26 December 2016

Homily for the Nativity of Our Lord-Christmas Day

"The LOGOS Became Flesh"
John 1:1-18

Listen here.

John begins his gospel with a most unique take on the Christmas story. John uses a very high-octane, supercharged term. “In the beginning was the LOGOS, and the LOGOS was with God, and the LOGOS was God.” LOGOS. It’s where we get words such as “logic” and “logical.” It also gets added to all those words that end in L-O-G-Y—“biology,” “psychology,” and “theology.”

What is this LOGOS that was in the beginning and that is God? The term can suggest something like “reason”—hence “logic” and “logical.” It can also suggest “a means of communication,” or an “expression of what is on one’s mind.” Greek philosophy used LOGOS to describe what gives order to the universe—something like “natural law”—and even what constitutes the rational soul in humans.

Such is this supercharged term John uses in his Christmas story. But John is not shaped by Greek philosophy. Instead John is shaped by his Hebrew roots. For John, the LOGOS is the “Word of God” from the Old Testament. Through those books and those centuries, the Word of God is God in action—God in action creating the world, God in action revealing Himself, God in action delivering His people.

At creation, God spoke. He uttered what was on His mind and it happened. “By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host” (Ps. 33:6). At Mt. Sinai, God spoke. He communicated His will and revealed Himself to Moses in order to deliver His enslaved people. “I AM who I AM…. The LORD, the God of your fathers…. I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.” (Ex. 3:14, 16, 10). And here’s a delightful image. The apocryphal book of Wisdom speaks of all things lying peaceful and silent at midnight, and then, all of a sudden, the almighty LOGOS leaps from the royal, heavenly throne to conquer and slay the enemies of God and His people (18:14-15).

Such is this supercharged term John uses in his Christmas story. God in action. God inserting Himself, even leaping, into human history to rescue and redeem and deliver. This LOGOS “was with God.” This Word of God is distinguished from God, yet He also exists in a very, very close personal relation with God the Father. But John does not leave it there. This LOGOS “was God.” He shares the same nature and being with God the Father. Perhaps we can say He is an extension of the personality of God. Perhaps we can say, “What God was and is, the LOGOS was and is.” Certainly we can and do say: “God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father” (Nicene Creed).

Now, if all of that makes your heads hurt or spin on this Christmas morn, good! That’s exactly John’s point. Christmas is about much more than a mommy, a foster daddy, a baby lying on some hay, and some animals standing around, chewing their cud. It is that, but it’s, oh, so much more. Now John uses another high-octane, supercharged term in his Christmas story. It’s a term that’s sure to raise eyebrows, challenge sensibilities, and send elitist Greek philosophers, and their modern heirs, running to their “safe spaces.” “And the LOGOS became FLESH and dwelt among us.” The term for “flesh” is sarx. It’s not the skin that you and I can see on the outside; it’s the layer of muscle—the meat—that lies beneath the skin and covers the bones. Thus, we get those terms beginning with “sarco-,” such as “sarcoplasm” or “sarcoma” or “sarcophagus.”

Such is this other supercharged term John uses in his Christmas story. John’s unique take on the Christmas story gives us a perfect marriage and melding of the exalted and the base, of the heavenly and the mundane, of God and Man—that is, the Son of God who takes on our full humanity, with all of its “flesh-and-bone-ness,” with all of its heart-pumping, lung-breathing, organ-secreting realness, and, yes, even with all of its bed-head and morning-breath qualities.

“The LOGOS was God…and the LOGOS became [meat].” Just like us, in every way…except the sin that infects us. That He did not take on! You see, sin is not part and parcel of human nature, but it does infect all of us and each of us.  It is our congenital birth defect received from Adam and Eve. Sin is the reason the LOGOS assumed and took on our full-fledged, meaty, down-to-earth humanity. God took on our meat and flesh to have it pierced and torn with thorns and spikes. God leaped down from His royal throne to leap up onto a cross. “Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary and was made man” (Nicene Creed).

