“I have an affection for a great city. I feel safe in the neighborhood of man, and enjoy the sweet security of the streets." -Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Word Became Flesh

John 1:1-14

The day after Christmas is often anti-climatic. Rarely to people look forward to the 26th. Toys have been opened, dinner has been eaten, and surprises are no longer surprises. Secrets that have been kept for weeks and weeks have been revealed…. and most of all Santa is resting. Within an hour, there were no longer presents under the tree at my mother’s house. The present I bought weeks ago in Atlanta for my mother had been opened. Steve opened his presents, including some of my grandfather’s cuff links and even Liza, my dog, had opened her stocking and seemed to be enjoying her new toy. Soon we would eat baked cheese grits, bacon, and apricot scones. The time of excitement is Christmas morning, this is what children have been looking forward to for weeks and weeks. The rest of the day, for most of us, is spent watching children play… and, if you are lucky, taking a nap. Rarely is today, the 26th of December exciting. On December 26th, life attempts to go back to normal.

But, for whatever reason, this is always more difficult that it seems. It is hard for life to go back to normal. After all, we have been watching Christmas commercials since Halloween. Following Thanksgiving we entered the season of Advent: Children’s programs, choir cantata’s, missions festivals, and worship services prepared our lives and our hearts for our savior to enter. We sang “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus” over and over. We read our advent devotionals; we worshiped together on Christmas Eve, taking communion. We sang JOY TO THE WORLD OUR LORD IS COME with excitement lifting our candles knowing that our savior had been born. After weeks and weeks of waiting, weeks of advent. After weeks of preparing our hearts for the birth of our Lord, Jesus Christ has been born. God is here! Our Savior sleeps in a manger. Mary looks at her precious baby boy with wonder. Joseph, the proud earthly papa, gazes at the child with pride. Our Lord has come to this earth. After all of this it is very difficult for life to go back to normal.

We almost feel bad, for taking down the decorations, for taking down the tree. And if you are anything like me, you wait until the very end to take down the nativity set. It often sometimes seems like we take Jesus out of the world as quickly as he entered on Christmas Eve. We briefly celebrate the incarnation, then move to celebrate with friends and family, then nap, then wrap everything up, gently placing the ornaments in their boxes, hauling the tree to the curb, and placing the wreath back in the attic. But even if this is our tendency, it does not have to be the reality.

Now, do not hear me say that you need to keep your Christmas decorations our all year long. That is not the point. Indeed your neighbors will mind if your 10,000 light blinking nativity set is ablaze in May. Your tree will eventually become a fire hazard, and leaving decoration our all yearlong makes them less special when they go out next year. BUT life is different.

Our world is different because “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.” The incarnation IS real. God has become human. Love has come to this earth. “the Word has become flesh.” God is among us. God works with us. God taught us. God is given for us, for our salvation. That precious baby, God in the flesh, has come to this earth with a mission. Because of that… life is different. We have a new reason to rejoice. We have a new reason to serve. Because God loved, us, we now turn and love our neighbor. The birth of Christ comes into all aspects of our life...it becomes the theme of our world…the reason we love. The reason we worship. Christ becomes the reason we serve. Like Christ was born in an ordinary stable, in an ordinary manger, to two ordinary people, we find the Messiah in the ordinary places. We find Christ, “The Word who has become flesh is found in the most common of places.”One of my professors at Emory University tells this story about the incarnation. Dr Thomas Long states,

“A few years ago a church located in a large city decided to turn its gymnasium into a night shelter for homeless people. Every winter there were reports that some of these people, condemned to sleep out in the open, had frozen to death, and so the church made the warmth and safety of its building available without charge. Each evening during the winter, volunteers from the church would spend the night in the shelter, providing food, clothing, and lodging for as many of the homeless as the building would hold. Almost without exception, the volunteers reported that the experience of spending the night with these people from the streets had been far more than an act of dutiful charity. The volunteers had found their own faith strengthened, their own reliance upon the grace of Christ reinforced by the experience. Several months after the shelter was opened, one of the pastors of the church was being interviewed on a radio talk program. The interviewer was an opinionated fundamentalist whose biases were quite strong. It became clear during the interview that he felt that the church ought to stick to the business of preaching the old-time gospel and stay away from meddlesome activities like shelters for homeless people. "Now just tell me," he jeered at one point, "where is Jesus in all this?" For a moment the pastor considered silently how to respond, then said calmly, "You just have to be there…”

The incarnation is real, even after the lights go up, even after the presents are unwrapped, the incarnation continues to live among us. The incarnation continues with us, through the New Year. Even into places and times where the 10,000 light decorations would be frowned upon. The incarnation is real. The word has become flesh, and God dwells among us!

As people of faith we find it in different places, both past and present. We see God at work in our lives. We see our Lord moving among us, through us, and within us. This year I received a very unique and special present from my mother. These were the words, it contained. “Women are included in all provisions of the Discipline referring to the ministry.” The present I unwrapped on Christmas morning was a Book of Discipline from 1956, the year our General Conference voted to allow the ordination of women. As I opened it with tears in my eyes, I knew it would be a book I would value for the rest of my life. The incarnation was at work during that General Conference almost 55 years ago. The incarnation was at work in the ordinary place, the Alpha Chi Omega hall at Auburn University when called me to go into ministry. The incarnation was at work when you received me with open arms, continuing to affirm my call to ministry. God is found in our ordinary places. The word has become flesh!

It was in a stable in Bethlehem that God, in Jesus Christ came to this earth. It was a manger rather than a throne. It was a peasant girl, rather than royalty. The visitors where Sheppard’s rather dignitaries and persons of power.

God rarely makes a grand entrance. God does not require our pomp and circumstance to enter into our world, to bring light to our darkness. God is found in the normal. In a stable. In a gymnasium. In a sorority dorm. In Prattville, Alabama. God is found in our ordinary. You do not have to look far to see that the word has actually become flesh. To see that God is present among us.

A few weeks ago, as a community of faith, we gathered one Sunday evening in the beginning of Advent for an Advent Missions festival. We gathered together and participated in different services projects that allowed over 700 people, 700 people, to know that our church cares for them. To know that God loves them. In places like Epworth 101, Sunday school class rooms, and Pratt Hall, the incarnation was truly at work. God was at work in us. God was at work among us. God was at work through us. Jesus Christ uses our ordinary for the extraordinary.

The incarnation calls us to continuing seeking God even after the tree is placed away, even after the presents are unwrapped, even after the food is eaten, even after the candles from worship services are extinguished, the incarnation beckons us to find Christ in all places. In the ordinary. In our homes, in our places of work, in our school, in our stores, even in our gymnasiums.

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.

The word has become flesh, and God dwells among us. Let us seek our Lord, who was, who is, and who is to come in all places, through all people, and in all circumstances.

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