Posted in Reflection, Sermon

I think to myself, “What a wonderful Word” – Christmas Eve/Day

Word becoming flesh

John 1:1-18 (NRSV)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. 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.
(John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’”) From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.

So how does word become flesh?

It is a quirky kind of question, don’t you think?
It sounds like those silly riddles I grew up with. When is a tree not a tree?

Words seem so insubstantial. We talk, we shout, we scream, we sing, we pray.

WordPress.com where I host my blog, tells me that 50,419,875 words were written into its blogs on Thursday.
Flesh on the other hand is very substantial. And after today’s Christmas dinner, chances are your and my flesh will be even more substantial!
On December 19th, there were estimated to be 6,791,048,312 human flesh bodies on the planet according to the US Census service website

So how does word become flesh? And if that is at all possible, how does one such enfleshment change anything amongst so many people on the planet?

One would have to begin with words that can create something.
Words like ‘You are special’, ‘I love you unconditionally’, ‘I want to be with you and share my life with you’.
These are words which we have come to associate with dialogue between lovers, yet if we can tune out the very strong Hollywood, and now Bollywood, overlay we may find that these are words which are at the core of all human longing.
We long for unity and union at almost every level of our lives.

How would the words:’You are special’, ‘I love you unconditionally’, ‘I want to be with you and share my life with you’; have changed us if we had heard them from:

  • Our parents?
  • Our mentors?
  • Our partners?
  • Our children?

We long to be acknowledged. To have someone say, ‘You have significance to me’, ‘What happens to you matters to me’
It is these words that unlock in human nature the almost unlimited potential for the good, the true and the beautiful that we long for and pursue with our lives.
It is these words that lie at the heart of the Incarnation of God into our lives as Jesus.

John’s gospel picks up a Greek philosophical concept namely “The Word”, the divine Logos, that which the Philosophers regarded as the first principle that lies at the heart of all that is good, true and beautiful in the Universe. It is the Word that encapsulates all the integrating words I have been speaking about.

This Word says John, took flesh and pitched its tent among us.

It began with Mary hearing.
“Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.”…”Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.” (Luke 1:29-30 NRSV)
Mary is incredulous.
“But she was much perplexed by his words (logo-Gk) and pondered(or dialogued with herself) what sort of greeting this might be” Luke 1:29 NRSV
Is it not part of our conditioning by oppressive religious structures that we have been told that we can never hope to find favour with God?
No wonder Mary was puzzled. Raised in a shame blame culture that was particularly hard on women, she would never have hoped to have found favour with God.

In almost thirty years of pastoral ministry I still feel the jolt when someone comes to see me for counsel and begins the conversation, ‘Peter, I know I am not a good Christian, but…‘ In moments like these, and they are all too frequent, I ask myself, what kind of message have we, as the church, been proclaiming?

If you find all the other theological reasons for the Incarnation too esoteric, then this simple moment in a young girl’s life should be enough for you to understand what the theologians try so hard to explain.

God wanted us all to know that we have found favour with God.
That we are blessed amongst people. Not because we are better than them but simply because we have stumbled onto this truth! The Word of God’s love is here for us all to see.

Our Roman Catholic friends have maintained a beautiful prayer, that has largely been lost to Protestantism. It is based on this message of the angel.
I am sure you know it…

Hail Mary, full of grace,
The Lord is with thee,
Blessed art thou amongst women,
and blessed is the fruit of your womb Jesus.

The prayer then goes on into high octane doctrines of the nature of Mary that will only confuse our discussion, so I am going to stop there.

I am sure you agree this prayer is biblical and beautiful
Hail Mary, full of grace,
The Lord is with thee,
Blessed art thou amongst women,
and blessed is the fruit of your womb Jesus.

This is the message of the Incarnation.
This is how the Word becomes flesh.

What is only slowly dawning on me however, as I live with this prayer, is that it is a prayer that I can pray for myself, that you can pray for yourself.
I could pray it like this…

Greetings, Peter, full of grace,
The Lord is with you.
Blessed are you amongst people,
and blessed is the fruit of your life, Jesus.

‘Whoa, just a minute!’, I hear you protest.

Let me unpack this a bit
I am suggesting we can pray the “Hail Mary” and insert our names in Mary’s place, because this is the essential meaning of Word becoming flesh.

So if I can commentate line by line:
Greetings, Peter, full of grace (where would I be without Amazing Grace?)
The Lord is with you. (always, till the end of the age)
Blessed are you amongst people (because, somehow, this Good News found me!)
and blessed is the fruit of your life, Jesus. (All that is good about me is His Spirit’s fruiting in me)

The Incarnation is not only a moment in history, it is the start of an ongoing process, beginning with Jesus and fruiting in every follower.

I hang out with people of other faiths as often as I can. How else can one hope to build a trust relationship in which to share Jesus?
I really love learning about their notions of what is precious and blessed about their faith path.
Of course when some trust has been built in those friendships, the questions come more easily, and inevitably, this one from my friends on Eastern paths, pops up.
‘Do you believe in reincarnation?’

They of course think they know what my answer is going to be, so what I say surprises them.
‘Yes, I do believe in reincarnation, but maybe not quite as you may think?’

The Christian message clearly speaks of the path of the disciple, being a path of dying to self so that Christ can be born in the follower.
That is Christian reincarnation.
Jesus being re-incarnated in every Christ follower as his word of love, compassion, forgiveness, healing, peace; all of it comes and takes flesh in your life and mine.

The Incarnation of the Word of God into human flesh happens first in Jesus and that is what we are celebrating this Christmas day. The Incarnation doesn’t end there though. It is the ongoing fruit of transformation of my life and yours, by the fruiting Word incarnate in us.

May your life and mine be transformed by God’s word, Jesus and may we all become just like him.

“O holy child of Bethlehem, be born in us today”

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Fascinated by words, sounds, and scenes. Intrigued by people and their states of mind. I am a Pastoral Counsellor, Conflict Mediator and Newspaper Columnist.