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Monday, December 8, 2014

The Word Became Flesh By Mike Powers

The Word Became Flesh
By Mike Powers
Sermon delivered December 7, 2014
Vespers Service, Edgewater

Scripture John 1: 1-5, 10-18 (NSRV)
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.
10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
14 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. 15 (John [the Baptist] 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.’”) 16 From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 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.

When most people think about the Christmas story in the Bible, the natural inclination is to turn to the gospel of Luke with its story of Mary giving birth to Jesus in a manger or the gospel of Matthew and his account of the three magi.  The Apostle John’s account is quite succinct—just one verse really:    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 1:14)  That’s it—no shepherds, no star in the east, no angels singing.  Not much material for a Christmas play here.  But we soon realize there is a lot of meaning contained in just a few words. 
This gospel describes Jesus as “the Word” who is both with God and is God.  I think it is useful to know that “the Word” is the English translation that most biblical scholars use to translate the original Greek text which used the term “Logos”.  The Encyclopaedia Britannica, (we remember that, right?) defines “Logos” in Greek philosophy and theology to be “the divine reason implicit in the cosmos, ordering it and giving it form and meaning.”  
When the Apostle John refers to Jesus as “Logos” or “the Word”, he is describing Him as the divine God which governs the entire universe.  On Christmas we celebrate the fact that the Word became incarnate and lived among us as a human.
The Bible shows that Jesus was in fact human and felt real pain and emotion. Jesus cried at the death of his friend Lazarus (John 11:35).  Jesus wept when he contemplated the impending fate of his enemies the rebellious Jews who would soon crucify Him but would later be overrun by the Romans (Luke 19:41).  Jesus wept for Himself (Hebrews 5:7) as He contemplated the horror of His impending gruesome death.  The night before His death Jesus prayed “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39)
I would often think, why was it necessary for God, who is all powerful, to become flesh and undergo the pain and extreme sacrifice which Jesus endured?  Some Christians will immediately answer that Jesus sacrificed His life in order to redeem our sins and make salvation and eternal life available to us.  And that is true.
But why did God make us imperfect in the first place and since He did, couldn’t He just forgive us without going through the horrendous experience of Jesus’ death on the cross?
Certainly God has the ability at any time to make perfect beings which would never sin and thus not require saving.  However, when He made us humans he did not make puppets on a string or obedient robots.  He gave us souls and conscious minds with the gift of the ability to think and make choices.  In other words, He gave us life.  And naturally, not all of our choices are good ones.  Sometimes we hurt ourselves or someone else which means that others can also hurt us.
So God put us here with our free will and we immediately disappointed Him through our choices.   God could have fixed that simply by taking away our ability to make decisions or at least bad ones.  He could have programmed us to do exactly the right thing all the time.  We could be like the talking machines you see at Disney World—very lifelike but without a conscience or a soul.
So God took a different approach.  Why?  Think about John 3:16.  16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
God didn’t turn us into puppets or robots, he loves us so much that he wants us to both live the right way AND maintain our humanness with the power and responsibility of choice and consciousness.  That is why the Word became flesh and lived among us.  He became one of us to set an example of how to live a life expressing love for both God and our neighbor.  He showed what it truly means to humble oneself and to sacrifice oneself for the benefit of others.  He showed us how to forgive as He was dying on the cross saying, "Father, forgive them, for they don't know what they are doing." (Luke 23:34)

The late Paul Harvey would tell the following story on his radio show every year at noon on Christmas Day. Perhaps you remember this.
“Now the man to whom I’m going to introduce you was not a scrooge, he was a kind, decent, mostly good man. Generous to his family, upright in his dealings with other men, but he just didn’t believe all that incarnation stuff which the churches proclaim at Christmas time. It just didn’t make sense, and he was too honest to pretend otherwise. He just couldn’t swallow the Jesus story about God coming to earth as a man.
“I’m truly sorry to distress you”, he told his wife, “but I’m not going with you to church this Christmas eve”, he said he’d feel like a hypocrite, that he’d much rather just stay at home, but that he would wait up for them. So he stayed and they went to the midnight service.
Shortly after the family drove away in the car, snow began to fall. He went to the window to watch the flurries getting heavier and heavier and then went back to his fireside chair and began to read his newspaper. Minutes later, he was startled by a thudding sound. Then another. And then another; sort of a thump or a thud. At first, he thought someone must be throwing snowballs against his living room window. But when he went to the front door to investigate, he found a flock of birds huddled miserably in the snow. They had been caught in the storm and in a desperate search for shelter, had tried to fly through his large landscape window.
Well, he couldn’t let the poor creatures lie there and freeze, so he remembered the barn where his children stabled their pony. That would provide a warm shelter if he could direct the birds to it. Quickly, he put on a coat and goulashes, tramped through the deepening snow to the barn.
He opened the doors wide and turned on a light. But the birds did not come in. He figured food would entice them in. So he hurried back to the house, fetched bread crumbs, sprinkled them on the snow making a trail to the yellow lighted, wide open door to the stable. But to his dismay, the birds ignored the bread crumbs and continued to flop around helplessly in the snow. He tried catching them. He tried “shooing” them into the barn by walking around them waving his arms. Instead, they scattered in every direction except into the warm lighted barn.
Then he realized that they were afraid of him. To them, he reasoned, I am a strange and terrifying creature. If only I could let them know that they can trust me. That I’m not trying to hurt them, but to help them. But how? Because any move he made tended to frighten them, confuse them. They just would not follow. They would not be led, or “shooed” because they feared him.
“If only I could be a bird”, he thought to himself “and mingle with them and speak their language. Then I could tell them not to be afraid. Then I could show them the way to the safe warm ----------
(Sudden recognition)
---- to the safe warm barn, but I would have to be one of them so they could see and hear, and understand.”
At that moment the church bells began to ring. The sound reached his ears above the sounds of the wind. He stood there listening to the bells, Adeste Fidelis. Listening to the bells pealing the glad tidings of Christmas. And he sank to his knees in the snow.

Like the birds we need to stop flying into windows and pursuing false goals.  Our Savior came into this world as one of us.  The Word became flesh to show us the Way.  We just need to follow Him into the barn.