Martin Luther described the Holy Bible as the "cradle of Christ"...in other words: The Manger.
Not only at the Christmas stable, but all year-round,
God's people are fed at this Holy Cradle.
We are nourished at this Holy Table.
We are watered at this Holy Font.

This blog is a virtual gathering space where sermons from Bethlehem Lutheran Church (ELCA) and conversation around those weekly Scripture texts may be shared.

We use the Revised Common Lectionary so you can see what readings will be coming up, and know that we are joining with Christians around the globe "eating" the same texts each Sunday.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

December 30 -- First Sunday of Christmas

If a child asked you what the word incarnate means, what would you tell them?  Take a moment...turn to your neighbor and give them an answer to this question:  What does incarnate mean?

[Willing to share?]

Today, on this 1st (and only) Sunday of Christmas, this 6th Day of Christmas, we have have the Christmas story and more, according to the Gospel of John.  (It’s better than 6 geese a-laying.)  It’s not the Christmas story we hear (and see) on Christmas Eve, from Luke, with the Gospel of Luke’s agenda -- Luke emphasizes God siding with the poor, and the left behind (young Mary, scrappy shepherds), God even becoming poor.  And it doesn’t have Matthew’s emphasis, with the wise men from the East: Emmanuel/God-with-us moving stars and world leaders to bring gifts from great distances, over and against the powers of the day.  No, John’s Christmas story (more abstract and cosmic) -- the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us -- emphasizes God becoming Jesus, it emphasizes the divinity of Christ.  There is no question, according to John that not only is Jesus God’s Son, but Jesus is God.  Wrap your head around that!  You can’t.  The mystery of the Divine, the unexplainable, becomes flesh and lives among us.  [ta-da]  Gospel of John.

Anyone remember that old song “Puttin’ on the Ritz”?  That song says...“If you're blue and you don't know where to go to — Why don't you go where fashion sits,
Puttin' on the ritz.”  (maybe some of you for NewYears’/Xmas)
But here with the Gospel of John and incarnation, it’s different… “If you're blue and you don't know where to go to
Then God comes close, and breathes our breath
Puttin' on our flesh.”
Incarnate literally means “in-flesh”.  God moves into our midst, and not just into our neighborhood (like a quiet neighbor that leaves us alone), but into our bones (like a circulatory system -- quietly giving us life), breathing our breath. The Divine, the mystery of the Triune God, imbedded right into our skin, right our flesh!  

Is that kind of creepy, or do you like the idea?  Either way, it is our truth:  God is deeply with us, sisters and brothers in Christ, according to John’s Christmas story....which, btw, also tells us that this has been the reality since the beginning.  For John, the Christmas story, and Jesus himself, is there at the very beginning.  Genesis is the Christmas story.  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word...[pause] was God.  God’s been there all along, and God is Jesus.  

So what does this mean?  This abstract concept?  Who cares, right?  It’s great that some poet in 100AD thinks that Jesus is God and God is Jesus and this Jesus/God moves into our being and even into our flesh...but how does that shake out in our everyday lives?

Well for one thing, it reminds us that God is no longer confined to somewhere up there or somewhere, long ago.  (“long ago, galaxy far, far away”)  I don’t like it when people talk about God living way up there in heaven...as if God doesn’t live right here, right now.  When I hear that, I wonder, did you ever read the Christmas story?  God becomes flesh, and dwells among us.  Only at the end of the Gospel of Luke do we have the story that Jesus ascends up to heaven, and that happens almost in sync with the Pentecost experience, where the Spirit of God, blows into and through the people...another version of  “God comes close and breaths our breath, puttin’ on our flesh”.  God gets specific.  God puts on your flesh.
On one hand it’s abstract, but on the other God’s presence and love couldn’t be more concrete, imbedded into our everyday flesh and bones, our everyday lives.  Embedded into our everyday water, and everyday bread.  The everyday fruit from the vine.  

Thank God for this refresher in incarnational theology! Because it’s easy -- even today in 2018 (almost 2019) -- still to separate out nicely and neatly body and spirit.  The body is earthly, the spirit is heavenly.  But John’s Gospel, and our Lutheran faith upon which it is based, mixes all that up!  Christ incarnate and dwelling among us means that the earthly and the heavenly come together; that the body and the spirit are joined -- not just to be flashy and cool, not just to make new year’s fireworks and pizazz -- no, but for our sake, God does this: God joins heaven and earth, as the Divine chooses to live among us, right smack into our broken, dried out, bitter, cracked or covered up skin.  It means that God, in fact, was and is the one in the manger, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer said.  God in the manger, the feeding trough, the slop bucket of our lives.  God is right there with us, in it and through it.  That’s where it all connects.  [Ahh...]

So even in our pain, God sits and stays with us?  Even if no one else does?  Ahh.  So even in our stresses about this new year, even though everyone’s talking about hope and joy and happiness and starting over, but really I’m freaking out and have no idea what might be coming next, or how I’m going to make it, God is with me?  Ahhh, so even when I feel so ashamed about things that I’ve done in the past, or even things I’m doing right now, God hasn’t left me?  Ahh. 

Friends, this is a hard time:  recovering from the holidays, paying off the debts, a government shut-down has got us all anxious.  And then we’re all amping up for another round, a new year, working off the Christmas pound.  Trying to make resolutions and claim new habits...it can all be overwhelming.  
There can be quite a wake from disasters and tragedies that have happened in December (that was a hard month too).  And yet God refuses to go back into the box with the nativity figurines.  God chooses to stay right beside you -- imbedded/incarnated love, living in the fiber of your being.  Ahh.  

God gets specific.  This is the gift, once again, of the Christ-child who shines in the darkness.  

We’re about to sing “In the Bleak Midwinter” which I think names where some of us—maybe many of us—are: cold and concerned.  God finds us wherever we are in this December-January turnover time.  God breaks into this world, into our lives...and even into our breath and our bones!  And, friends, there’s nothing we can do about it!  God loves you, whether you like it or not!  (Tell that to someone this week.)  All we can do, in this bleak midwinter, is open our hands and receive this most precious gift:

Salvation.  It is ours through this incarnated Jesus Christ who is God.  Thanks be to God, dwelling right here with us this very moment...and forever.  God is here to stay.  AMEN.

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