Text: John 1:1-6, 9-18
According to the church calendar, this is the twelfth of twelve days of Christmas, the final day of feasting that leads from the celebration of Jesus’ birth to the arrival of the magi. But as far as the rest of the world is concerned, it’s the fifth day of a new year and Christmas is a distant memory. Most of our resolutions have already failed, and we’re now back to school or work and all the ordinary challenges and mundane activities of daily life.
When I say that for some of us our New Year’s resolutions have already failed I’m speaking for myself. This year, Karla, Nora and I decided to do a little ritual at midnight on New Year’s Eve. The idea was that each of us would write on a small piece of paper one thing that we wanted to do less of or let go of in 2014; and on another piece of paper write down what we wanted to do more of or invite into our lives in 2014. It was agreed at the outset that there would be no sharing—that seemed important to two members of the group. After we had inscribed on our small pieces of paper our let-gos and our invite-ins, we then, one at a time, burned our pieces of paper. First our let-gos. After each of us would burn our paper we would say together, “Let it go, let it go, let it go.” The burning was a symbol of letting go, or releasing—those things we wanted less of in our lives. Then, we burned our second piece of paper. The things we wanted to invite into our lives. And as we burned those we chanted, “Let it in, let it in, let it in” symbolizing us sending our prayers out into the universe for what we want more of in our lives in 2014.
None of us have spoken of what we wrote on our papers. That is until now. On my piece of paper of what I wanted to do less of or let go of was: 1) my need to have more control than necessary; and 2) my tendency to sound angry when trying to discuss boundaries and limits with Nora. Now here’s the confession: I didn’t make it 24 hours before I had failed both of my resolutions. The very next day, I spoke angrily to Nora about the state of things in her room. And there it was—my need to control and my tendency to sound angry. Day one and I already felt defeated with my New Year’s resolutions or intentions. Which says to me that maybe I need to spend a little more time with the Christmas story and its meaning. And who better than the writer of the Gospel of John to help me do that.
John’s “Christmas story” is not concerned with angels or shepherds and seems to know nothing of a young mother or magi. In fact, John’s story is hardly about the birth of Jesus at all but instead focuses on the difference that birth makes for all of us. John’s gospel sums up the Christmas story in just two lines; he spends more time on the significance of Christmas by shifting attention from Jesus’ birth to ours. In fact, John is actually less interested in the birth of a babe in Bethlehem than he is in the birth of you and I as the continuing revelation of God’s love and presence in the world.
Listen, again, to those two lines. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…And the Word became flesh and lived among us…”
John’s Christmas story is about how God became flesh—a human being—and lived among us and how he continues through human beings to live among us, today in 2014. The very essence of the Christmas story is about how, like Jesus, we become (or are becoming) God in the world. In fact, the whole gospel story is about how we, like Jesus, embody through our humanity, God in the world. Jesus is one incarnation. And even if you believe he was the first incarnation, the continuation of his story is that we are all a part of God being born into the world right now—in the flesh, through human beings, through you and me and all of us. That’s it. That’s John’s Christmas story.
It’s not easy to believe that we, like Jesus, could be the incarnation of God—that we could be God in the flesh here on earth. How can you be the incarnation if, on day one of the new year, you have already failed at your New Year’s resolutions? How can we be the incarnation of God? What about our broken relationships or our vocational failings? What about when we disappoint our parents or children? What about all the missteps and mistakes we’ve made? How can we be the incarnation—God in the flesh here and now?
In the face of all these messages, John tells his Christmas story and reminds us that what is definitively true about each and every one of us is that Jesus gives each one of us the power to become God’s presence in the world. John’s gospel reminds us that Jesus came and was born, lived, died, and was raised again not simply to pay some obscure “penalty for sin” but rather to convince us that God is always being born, living, dying and being raised again through our very human experience. That is the meaning of incarnation and it is why John focuses not on angels or shepherd or a young maiden or magi but rather on the difference this birth makes in our lives today, in 2014.
As I understand it, the incarnation is about love and grace. It is about love in that it is the ultimate act of solidarity and presence between Creator and Creation – and lived among us. And it is about grace in that God invites humanity into the dance of continual creation – we are not the product of a finite act of creation that happened long ago. Rather, we are moment-to-moment creation that God is still breathing into the world, and that we are invited to help create as part of the God-human relationship that Jesus makes clear to us through his life and living and teaching. Incarnation is about how God loves us so much that God cannot leave us alone; and incarnation is about how we as human beings can fail one day at our intentions and the next day begin again as God in the flesh here on earth – living in us and among us.
So I want you to do something for me this morning. I want you to repeat this sentence after me: “I am God’s love in the world, and God will use me to change the world.” For the rest of January, I invite you to repeat this simple, yet profound sentence as you begin each day. See if it makes any difference in how you live each day. See if it makes any difference how other’s respond to you. If it hasn’t already, I’m betting that it may just change your life and the world.