Monday, December 26, 2016

The Incarnation - The Homecoming

Preached on Christmas Eve, December 24, 2016

Scripture readings: Isaiah 9:2-7; Luke 2:1-20; John 1:1, 14-18

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (and made his dwelling among us) full of grace and truth….” (John 1:9)
Houses around Desert Aire, WA: December 2016
“The Word” is God speaking to us. It’s God’s self-expression, in which we hear and see his glory, his grace, and his truth at work.
We call this Word the only Son of the Father. It’s deep. It is also the love that lives within God making itself (or himself) real for us. It’s deep. It’s much bigger than us.
The Apostle John, who wrote this gospel, was a well-to-do Jewish fisherman who lived by the Sea of Galilee, in the north part of the Holy Land. There were a lot of Greek speaking people around there, and so John is good with Greek. He writes a very simple, plain spoken form of Greek; but he’s a simple man who is also an intelligent man, and he writes deep. And he writes out of the thoughts of generations of his people.
So, the Greek word he uses for God, the Word, dwelling among us harks back to the Old Testament, when the Jewish people wandered around the desert and lived in tents. It especially takes us back to the Exodus when the people of Israel escaped from slavery in Egypt and traveled through the wilderness to the promised land. John uses a Greek word that could just as well say that “the Word became flesh and pitched his tent among us.”
I like that because it reminds me of happy things in my family: that tent-pitching thing. Pitching our tent was always a classic time in my family, when I was growing up.
We went camping every summer for a couple weeks. Plenty of other people had campers, but my Dad always said that it wasn’t really camping unless you had a tent.
For my family, like for the people of Israel, that time of tents was a time of escape. For my family, our time in tents was also the Promised Land. For Israel, it wasn’t the promised land, but it was the time when they were most themselves, for better and for worse, walking with the Lord in the desert.
There was a special tent that was pitched every time they stopped. It was the Lord’s tent. The priests of Israel would pitch the Lord’s tent, as God had commanded, in the exact middle of the camp ground.
In Jesus, God has pitched his tent right in the middle of us. He pitched this tent without anyone’s help, except for the help of Mary and Joseph. You might say that all of human life is not a sturdy house, but only a tent: whether you recognize it or not.
The Lord has his tent right in the middle of wherever we are. Do you know that the Lord is right in the middle of wherever you are?
Jesus is God with us. The fact that we are all tenting together is not an escape. It’s the fact that we are on a journey together. And camping means living where the basics are pretty obvious and they take a lot of work.
God pitching his tent with you, and you knowing it, helps sort out the basics. When you really know that God has pitched his ten right in the middle of where you are, you realize that you’re not on an escape and you pay more attention, like most of the old-timers did, to the things that are really important.
For my family, camping was when we were all the most real and, in some ways, we were at our best. All of us are at our most real, and at our most authentic, when we pitch our tents where God pitches his. There’s no real privacy and, when you’re camping, that’s OK. Everybody sees and hears, and everyone knows, including God, and that’s OK.
The tent in Exodus was the place where God’s glory came down, and you could see it. John tells us that the place where God’s glory is really seen (much more than in that tent in Exodus) is the tent we call Jesus. In Jesus, we see that God’s true glory isn’t the cloud of smoke, or the pillar of fire, or the roar of thunder and lightning on the mountain.
God’s glory is to be one of us. God’s glory is to be a baby. God’s glory is to be a craftsman. The Creator was glad to become a carpenter. God’s glory is to sacrifice for people he loves. The Creator, who gave life to the universe, was glad to die to save sinners, and make them a new creation.
The Christmas stories in Matthew and Luke are full of trouble. If we don’t see this, it’s only because people have gone out of their way to dress up those stories, in books and on the screen.
The gospels tell us plainly about all the trouble of Christmas, if we pay attention. Luke tells us that it was orders for a tax census by the Roman Emperor that took the Holy Family away from their home in Nazareth so that they could be counted in Bethlehem. Matthew gives us King Herod’ command for his soldiers to slaughter the babies in Bethlehem.
John only tells us that there’s a struggle with the darkness. He tells us (in verse 5 of chapter one) that the light shines in the darkness and that the darkness has not overcome it.
We know what it feels like to wonder if the darkness is overcoming the light. We seem to be entering in one of the most unsettled times of the past one hundred years. We live in a time of growing fear, and anger, and doubt, and confusion about the truth.
Jesus grew up to tell us to love our enemies (Matthew 5:43) and we can see how far our world has gone from that. We know how hard it has become for us to do it. Yes, the darkness tries to overcome us all.
In Jesus, we have an antidote to the darkness. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” And we read that he is “full of grace and truth.”
The truth of God is a fact, but the truth of God is more than facts. Truth here is just as much about what we mean about trueness when we say that a person is “true blue”. God is true, meaning he is faithful through and through. Jesus shows us the kind of God we can count on.
And grace is about forgiveness, but that’s only because forgiveness is a beautiful gift. A good dancer moves with grace, and that is part of what the Bible means by God’s grace that we see in Jesus.
God, and what God has done in Jesus, is simply beautiful. Jesus is beautiful: in a very manly way, but, also, he is beautiful in a way that can touch the hearts of men and women, boys and girls.
This is the antidote to the world as it is. And the darkness has not overcome it.

They say that all babies are beautiful: so, what about God in the manger? Nowhere else has the ultimate reality become a baby, and a man on a cross. What normal human being would have thought of it, or taken it seriously. We believe this is the real grace and truth that come from God. We believe that this is something that only God could think of, and only God could pull it off. What do you think?

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