Word Made Flesh

SJF • Christmas 1 2009 • Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
And the Word became flesh and lived among us.+

Merry Christmas! I say that because Christmas is not a single day — Christmas is that twelve-day-long season of the church year in which we are particularly reminded of a great invasion that took place long ago — when in fulfillment of the prophecies of old, God came to be with us as one of us, our Lord Emmanuel.

During the few years of his ministry recorded in the Gospels, Jesus taught and preached about why he came to us. He also told parables about himself as God’s emissary, God’s anointed one, the Messiah, God’s Son, sent from his Father’s throne on a mission to the world God loved so much. He told the parable about the king who sent his son to deal with those disreputable vineyard tenants, for example — a very pointed parable aimed in the direction of religious leaders who had turned the temple into a den of thieves. He told of the master of the household who came to check up on what the various servants were doing, especially in regard to how they treated each other — and that’s a very pointed parable that is a lesson to all of us! So it is that Jesus himself began a tradition of telling about his own mission among us through parables.

Last week, Brother James and I saw the new James Cameron film, Avatar. As you know from the news reports we were not the only people who went to the movies last weekend! The film has very nearly made up its very high price tag within the first weeks of its release. I promise that this sermon will contain no spoilers, for those who yet to see the film — I’ll stick to what has already been shown in the trailers and previews, which have been hard to avoid if you’ve wandered within five feet of a television during the last month or so.

The reason I think of this film at Christmas time is not only due to its having been released to coincide with Christmas — strange timing for what is really a summer blockbuster after all! It is because this film also deals with the theme of incarnation — and of what incarnation is for: sacrifice and justice and deliverance and healing. While it is far from matching up with Christian theology point by point, that film does capture the essence of a very vital and central element of the Christian faith — that God became one of us, and saved us.

As the evangelist John put it, “The Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” And as he would continue in a later chapter, the Son of God came into the world, “not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.”

So it is that the hero of the film, Jake Sully, is given a fleshy body like those of the people whose world he is going to inhabit. A body ten feet tall, with yellow eyes, and a long tail like a cat! It is also a body “not born of blood or of the will of the flesh,” though clearly at the devising and the will of man — the scientists grow the body for Jake in a giant test tube. More importantly for the theme of the film, Jake rejects and is rejected by “his own people” — us human beings — or at least the commercial exploiters of the peaceful planet and the military force set on displacing or eliminating the indigenous population.

I’ll let the comparison rest at that — both so as not to give away any more of the film, but also not to press my luck by drawing the analogy any closer than it already is. As with the parables themselves, it is a mistake to try to interpret most of them allegorically — that is, point by point — rather than drawing one major lesson from each of them.

And the major lesson I want to draw both from our Scripture and from that adventuresome movie is the same — that we have been rescued. And more than rescued: saved. We and our world have been saved by someone who is both one of us and yet who comes from beyond. God has come to us; the word which was at the beginning with God and was God, through whom all things came into being, and without whom not one thing that is came to be — this same Word and Son of God came to us as one of us, became human flesh and lived among us and allowed us for that brief time to see his glory.

And to do more than just to see. As Saint Paul wrote to the troublesome congregation in Galatia, through the power of God’s Holy Spirit, we have also received adoption as children of God, brothers and sisters of God’s own son, who was born under the law, born of a woman as all of us were, in order to redeem us and set us free from the bondage of sin.

Jesus came to us as one of us to save us from the mess we’d gotten into by seeking ourselves instead of honoring God and our neighbors. Unlike the tall blue people of Pandora, who seem to be able to get along not only with each other but with their whole planet, we human beings have been at odds both with each other and our planet almost from the very beginning. (Another point made in Avatar is that the humans are invading the peaceful planet of Pandora because they’ve practically destroyed their home-world — our home-world, the Earth. And any decisions about global warming taken last week in Copenhagen notwithstanding, that part of the story may well turn out to be true, 150 years from now!)

Clearly, we human beings have a way of making a mess of things, both on a personal and a planetary scale. But the good news of Christmas, is that it doesn’t have to be that way, or stay that way. God himself came to us to offer us a way out of this mess. And it wasn’t with arrows and flying dragons, it wasn’t with machine guns and armaments. It wasn’t alien creatures 10 feet tall, or mechanical suits twice as tall as that armed to the teeth.

It was as a child, born in a suburb of Jerusalem, during a time of confusion and injustice no less troubled than our own. And all who will receive him, who believe in his name, have power to become children of God, as he was and is. We can embrace that new identity received in him, clothe ourselves in his goodness, and set down both the swords we use against each other and the seemingly innocuous ploughshares with which we wound our weary planet. We can turn from using each other and our world only for what we can get out of it and each other, and instead seek to serve each other, to love each other and cherish each other as brothers and sisters should do, and to treat this earth, our island home, with greater reverence and care: it’s the only one we’ve got!

We have been given power to do this by God himself — God, who made us and this world of ours — for the Word became flesh and lived among us. We have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

Through that grace and in that truth we can proclaim our salvation — that we have been rescued and saved, redeemed and restored, and empowered so that we might be all that God intends us to be: his children — so that it is true when we cry out, “Abba! Father!” And so to Christ our Savior, and to his Father and our Father, let us give thanks for this great gift, the greatest gift, the Word made flesh, our Lord, Emmanuel.+