably large gap between us and our creator. One theologian writes, “Christmas is not an event within history but is rather the invasion of time by eternity.” That is, when God brought humanity and divinity together in Jesus Christ, it was not just for that short span of 33 years during the life of Christ, the consequences of God entering history continues to resonate, continues to be felt in all of time, in all of history. Jesus Christ is the pebble dropped into the lake of time, we shall see the ripples go out forever in all directions.
This is a lovely idea, but what does it mean for us? What does it change? We still act like we don’t understand. We call Jesus Lord, but divorce our worship and Love of Jesus from what we know about his life. We act like the incarnation was something God did despite himself, we return God to the tabernacle, calling on God only in times of Crisis, only as an outside agent acting on our lives.
We know, I hope we know, that Jesus is true God and true man, but so often we fail to see the truth of that staring us in the face: In his divinity Jesus shows us who God is, and in his Humanity Jesus shows us who we are meant to be, and they are the same. This is the unfathomable revelation of the incarnation.
God shows us in Jesus that his nature is to reach downward, to humble himself, when God “emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form,” as Paul says in Philippians, it was not despite himself, but rather it was because of his very nature. Such a nature is so different, so completely opposite of the order of this world, but it is the real order of things, it is God’s order. We may want to put limits on God’s nature, say that he cannot in his divinity possibly be this way, but “it is not our right to set any sort of limits to the loving-kindness of God which has appeared in Jesus Christ. Our duty is to see and understand it as being still greater than we had seen before.”
God does not forfeit his deity when he becomes a servant to humanity, God does not stop being the almighty eternal King of all creation when he becomes humanities brother in time. Rather, the fact that God is both exalted and completely humble is a sign of his complete freedom. God’s freedom of LOVE, is love that crosses all boundaries to bring truth and Grace to a world bound by sin. Turning to God is an acceptance of that Love in our own lives, not just an acknowledgement of God’s love for each of us, but accepting that we too, made in God’s image, are made to LOVE in a radical and unexpected way. The perfect image of God shown in Jesus Christ also the perfection of God’s image in us, and it is an image of LOVE given freely and completely.
This is the eternal Word of God made flesh. It is indeed beyond any single image that can be painted, or song that can be sung. It is beyond any single sermon that can be written, but is found whenever we clear a space in our lives, God’s Love comes rushing in.
This is the nature of God revealed in Jesus, a meeting of something as simple as a child being born and placed in a manger, and yet as complicated as eternity itself. And here we are, as witnesses of this miracle in the world but also bearers of God’s word as well as we accept and rejoice in the image of God in our own humanity.