‘And the Word became flesh and lived among us.’
John 1: 1-14 Amen.
“And the Word became flesh.”
When we are babies we are not born with language, we have no words, they have to be learned and that process begins before birth. The baby hears the mother’s voice and becomes familiar with it and any others’ close enough to be heard. After birth the child will gradually become familiar with the most used words, come to know mamma or dada and that both belong to their parents or care givers. The next stage is the pointing game and the child discovers names, of things and people and so language develops over time. The Word for us in the beginning then is a name or identity.
“And the Word became flesh”
We hear those words so easily that they are lost on us. We quickly associate them with the baby in Bethlehem's manger, and rightly so, but then we dismiss them without being startled or shocked or even mildly surprised. “The Word became flesh.”
Some of the Greeks were appalled at such a thought and quickly acted to correct what they thought of as a ludicrous, even sacrilegious thought. It wasn’t that God could not have become flesh, but why would God have wanted to become flesh? By their way of thinking, the flesh was bad and the body was evil. They tolerated the body as a necessary way to “house the soul.”
We too sometimes slip into this mind-set that the soul is good and spiritual, and the body is bad and animal. At the root of this is the idea that physical expression is bad and should take a back seat to the higher and purer gifts of the mind and the soul.
The Greek word behind flesh in this example is the same word Paul uses over and over to describe human nature in all its weakness and sin. In other words, when God became flesh God immediately became acquainted with all the desires, problems, and temptations inherent in human life, which is one more reason why the Word becoming flesh isn’t all that desirable. Who wants a God who is so much like us? We want a God who rules over the earth, who gives power and dominion to human beings, and whose knowledge and goodness, are always beyond reproach.
But isn’t that the point of John’s account? There is in the earth the presence of the Holy Spirit. The Eternal has appeared in time. The God whom no one has seen has become visible. The inaccessible One is now available to us. The Word became flesh is not a sign that the great God has been reduced to the lesser nature of humanity, but that the great God has paid us a visit in human form.
It’s not the first time God’s presence was made known, and it won’t be the last. God is always looking for a place to dwell. God is present in the words of scripture, in the beauty of a painting, in majestic architecture, and in the stirring drama of great literature. God was present at the Red Sea, and at Mount Sinai, and in the foreign land where the people were held in captivity. But God did, not become a book, or a painting, or a building. God took on human form. The Word became flesh.
If people want to know what God looks like, and they do, they are going to look at us. People who will come to experience something of God’s presence will not arrive at that moment by argument or logical thinking or scientific proof. More than likely, they will come to know what God is like through knowing God’s people, us. People who experience love do not do so by reading about it in a book. They experience love through other human beings. There is so much for people to read about God in scripture and elsewhere, but not much of it will hold water unless they come to know women, men and children, who appear in the flesh in the same way that God appears on the page.
That doesn’t mean we have to be perfect people, but it does call us to take seriously the fact that our bodies are God’s temple and God's spirit dwells in our flesh (1 Corinthians 3:16). We can’t be perfect people, but we can be so responsive to the spirit of God that “the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh” (2 Corinthians 4:11). It means that we not only see the heart or soul as religious, but that we “love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength” (Mark 12:30) and that we present our “bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is our spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1-2). Our existence is not about worshiping God with our souls and treating our bodies as if they were our own. Our earthly life is not about having a pure heart and paying no attention to our physical needs. Instead, we are about presenting our whole selves in faithful service to God because we carry the good news in these bodies of ours, as well as in our hearts and minds. We cannot share the good news until we become the good news. We are to become the good news in the flesh for the world to see.
It’s always nice to hear people say, “I saw your church. It’s beautiful.” They are right, of course, but they only saw a part of the church. They only saw the building. They missed the best part. If they didn’t have time to see all those occasions when the church becomes the good news, when the Word becomes flesh. And the Word becomes flesh all over the place.
Anyone who has ever delivered meals or visited the bereaved or responded to a disaster or given sacrificially or taken people in or sat with friends in a difficult time knows that what we give pales in comparison to what we get back. It’s not just that the Word becomes flesh in our actions, but that the Word is already flesh in those to whom we minister.
The decline that so many churches are experiencing is baffling since we live in a time when there is a desperate need for community. People are less and less concerned about what church name a congregation has, and more and more concerned with finding a supportive, receptive, loving congregation that will welcome and take care of them. There is a lot of debate about various issues, but people who are hurting aren’t looking for a Mission Action Plan. They are looking for the Word that gives life, comfort and hope, and they are looking right at us to see if that Word has any flesh on it.
The Word becoming flesh is a powerful statement about God’s presence in Jesus, but it is also more. The Word becoming flesh leads us toward one another, pointing us toward a new community where we see the truth and dignity in all of God’s children. The Word becoming flesh reminds us that the truth and light live in us. Yet, we know none of us are capable of holding all the truth and light, so we need and depend on each other for pieces of the truth and light that we do not yet have.
If we are all made in the image of God, if we are all distinct revelations of God, then we all carry within us some message and experience that the rest of us need to hear. May we become and then share the good news. More than that, may we be open to the good news, which all the people of the earth embody, learning and receiving from them as much as they learn and receive from us. May the love of God, which we talk about so freely, be recognized in the love of human beings like us.
So then the Word is God’s will in action as well as a name and identity.
“And the Word became flesh”. Amen.
The Rev'd Mo Lunn, St Mary Magdalene, Enfield, 07/02/2021