Emmanuel Lutheran Church
Menominee - Michigan
New Years Day
January 1, 2017
Grace and Peace to you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
“And 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.” (St. John 1:14)
I’m quite sure that these words are at least somewhat familiar to you, or very much imprinted upon your hearts, words that make up the last verse of the Gospel of the Incarnation, God becoming man.
But while we may be very familiar with these words, which in essence are not just the heart of St. John’s prologue, but of his entire Gospel, this same verse and affirmation startled many of the earliest Christians who heard it. Living and operating in a world dominated by the Greek sensibility that God is, above all things, eternal and immutable and invulnerable, the idea that God would take on human flesh was both shocking and scandalous. And so for three centuries after John first penned these words, Christians debated whether John was being merely symbolic or if he actually meant what he wrote.
And I think even today, we may struggle to truly grasp why God would come to us as one of us. I mean, if God can create everything from simply snapping God’s fingers, it certainly seems that salvation for humanity could have had a much less messy resolve than coming to us as one of us, growing through infancy, toddlerhood, those awkward teenage years, into adulthood, and finally, after some three odd years of preaching, teaching, and healing, ending up on a cross, dead as a doornail, only to come back to life again after three years. Wouldn’t it be easier for God to just cut to the chase, snap God’s fingers, wipe our slates clean, and make it all right so that we can just get on with our lives already? Yes, God certainly could have; but the incarnation’s not about God; today is not about God. Today is about us and how we respond to God breaking into our lives.
The Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard once sought to describe the incarnation of God in Christ, and so he used this simple illustrative story:
A king was very rich. His power was known throughout the world. But he was most unhappy, for he desired a wife. Without a queen, the vast palace was empty.
One day, while riding through the streets of a small village, he saw a beautiful peasant girl. So lovely was she that the heart of the king was won. He wanted her more than anything he had ever desired. On succeeding days, he would ride by her house on the mere hope of seeing her for a moment in passing.
He wondered how he might win her love. He thought, I will draw up a royal decree and require her to be brought before me to become the queen of my land. But, as he considered, he realized that she was a subject and would be forced to obey. He could never be certain that he had won her love.
Then he said to himself, “I shall call her in person. I will dress in my finest royal garb, wear my diamond rings, my silver sword, my shiny black boots, and my most colorful tunic. I will overwhelm her and sweep her off her feet to become my bride.” But, as he pondered the idea, he knew that he would always wonder whether she had married him for the riches and power he could give her.
Then, he decided to dress as a peasant, drive to the town, and have his carriage let him off. In disguise, he would approach her house. But, somehow the duplicity of this plan did not appeal to him.
At last, he knew what he must do. He would shed his royal robes. He would go to the village and become one of the peasants. He would work and suffer with them. He would actually become a peasant. This he did. And he won his wife.
In order to win humankind, God in Christ became one of us. Jesus, God Incarnate, the Word became flesh and lived among us. The very God who created the universe humbled himself by willingly being born a tiny baby in a manger and living as one of us, with all of our limitations. Why? Because the only way we are going to utterly and completely trust in God to secure our salvation is if we can relate to God. And the only way for us to relate to God is to have God become like one of us and to live among us, like the king did among the peasants in Kierkegaard’s story.
The best, most effective way to get our attention, was for God to reach us and convince us of his love for us. And in the person of Jesus Christ, that’s exactly what God did.
This is what St. John confesses to as well – that in the Incarnation, in the Word becoming flesh, that God takes on our lot and our life, experiences the same hopes and disappointments that we do so that, first, we may know that God fully understands our life; a disconnected god is certainly not a loving god; and, second, that we have the hope that just as God shared in our life, se we also may share in God’s.
And that, my friends, is the pinnacle of the Incarnation. It’s about us. That was God’s whole purpose for this messy affair. God could have snapped God’s fingers, wiped the slate, and let us ride out this existence. But in doing so, God would have taken away from us the meaning of trust, of faith, of love, and of hope; hope for an eternal reunion that’s been realized in the death and resurrection of Him whose birth we have celebrated this week.
And so we come back to these words of St. John: “And 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.” Were these symbolic words, or did St. John really mean what he wrote? The incredible, sacrificial love of God coming to us as one of us in the most scandalous of fashions leaves no doubt that these words are meaningful, intentional, and that they are life-giving. Eternal thanks and praise be to the God who dwells in these words. Amen.