Nativity of our Lord, December 24-25, 2020
“And the Word became flesh and lived among us…” (John 1:14a) That’s one of the most compelling phrases in the Christian Bible, in a sentence summing up a crucial feature of the Christian message, that the Word that is God became human in Jesus of Nazareth.
This good news is central to what we celebrate on Christmas, the Nativity of our Lord Jesus who was born to Mary, God’s Word made flesh even as a baby.
But words become flesh all the time. Think of some of the phrases employed to describe people and their conditions and dispositions: “they are a stiff-necked people;” “some are hard-headed;” “others are hard-hearted;” still others may be pains in the you-know-what.”
Yes, these are metaphors, but it is also true that we carry in various regions of our bodies, in our flesh, meanings, memories, experiences, in short, words. Butterflies in the stomach, or worse, upset stomachs and ulcers, are signs of the stress and anxiety we carry, words and stories of worry we carry as symptoms in bodily regions.
We may well carry in the pits of our stomachs the voids, the literal pains of grief at having lost loved ones. Those loved ones have names, which, of course, are words. Words that make sentences and stories describe many of the physical pains we carry. Some call it psychosomatic, conditions hard, if not impossible sometimes, to diagnose. But the pains are real, as are the experiences we hold in our bodies and the stories we tell about them.
Our very bodily postures, being hunched over, for example, can reveal the burdens we carry and help tell the story of our struggles. Facial expressions speak volumes. Our eyes can reveal to some significant extant what’s going on in our hearts and minds, eyes being windows into the souls as some say.
Our bodies and our physical symptoms often tell the story of human failure to keep God’s will, God’s law. Our symptoms, when they are the result of cruel things that people do to each other, communicate the ill effects of sin in our lives and the realities of our finitude and mortality. It can feel like a lot of bad news in our flesh.
So yes, words become flesh all the time. The miracle of Christmas is not that a word became flesh in symptoms that we carry. No, Christmas is all about which Word becomes flesh, namely, the Word that is Godself in Jesus of Nazareth.
This Word lived and lives among us. The biblical Greek translated as “lives” in the prologue to John’s Gospel has to do with a booth, a tent, a tabernacle, but it’s used as a verb in John. That is to say, the Word of God tabernacled or tabernacles with us, or pitched a tent with us to accompany us on our life’s journeys.
And with this wonderful Word of good news, we receive the gifts of other words made flesh in the person, in the body, the visage of Jesus who is for us the face of the living God, the creator of all things.
These words of additional good news that Jesus carries in his flesh? Other words that are reported in the first chapter of John, the final reading for today:
- True light
- Power that we might become children of God
These are good words, divine words which also live among us, dwell with us, made flesh in the church which is the body of Christ. Yes, the divine Word still is made flesh among us, still tabernacles with us, pitching the tent to join us on our journeys in the often-frail, imperfect, but nonetheless sacred realities of our life together in the church.
In the Christian life, Jesus’ words of good news find the words of bad news which we carry in our bodies and supersede them to tell a different story, even in our flesh.
In rigorous engagement with the scriptures, sacred words and stories find the deep places in our bodies for our healing, for our salvation, for the relief of what ails us. That’s why beloved biblical stories like the ones we hear at Christmas continue to speak with relevance and power even a couple thousand years after they were first written.
In the sacramental life of the church, in the gift of the Eucharist, that great gift of Christmas that, alas, we are not receiving this year, we literally incorporate the Word of good news into ourselves, eating and drinking the Word so that it may find us in our deepest places of need to begin to make us whole.
Moreover, Words of good news are made flesh in the holy conversations among God’s people, as we tabernacle together in the life of our congregation, giving words of grace and forgiveness to each other along the way.
Mary carried in her body the divine Word of Christ for nine months to give birth to this Word in and for the sake of the world. Mary is the model par excellence of Christian discipleship. Which is to say that we as current day disciples are also called to carry in our bodies divine words of grace for the sake of the world, to birth good news with others in our walk of faith and ministries in daily life, in our words and in our deeds.
In such ways via the presence of God’s people in the world, the gift of Christmas, of God’s Word made flesh, keeps on giving today even in our very troubled times.
Good Christian friends, rejoice therefore. For this is all good news indeed, on Christmas and every day. Amen.