Saturday, January 29, 2005
Sermon - Christmas 2 - John 1:14
Christmas 2, January 2nd, 2005
“On Word and Flesh”
John 1:1-18 is our reading for today, the 2nd Sunday after Christmas. It is a powerful text which opens the 4th and final Gospel account of the Christ. Matthew and Luke tell the story of the first Christmas with all the attendant cast of characters and props – the shepherds, wisemen, angels, the manger, the star, the swaddling clothes. But John’s concern is different. John mines the theology of the event, the meaning, in a profound way. John’s gospel is chock-full of seemingly simple words and ideas in which is loaded a world of theological meaning.
For his part, Martin Luther preached 11 sermons (158 pages) on these 18 verses. Don’t worry, we won’t be so ambitious this morning. Instead I want to focus one one verse, verse 14. There we will see 5 words – just 5 words, which clue us in to a greater depth of appreciation for our Christmas theology.
A young man was buying a shirt in a department store. The shirt label said, “Shrink Resistant.” He asked the clerk what exactly do these words mean?The clerk said, “The label means that the shirt will shrink, but it doesn’t want to.”
Words communicate ideas, Words perform action “I now pronounce you man and wife!” We use words for many purposes, but often in the service of sin. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but the truth is words can and do hurt. When it comes to the 8th and 2nd commandments, Luther’s Small Catechism shows how we misuse words in relation to man, and to God. James warns us about the tongue, compares it to a wild beast, a fire, a sword – the human tongue is dangerous, as are the words formed by it. That’s because it is filled with sin, What a contrast between our words, and THE WORD.
The WORD of God, a living word. The WORD of God, an eternal word. The WORD which John tells us was with God and Was God. Through the WORD all things were made – when God spoke the word, creation came to be. This WORD is, of course, the second person of the Godhead, the eternal Son – we know him as Jesus. As the word, he not only brings us God’s message. He IS the message.
We know him as Jesus because he came in the flesh. “Flesh” is a strong, almost crude way of referring to human nature. He could have said "The Word became man…" or "The word took on human form or a body…" But he bluntly said "flesh."
The problem with our flesh is that it is corrupted by sin. And so our flesh gets sick, old, and dies – the consequence of our sin.
But the word who became flesh did so without sin. He was perfect in every way. Some say he came in the flesh to understand us better – to “walk in our shoes” as it were. And I suppose there is some comfort to knowing that God knows what we go through – that he’s been there (or here). But sympathy was not the reason the word became flesh.
He took on flesh so that flesh could die. He took on flesh to save our flesh by destroying his own. He took on our human nature, and though he had no sin of his own, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21).Jesus took His flesh, loaded with the sins of our flesh, he took it to the cross.
In our sin, we seek glory for ourselves. But Jesus comes to bring the true glory that is of God. We have seen His glory. St. John saw Christ’s glory revealed to some degree on the Mt. of Transfiguration. There Christ shone brightly like the sun. John, James and Peter got a glimpse of Christ’s true glory.
But John would see Christ in even more glory. He would see it in the cross. The only disciple to stick with Jesus to the end, John stood at the foot of the cross and saw the glory of God’s plan completed in the not-so-glorious-seeming spectacle of a torturous death, an innocent condemned. When we look to the cross, we can say with John, “We have seen his glory”. For there in his central act of saving US, God is most glorified by his one and only Son.
There, also in the cross, we see grace. Jesus was full of grace, that undeserved love of God. You could see it in every leper healed, every blind man who regained sight, every child blessed, every tax collector and prostitute forgiven. God’s grace was made clear in Christ when he raised a little girl, and a widow’s son, and a man named Lazarus from the dead. None of these deserved special treatment. But the Word Made Flesh had come, with Glory and Grace.
And we see His grace still. Even though he has gone from before our eyes to the throne of heaven, we see his grace. We see his grace in a sinner forgiven. We see his grace in a child baptized. We see his grace, even touch and taste it – as we gather around his real presence in our midst. In these means of grace, Christ has promised to be found, has promised his blessings, his forgiveness, love, grace. He was full and is full of grace, and he invites us to receive from His fullness.
Then there is truth. He was, he is, full of truth. We, are not. We are full of ourselves, our lies and half-truths. We cannot be trusted 100% of the time. We don’t always shoot it straight. We say what gets us what we want, what makes us look good (and perhaps makes others look bad). And we do it with little hesitation to stretch or bend or twist reality by our words.
Likewise, how highly do we hold the truth of God’s word? Or are we more comfortable living by our own constructed truth – which may shift from day to day according to our desires. Do we buy into our cultural lie, “what’s true for you may not be true for me”?
But the Living, Eternal Word-made-flesh, he is true. He is full of grace and TRUTH. Sometimes his truth is the hard truth we need to hear. The truth may hurt – a lot. His word for us, like an unpleasant medical treatment, may be uncomfortable – but our sore souls need to receive it. And hearing the hard truth of His Law softens our hearts in repentance, and opens us for the sweet taste of Gospel – Gospel TRUTH! For the Word became flesh whose glory was made known among us, who is full of grace – he forgives you your sins and THAT IS THE TRUTH.
They can take the manger scene down. They can assault the notion that one man could save the whole world. They can question his message, or whether He is the only way to the Father. But they cannot change the truth. He who is said by John to be full of truth, later in this Gospel proclaims himself the Way, the TRUTH, and the life. And so he was, and so he is.
Words mean something. God’s word, even more-so. Today we looked at just 5 words from John’s opening chapter – WORD, FLESH, GLORY, GRACE, TRUTH. Each word a world of meaning for us, found in Christ our Lord. He is the WORD OF GOD made FLESH for us. In his cross, we find GLORY, we find GRACE. And it is TRUE. Now and always, Amen.
The sublime words of St. John regarding the Word which became Flesh. May we always see His glory, and be full of His grace and truth.