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The Mystery of the Word Made Flesh

A Christmas Homily by Frank Schaefer
based on John 1:1-8

There is something about a starry night. My family and I like to go camping, and every once in a while we have one of those starry nights when we gather around the fire place in silence, gaze into the fire and think deep thoughts.  In those nights you can’t help but ponder the big questions in life, how it all began, about the purpose of life and the universe. Perhaps the shepherds, too, were in such a mood when suddenly the announcement about the birth of Jesus was made to them by the angelic band.

Have you ever wondered what caused the shepherds to go seek that baby in a stable? They actually left their flocks behind! That’s highly unusual for shepherds to leave their flocks unattended. So, what about this message concerning a king in diapers caused them to be so deeply impressed?  And deeply impressed they must have been to be looking for a babe in a feeding box.

Well, we could ask the same question of ourselves: what drew us into this sanctuary today? What caused us to leave our family time, interrupt our busy lives, and come worship? Is it because it’s a tradition? Because that’s what we do on Christmas Eve? Hardly. We sense that what draws us to church on Christmas Eve is bigger than tradition. There is a greater reason for going to church on Christmas Day. Today is the day when even the doubters among us turn into believers, believing--if only for this day--that God is born among us; and if the Word of God can take on flesh in the form of a babe, then everything is possible.

Humanly speaking, what can possibly be sacred about a crying baby in a smelly old barn, lying on a bunch of hay in a dirty feeding box? And yet, we instinctively know that there is more than meets the eye. The baby in the feeding box stands for something great and wonderful and . . . something very personal.

It is the mystery of God stooping down to our humanity even our vulgarity. Because, when you think about it, God could have chosen to arrive in royal robes. At the very least, God could have arranged for Joseph and Mary to find a room in a Bethlehem Inn. But God chose to come to us in an utterly ordinary--even vulgar--way.

Humanly speaking, there simply is no magic left when we arrive in the stable and see the baby in the feeding box. And yet, there is something extraordinary here. In the very humanness, the vulgarity of the babe in the manger we find the mystery of Emmanuel--God with us. God stooped down to the most ordinary human level and because of it we know that there is hope; suddenly, all things seem possible.

And that’s why the "barn was better than the inn," because God, through Jesus, endured the full scope of the wretched human experience so that there may be hope for everybody.

Speaking about this mystery, Barbara Brown Taylor (Decked Out in Flesh) once said: "Choosing flesh, [God] chose the lowest human common denominator and in doing so left us no escape from his presence. That is why it is so important tonight to let the star show us a real child, to believe that what Mary and Joseph got was no Hallmark baby but a belching, squalling infant who kept them up nights for weeks, and that in choosing to make his entrance in such an ordinary way, God showed us that flesh and blood, dirt and sky, life and death were good enough for him. More than that, he hallowed them, made them holy by taking part in them, and left us nothing on earth we can dismiss as trivial or unknown to him."

Underneath our fine dresses, underneath the facades we erect, underneath the image we project; underneath it all hides an ordinary and fearful human soul that cries out for God’s love. And God, through baby Jesus nestled in a manger, reaches out to our ordinary human souls saying: "Don’t be afraid, for behold, I bring good tidings of great joy to you."

Keep in mind that "a baby is--in the best of worlds--evidence that a love affair has taken place, and that is certainly the case with this particular child. God has loved humankind from the moment he thought us up." (Brown Taylor).

This is the true message of Christmas that God loves us so much that he became like one of us--even like the least among us. Once again during this Christmas season of 2001, the ordinary becomes holy and the holy ordinary in the Word made flesh.  In him we see ourselves, but in him we also see the great love with which God loves us even while we are yet sinners. And in him we see a way out of the darkness: our fears, our sin, and our frail human condition.

God, through Jesus, reaches out to the core of our very soul, saying: "I came to save you--no matter how lowly you may be; and don't you even think that you have to reach up to me--I already came down to you.  Just accept my gift of love and salvation." Let us embrace once again God’s great gift of Jesus--in which he proves his love for us once and for all. Merry Christmas!