December 28, 2014
First Lutheran, Galveston
One of the wonderful things I did as a pastor in Hutchinson, Kansas was read one of the lessons for the Reno County Choral Society Lessons and Carols service in Advent. Each lesson had an introductory statement, followed by the reading in the King James Version of the Bible. The last lesson read, which I read, was this passage from the Gospel of John. I began by saying, St. John Unfolds the Mystery of the Incarnation of Christ. Out of context, that statement does not makes a great deal of sense. But in the context of Christmas worship, in which a series of biblical passages are read and celebrated in sacred music, moving from the creation, through the Old Testament covenants, the prophecies of the Messiah, the angelic messengers and the birth of Jesus, John unfolding the mystery of the Incarnation of Christ has a deep resonance to it. For a little while, at times like that, we get what it is about. Yet, in the heat of a July Thursday morning, see what sense you can make of it.
There is something about the Christmas season that, when we are paying attention, opens our hearts and spirits up to the inscrutable the tenets of our faith. We have to listen closely, because with the impossible pace we set for ourselves at this time, and the way we overload our senses and our schedules, it is not easy to really focus on the heart of the celebration. Finding time to worship Christ the King often becomes an expendable part of our holiday celebrations, giving Christmas away to the secular pressures of modern life. It is more important to shop, to cook, to decorate, to travel, to feed family—worshipping Christ the King is a luxury we have programmed out of our Christmas celebrations. But on Christmas Eve, in the sanctuary where we gather to worship, when the electric lights are dimmed and we light the flames of the candles, from the Christ Candle in the front, to the back row of the sanctuary, while singing Silent Night, in the company of people who dear to us, we catch glimpses of the Incarnation and we fathom in our hearts that Christ the Savior is Born; Christ the Savior is Born.
But how does that relate to In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God? Λογος is the Greek term translated as word in English. However, the fullness of the term λογος is far more than mere WORD. It has something to do with the close interconnectedness of the living universe, the interplay of opposites, divine reason and creativity, the underlying principle through which all things come to pass and in which all things share. It is an ancient concept, predating the writing of John’s Gospel, but John reframes the concept in a radically new and Christian way. The logos is the Word of God, but it so much more than speech. It is God in action. It is God creating; God revealing; God redeeming. As such, Jesus as the Christ is the Word of God, for it is Jesus the Christ who acts, creates, reveals and redeems—the Word Made Flesh which dwelt among us, full of the Father’s grace and truth. As John teaches us, It is God the only son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made God known (1:18b).
We do not focus on John’s esoteric and lofty theology of the Word Made Flesh during Advent or on Christmas Eve. We prefer the stories of shepherds and angels, stars and the visits of Magi to a manger bed. That is a good thing, because they, too, reveal something of the nature of the Incarnation to us. It is Matthew who tells us that Jesus’ name is Immanuel, which means God-With-Us, because he will save his people from their sins, transitioning us out of the realm of simple human reproduction to a higher theological plain. And so today, on this 4th day of Christmas, when we read John’s esoteric and lofty theology of the Word Made Flesh we connect it to the birth narratives of Matthew and Luke. We try to understand how the Word Made Flesh and Immanuel are one and the same as the baby in the manger. How is it that he saves us from our sins?
Often, it is only through music that I can begin to understand—not in a logical, rational sort of way, but in a silent, deep-in-my-heart sort of way, how Jesus and the Word of God are one and the same. One of my favorite moderns composers is John Rutter, who wrote beautiful Christmas carol in 1984. It is called Candlelight Carol and these are the words.
How do you capture the wind on the water?
How do you count all the stars in the sky?
How can you measure the love of a mother?
Or how can you write down a baby’s first cry?
Shepherds and wise men will kneel and adore him.
Seraphim round him their vigil will keep.
Nations proclaim him their Lord and their Savior.
But Mary will hold him and sing him to sleep.
Find him at Bethlehem laid in a manger:
Christ our Redeemer asleep in the hay.
Godhead incarnate and hope of salvation:
A child and his mother that first Christmas Day.
Candlelight, angel light, firelight and starglow
Shine on his cradle till breaking of morn.
Gloria, Gloria in Excelsis Deo!
Angels are singing: the Christ child is born.
Seeking to understand who God is, who we are in relationship to God and what difference that makes in our everyday lives are good things are acts of faith. Faith is deepened by the discipline of seeking to hear and obey. But God is also unfathomable, a mystery of the deepest sense, one whom we only know as God chooses to reveal God’s self to us. The Incarnation is not inaccessible to us, because it is about the God who loves us so much that he came down to earth to be one of us, and we will meet the Living God at his table in a few minutes. Even though Incarnation is a doctrine of the Church and something we profess in our statements of faith from the time of our baptisms forward, Incarnation is also finally a mystery—that which comes from the heart of God to us. To seek to unravel it fully, to figure it out as a mathematical formula or a philosophical proposition on which we can win a debate is to miss the mystery. My friends, some things are best left a mystery. Gloria in Excelsis Deo! Angels are singing.
The Christ Child is born.
~ Interim Pastor Helen Rose Moore