When John marries these two supercharged terms together in his Christmas story, they also become fighting words. John is actually poking a finger of truth into the eye of false teaching, performing some doctrinal surgery with a chainsaw. Through the ages, some have objected to the LOGOS—the divine Son of God—taking on flesh and bone and blood in this material world, this “meat-space.” They view this material world as inherently evil. For them salvation is getting away from—escaping, really—the prison cell of flesh, bone and blood, of rocks, trees, and rivers. What counts is what you feel. What counts is your supernatural knowledge of non-material matters. (Trust your feelings, Luke! Use the force, Luke!) Think of Greek philosopher Plato and his famous image. He said life in this material world is merely looking at shadows on the cave wall; the reality is something different and out of sight. And this view of life—that material, fleshly, meaty things are bad, and only the unseen, spiritual forces are good—leads some to view Jesus as only appearing to be human, only seeming to be flesh and blood.

So, along comes John in his supercharged Christmas story. He marries and melds the LOGOS with the sarx, the divine with the human. The eternal Son of God becomes a Man with real flesh, bones, blood, muscles, lungs, and kidneys--all to suffer, bleed, and die on a real tree. And we need John’s supercharged Christmas story in our day too. You see, we live in a time when the same false teachings confront us. A baby in mommy’s womb is not considered a full-fledged human being. Snuffing out the baby’s life is not considered killing, but rather some sick, social virtue. Whether a person is male or female, some claim, is not a matter of biological fact, but rather a matter of how one feels or dresses. What’s true for you may not be true for me. The worship that matters for many is the worship of the god within, the inner light, the special feeling. And we, dear Christian friends, are not immune to these false thoughts and views and feelings. After all, we live and move and have our being in the same communities; we converse with people who believe these ways; and we steep in these cultural juices. We even have these thoughts and views and feelings within ourselves.

This is why we need John’s Christmas story, supercharged with LOGOS and sarx intimately married and melded together. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

“Of the Father’s love begotten
Ere the worlds began to be” (LSB 384:1). 

The truth is that God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—loves you too much to let you wallow in the mess of this fallen material world, a mess that you and I continually add to with our own sins of mistrust and lack of love. God loves you too much to let you dream of escaping this material world by some “spiritual” quest based on your feelings of the moment or the age.

“Oh, that birth forever bless-ed,
When the virgin, full of grace,
By the Holy Ghost conceiving,
Bore the Savior of our race,
And the babe, the world’s Redeemer,
First revealed His sacred face” (LSB 384:2).

You see, when the LOGOS takes on flesh, He takes on your “meat”—your flesh, your blood, your humanity—to restore you to real life, body and soul, with God Himself.  God is placed in a manger. God ends up on a cross for you and in your place. No need to spurn the flesh or the material world. No need to seek the abstract god within. God comes to you and to me. Just as He once came and dwelt in the tabernacle built by Moses, He also comes to dwell in flesh and bone and blood for you in Jesus Christ, “true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true Man, born of the Virgin Mary.” And He still comes to dwell with us, in His Body and His Blood on the Altar. “Christ alone our souls will feed; He is our meat and drink indeed; Faith lives upon no other!” (LSB 458:7).

Since Jesus took on your flesh and mine, since Jesus assumed your sin and mine, since Jesus bled and died for you and for me, you and I can receive and rejoice in the flesh and blood life in this material world that He Himself gives. You and I can rejoice that He has given us our bodies and souls, our eyes, ears, and all our members, our reason and all our senses, and that He Himself makes us males and females.

John’s Christmas story actually adds eternal meat and weight to the other accounts of Jesus’ Birth. It’s much more than a cute story; it’s much more than a picture on a Christmas card. Jesus’ Birth is your new birth. The LOGOS taking on flesh is God’s very own means of communicating and expressing what is on His mind for you. “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5). “When the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, He saved us…by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:4-7). Amen.

No comments:

Post a Comment