As cosmic and universal as the implications of this particular birth are, we often flub up what this means for us! “The Word made flesh that was in the beginning with God,” is very different, for example, than how the Deists of the Enlightenment conceived God, many of whom were our “founding fathers.” And some in America still want to believe like they did. The Deists believed in a god who, once upon a time, birthed creation and all things in an orderly way, set the universe in motion, but then, like a great architect who was ready for retirement, went away somewhere and was never heard from again. They believed they were now the privileged chosen-ones to have dominion over all creation. Jesus can help us in this, they believed. He was a wise teacher, but they didn’t believe he had risen from the grave, much less that he was in the beginning with God. And, there was no ongoing work of the Holy Spirit, because they thought the Trinity was a false doctrine, albeit a clever one. God was much like a clock-maker, who carefully set the pendulum in motion, and then had nothing else to do with our world.
When we hear some of our brothers and sisters praising the founding fathers as men of great faith, and getting away with it, we know we have, for the time being, lost the battle of public opinion. Washington, Madison, Jefferson, and Franklin declared a revolution on tyranny, and won the war to implement their democratic experiment laid out in the wonder of our incomparable Constitution. Let us all join in reading it aloud in the halls of Congress. But we cannot say that they are good examples of a biblically-based faith, for they were never messengers of the gospel of Jesus as “the Word with God, who was God.” Most of them were good church goers, but I certainly wouldn’t have wanted them to teach their un-Trinitarian, deistic beliefs to my children in Sunday School or Confirmation. Even when they came to church, they would not have joined us at the table to receive the bread and cup of communion, but instead, regularly turned it down, not believing in the sacraments either.
And so John’s Prologue, our Christmas story today, is to be celebrated for the gift we receive: the beauty and depth of Jesus, the Son of God, “who was with God in the beginning,” creating with God – the Word, that God spoke. We receive the gift of a new-born savior who is more than just a wise teacher, but reveals God to us like never before: “No one has ever seen God,” as John says, but, “It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.” In the Word made flesh, we know God best.
Every year on New Year’s Day I am reminded of the inescapable nature of the flesh. How you and I, made in the image of God, are also made of flesh, a nature that is a wonderful gift, however vulnerable and fallible. I’m talking about the crazy few, the Polar Bear Club folks who willingly, and against all better judgment, take a plunge into the icy waters of Lake Michigan. Not unlike a baptismal death and resurrection, a drowning and rising again! It doesn’t seem advisable, and certainly not comfortable. Our fleshly bodies don’t seem made for it, even if a hot sauna is waiting right afterwards. But it certainly is a good reminder that our wonderfully made bodies are totally in God’s hands. Without God, we cannot live “full of grace and truth.” We have no future, except in the promise of the resurrection of the body.
“All things came into being through [the Word], and without him not one thing came into being… He was in the world, and the world came into being through him…” Even today, it is popular to believe that in becoming a Christian, you escape life in the flesh – usually equating our carnal nature as sinful. Like the deists before them, when it comes to God in the flesh, or the incarnate God born to us at Christmas, they don’t want to go there. That’s not popular. About as popular as jumping in Lake Michigan on New Year’s Day!
George Heider from Valpo has said that, “the question arises almost every time I teach a course on the Bible, that if God knew what a mess humanity would make of God’s creation, why did God create the world as we know it?” And, things can get pretty messy! The “why” question (the question of Theodicy) has never been conclusively answered, but we know the “what” for sure. The “what” is the Christmas story, the incarnation, the fact that Jesus is God with us, born in the flesh. God not only can help us, but God wants to help. In fact, God, by sending Jesus, invests in us and creation. “The Word became flesh and lived among us,” as John says, “and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”
Sophia-wisdom tells us much the same story: “I came forth from the mouth of the Most High, and covered the earth like a mist,” she says in Sirach. “Over the waves of the sea, over all the earth, and over every people and nation I have held sway… I took root in an honored people, in the portion of the Lord, his heritage,”
Male or female, Jewish or Christian scripture, the bible portrays our God as an incarnate, flesh-loving, very involved, and continuously creative God. God does not retire or forget us. We know God in the beauty of creation, and especially in the Son, ‘begotten of the Father’s love.’ Jesus the healer, the lifter of the lowly, the truth-teller, the bread of life, the Good Shepherd, the living water, the servant of all; Jesus in his fleshly nature, as Word and deed living among us; in this Jesus, we know God’s “grace and truth” best. Whenever we abandon our belief in the living Spirit of God, and in the resurrected Christ, we tend to take our privilege as ‘created-ones’ absolutely, and do not fall on our knees in the straw of the stable, to confess our vulnerable and fallible nature, before the new-born child in the manger. Jesus, the “Word with God, who is God,” has been born to us, not just because God can, but because God wants to. “What has come into being in [the Word] was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”