“The Word became flesh”
The second Sunday after Christmas, and the first Sunday in the New Year 2022. Pastor Brian’s sermon today is based on John 1: 14: ‘The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.’
Our custom here at Langmeil has been to have a service on New Year’s Day. This year we did not do that. And we did not have an early service today. This live-streamed-service is the first in the New Year.
Every year we begin the new year with a mixture of excitement and apprehension. But this year we probably feel more apprehensive than usual. We’ve now endured two years of living with restrictions due to COVID. A few weeks back we were hoping these were about to end. We were looking forward to what some people were calling Freedom Day. We were anticipating that soon life would go back to something like normal. But no. Today we at Langmeil are back to where we were several months ago. Back to seating limitations, back to live-streaming services and other restrictions. If you are the owner of a pub or a cafe, it looks like you will be back to trying to stay afloat. If you were hoping to head overseas soon, you are probably back to putting your trip on hold.
If the outlook is gloomy, let me remind you that while we have begun the new year, we are still in the Christmas season. It lasts for 12 days. Today is the 9th day of those days, and the second Sunday of Christmas. The gospel reading for today gives us just what we need to go into the year ahead.
This reading is the Apostle John’s version of the Christmas story. It is quite unlike what we hear from Matthew and Luke. There are no mention of Mary and Joseph, no Bethlehem, no stable, no angels, no shepherds, no wise men. What John gives us is the story behind the story; we could call it the inside story.
When I taught the Gospels I told students that each gospel has a character of its own. I used a water analogy for each of them. I said, Mark’s gospel is like a rushing stream. It hurries along to tell the good news of the mighty Saviour. Matthew’s gospel is like the Murray River, majestically flowing along as it tells of the promised Messiah. Luke’s gospel is like a gentle brook, as it tells of the compassionate Lord who comes to give healing and new life to all people. And John’s Gospel? It is like the Blue Lake at Mt Gambier – mysterious and deep. So come with me as we dive down a little way into the mysterious depths of John’s Gospel.
This Gospel reading is the introduction or prologue to John’s Gospel, and here John writes that the word of God – the Word that was with God and was God- this Word became-flesh. Words are what we use to let others know how we think and feel. Words convey meaning. Words enlighten. Words reveal. Words communicate. But sometimes words alone, words by themselves, don’t seem adequate.
Over Christmas I spoke by phone with my son and daughter in Adelaide. Our plan had been to join them there for a large family lunch, but because one of the hosts was a contact of someone with COVID, he had to isolate, and the gathering was called off. So I had to make do with just speaking to them on the phone. It was good to talk with them, but it brought home to me how important physical presence is to us.
God who created us understands our need for physical presence, so even though he spoke to people through human voices, such as those of the prophets, God decided to give his Word a physical presence. At Christmas the Word, which was with God and was God, that Word was born as the baby Jesus. John expresses it like this, ‘The Word became flesh’. And he says that through this physical word, through the person of Jesus, God made himself known more fully than ever before.
What is it about God that Jesus reveals more fully? Here you need to take a deep breath and dive down with me a bit deeper. John says the word made his dwelling among us. The word John uses for dwelling is literally ‘tabernacled’.
John wants to bring to your mind the story of how Moses met God on Mt Sinai and received the ten commandments. He then took the two stone tablets on which the commandments were written and placed them in the tabernacle or tent where he would meet with God. The Bible says that when Moses came down from the mountain after speaking with God his face shone. It reflected the glory of God. It gave off a dazzling blinding light, a light so bright it hurt to look at him. The intensity of this light frightened the Israelites so much that they asked Moses to cover his face whenever he spoke with them.
This blinding light expresses God’s holiness. When the light of God’s holy law shines upon you it exposes all your sins and failures and flaws, and makes you feel mighty uncomfortable. The prophet Isaiah had a similar experience in the temple. He had a vision of the holy God shining in all his glory, surrounded by his angels, and he fell to the ground and cried out, ‘I am done for. I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty’.
John tells us that while Jesus, God’s Word-made-flesh, tabernacled among them, they too saw his glory. The first time was when Jesus attended a wedding at Cana and the wine ran out. It looked like the host was going to be seriously embarrassed by this miscalculation, but Jesus came to his rescue and turned water into wine. John says that here Jesus revealed his glory and his disciples believed in him.
John gives other examples of the glory of God shining from Jesus, but the clearest and fullest expression is seen in Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross and his resurrection. Jesus calls this the hour of his glory. Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection gives off a truly glorious light.
It is not like the light of God’s holy law. It is not a light that causes us to look away in fear. It is the light of grace, the light of God’s compassion and mercy for all sinners and failures. It is light from the welcoming, smiling face of God. As you head into the new year, keep this Christmas gospel in mind.
The audio of this sermon is available on this web site.