Texts: Isa 52.7-10; Heb 1.1-4; Jn 1.1-14
So, I signed up. By my senior year, I was filling out paperwork for joining the ROTC program and learning about the Officer Training Program. However, in the midst of filling out a mountain of forms, there was one innocuous little questionnaire that asked about allergies. I had hay fever, so I checked “yes,” and that one “yes” prompted a follow-up form that asked what sorts of allergies I had. Now, in the military, hay fever isn’t a big deal; but eczema is, and in between the first form and the second, I developed a case of eczema. After graduation—after I had already accepted the ROTC scholarship at my school’s scholarship presentation ceremony—I was told that I was no longer eligible for ROTC due to my medical condition. I could still enlist, of course, but that was not what I was hoping for.
Our vulnerabilities and weaknesses, as frustrating and demeaning as they might be, are nevertheless what make us who we are. They give our triumphs and our accomplishments meaning. We hear it all the time: “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” If human beings were made of metal and gears, the great pyramids at Giza would not be at all significant. If we all had minds like supercomputers, nobody would remember Albert Einstein. But more than that, it is the frailty that frames our existence that gives us our hopes and our fears, our insecurities and our desires. It is because we are all constantly marching towards death that we strive to accomplish something that will outlast us, whether that is a discovery or accomplishment or construction, or simply building a stable and loving family.
Not only is our flesh weak, it is capable of great evil. In our desire to be remembered, we begin great undertakings that sometimes do more harm than good. In our desire to protect ourselves and stave off death, we treat other people like enemies or problems and deal heartlessly with them. Our fears and weaknesses have taught us to judge others based on their background or appearance in order to keep ourselves safe from them. A man begging for change on the street becomes a threat; a refugee from a foreign war becomes a burden.
All these liabilities of our flesh are what make Christmas so amazing. The story of Scripture is the story of a God who has a vision of a wonderful existence—a God who creates and forms, teaches and instructs, guides, threatens and punishes, forgives and relents in order to try to accomplish that vision on earth—and none of it works out quite like God hopes. Adam and Eve walk out of the garden, Noah gets drunk after the flood, the Hebrews worship a golden calf in the wilderness, Saul and David fail as kings, Israel fails as a nation.
The story of Christmas is a story of a God who finally decides that the only way to really get through to people—to really connect with people—is to do it on their level; to slip into skin and finally experience our hopes and fears, our sorrows and joys, the full beauty and the unfiltered danger of life on earth in the flesh. So that is what God does: the Divine Word, through which all things came into being—the life that is the light of all people—became flesh and lived among us. He willingly decided to become vulnerable and weak so that God could finally know what it is like to be one of us, and to speak with us out of that experience. Jesus made himself vulnerable to shingles and chicken pox, stubbed toes and broken bones so that he could feel our pain and understand why we fear it. He risked death at the hands of bandits and soldiers and finally a violent mob so that he could understand why we so seldom step up to do something that is dangerous but right. He died so that he could understand our frantic avoidance of it—but also to begin to take away our reason to fear it.
At Christmas, we celebrate that we do not worship a god of wood or stone or precious metal, but a living God, a God who has become flesh and bone and experienced all the triumph and failure that comes with it. We profess our adoration for a God who gave up the power and glory of divinity to become just another bag of bones like us; but we also celebrate the God who in doing so, gives us the incredible power to become children of God—children who take after our Father.
You see, Jesus came to be among us because of the evil and the darkness our fleshy fear has caused in the world. Because of our desire to build empires that outlast us, our fear of death and pain, we have separated ourselves into hostile tribes and factions, each camped out around our little charcoal fires telling stories and drawing stick figures depicting the evil things those other tribes will do to us if given half a chance. We live in a dark world, punctuated by these little pinpricks of light that are full of the lies we tell ourselves.
Into this darkness, the true light of the world has come; he has stepped into the darkness to illuminate the truth, to help us see one another as we are. To do this, he crossed the boundary between heaven and earth and became one of us so that he could understand us, connect with us on our own terms. The power he gives us—the power to become children of God—is the power to do what he did: to cross boundaries, to enter into the experience of others whom we hate and fear—and who may hate and fear us—and to understand them, connect with them on their own terms. The power Jesus gives us is to become incarnate to each other.
Today of all days, we remember that this tremendous work of God is not confined to a baby in a crib, not even to man who lived 2000 years ago. Christ continues to be incarnate to us in the meal at which we gather. His flesh and blood is a constant reminder that he is with us, and that he will once again come to finish what he started. But more than that, in this meal, he is incarnate through us. His flesh becomes our flesh, and so our flesh becomes his flesh. In this meal, Christ is born in us to continue his work of being God-with-us, God-with-the world.
The good news of Christmas is that God’s work is not old news; it is still continuing. I don’t have to tell you that there are a lot of ugly things happening. There is a lot of darkness in our world: a lot of fear, a lot of pain, a lot of anger and hatred. It’s dark out there. Especially at this time of year! It’s literally dark out there—a lot. It is into this darkness that Jesus is coming. It’s into this darkness that Jesus is sending us so that the light of the world can shine through us into the darkness and illuminate the truth.