The Christmas stories that we’re used to hearing each Christmas come from the gospels of Matthew and Luke. Each gospel has its own version of the tale, each has its own focus. In Luke, the angel speaks to Mary; in Matthew, its Joseph who hears from God’s messenger. Luke brings in the poor shepherds while Matthew introduces the upper-class Magi with their extravagant gifts. And Mark… Actually, only two out of the four gospels – only Luke and Matthew – talk about the birth of Jesus. Mark’s gospel doesn’t mention anything about where Jesus came from – he just shows up as an adult one day and is baptized in the Jordan River.
Then there’s the Gospel of John. John’s gospel is just…different. While Mark, Matthew, and Luke seem grounded and tell stories about Jesus’ life that are easily relatable and (mostly) understandable, John’s narrative is often ethereal, using convoluted poetry or prose to express more supernatural ideas.
It sometimes feels that Mark, Matthew, and Luke are rooted in flesh while John is floating in the Spirit.
The opening to John’s Gospel is a good example. The book begins with the words that I read at the start of the service. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The Word was present with God from the beginning. Through the Word all things came into being, and apart from the Word nothing came into being that has come into being.”
John’s words refer back to Genesis; to a verse we read way back in September as we started our journey through this cycle of the Narrative Lectionary. “In the beginning,” the first words of the Bible, describing God’s creating everything out of nothing by breathing over the void, by speaking the words that brought forth light from the darkness.
A few verses later, when referring to Jesus, John says that the Word “put on flesh.”
In other words, the Word, (the logos in Greek), the Breath, the Sprit – that was present at creation is still with us today. In John’s telling – Jesus, the Word that was there at the beginning – became flesh, became just like us, to be with us and to teach us how to live out God’s love.
It’s obvious that our world needed the Word to become grounded. The Spirit of God had tried for generations to break into our world, but we wouldn’t let her. Corruption, violence, injustice, and inequality overshadowed the love of God. So the Word put on flesh, the Divine became human, the Messiah was born in a manger to show us the way and to call us to action.
The Spirit put on flesh.
The incarnation, the act of putting on flesh was needed. The Spirit, the Word, the logos, the breath of God that had formed the world tried and tried get through to us, to influence our ancestors of faith, to inform the prophets, to inspire the intellectuals.
Inspire: literally, “to breathe into” just as God breathed into humans to give us life.
The Spirit that inspires us needs to become incarnate with us so that we can work in tandem with God to create the world that our Creator has always intended for us: a world where we are not indifferent to the suffering of others; where no one is ineligible for the necessities of life; where inaccessible health care is unimaginable; where laws that treat the rich and the poor inconsistently are indefensible; where we know that it is inhuman to be inhospitable to strangers and sojourners in need, where the ineffective tools of war are put away forever; and that, no matter how inconvenient it seems we must admit that the ways we do or do not care for all of God’s creation are not inconsequential.
When we inhale the breath of God that has been with us since the dawn of time, we will be swept up by the winds of hope and we will follow in the footsteps of the infant born that day – it’s inescapable. No matter how inexhaustible the power of sin and the temptation of power seem, no matter how incremental the steps to a just world feel, we’ll know that God’s justice is inevitable because of the indwelling of the Spirit in us.
The power of the Christmas story is the reminder that the incredible love of God that has always existed lives in us today, and will endure through all the difficulties of the world we inhabit.
The story of Christmas is the story of incarnation and inspiration. The Word put on flesh and became one of us, the Word breathes into us and through us, the Word will lead us on a path to make our world a better place because of the precious infant who became an invaluable teacher, who showed us that a life built on Divine love and service to others is incomparable.
How is God’s Word incarnate in you? How will you let the Word speak to you? Where will the Christ child lead you?
Intentionally intersect with others who are not like you. Initiate forgiveness. Interrupt injustice. Interweave love into all that you do. Inspire others.
Be incarnate and inspired this Christmas. God’s light is in you. The Christ child whose birth we proclaim will walk with you on your path. The Breath of God that was at the Creation of time flows through you and will give you the strength to keep going. Because of your incarnation and inspiration, brighter visions are ahead for our world.
Merry Christmas. May God bless you and keep you this day and always. Amen.