Word Made Flesh

Published: Thursday, 14 January 2016

Word Made Flesh

This was the first sermon preached in 2016 at Ashburton Baptist Church, presented by Geoff Pound on 3 January 2016.

Reading: John 1: (1-9), 10-18

Ann Morgan is a writer and a voracious reader, but recently this English woman made a surprising discovery.[1]

She’d thought of herself as a cultured person but her bookshelves revealed a different story. She realized that just about all her books were written by British and American authors. She was sad to think she’d neglected so many fascinating stories by authors in different cultures.

So she made a new year’s resolution. Ann prescribed a year of global reading. She set out to read a book from every country of the world. It was a challenge finding books from 196 countries.[2] She went public about this resolution on her blog, A Year of Reading the World.[3]People went to amazing lengths to help her to source a story from Swaziland, a novel from Namibia and a memoir from the Marshall Islands.

When she reviewed her year of reading, Ann testified to how the books had given her so many new insights. She knew one book would only give her a taste of a new culture but that year made Ann Morgan more alive than ever to the richness and diversity of our remarkable planet.

I wonder what revelations we might get by looking at our book shelves. What blind spots might we discover? Instead of living willy-nilly, how might we develop purposefully in this New Year that lies ahead?

Our Scripture today offers us some challenging and practical suggestions on how we might grow.

1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

1:2 He was in the beginning with God.

1:3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.

Do you hear the echoes of the Genesis story? In the beginning. Christ’s coming signals the chance to begin again.

John’s opening is theologically juicy. We could take a course at theological college on every phrase. Wouldn’t that be a great New Year’s resolution? To do a course or read a book on one of these teachings about Christ?

In the beginning was the Word: this is about the pre-existence of Christ. The idea that Christ didn’t just pop out at Christmas—He was there at Creation!

And the Word was with God: This is getting to the heart of the trinity. One God in three persons, co-operating.

And the Word was God. This is a statement about the deity or the divinity of Christ.

1:3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. The role of Christ as Creator.

V3 What has come into being

1:4 in him was life. Jesus the life giver. Jesus the life enhancer!

And further down in v14 we read another theological statement which sums up Christmas. John’s nativity story has no shepherds or wise men or angels or babe in a manger. He simply declares:

1:14 And the Word became flesh. The doctrine of incarnation.

Reading these rich statements of John, don’t you feel like Bilbo Baggins in The Lord of the Rings when he said: “I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.”[4]

There’s so much territory to cover. We need another lifetime to grasp this.

But instead of seeking more butter, more time, why don’t we find the discipline to cover less bread?[5]

Why don’t we in this New Year, take one of these theological slices and seek to understand what this nourishing truth might mean in our lives this year?

Are we getting ideas from John for some new year’s resolutions? More importantly, are we catching John’s passion so that we don’t go flaccid in 2016, but whoever we are, we’re determined to grow with God’s help?

Why don’t we adopt as our prayer for this New Year that paraphrase of Romans 5 v1:

We look forward to actually becoming all that God has in mind for us to be.

A preacher in the Afro-American tradition once said: “Today I’m going to describe the indescribable, explain the inexplicable, and unscrew the inscrutable!"

It’s good to stretch ourselves and try to describe, to explain and unscrew these theological truths. Ultimately there’s a mystery we must hold and live with.

John encourages us to move from the abstract theological concepts to concrete pictures and colourful stories. Like this image in v4:

1:4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.

1:5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

Again this takes us back to the first page of the Bible: “Let there be light.”

It’s one thing to have ideas but we want clarity, we want to see the way ahead. Don’t we want light on our path in this New Year?

I wonder if you heard Queen Elizabeth’s message this last Christmas.[6]

She talked about light—The Christmas tree light tradition and the cheer that the twinkling lights on a Christmas tree can bring.

She didn’t gloss over the loss of loved ones, the killing of 130 people in the Paris attack, the casualties in Nigeria, Syria and Iraq.

She said:

“It is true that the world has had to confront moments of darkness this year. But the Gospel of John contains a verse of great hope often read at Christmas carol services: ‘The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.’”

Instead of dwelling on the darkness that makes us fearful and sad Jesus shone love and hope wherever he went.

It’s not easy being a Muslim in America at the moment. A Presidential candidate has proposed banning Muslims from the US. There’s been a wave of anti-Muslim attacks across the country. 63 attacks on mosques this last year!

In a Facebook post on Christmas Day, Eslam Mohamed said that he and his family were dining at a restaurant in Georgia, on Christmas Eve.[7] There were seven adults and five children gathered around the table. Mohamed said it was clear his party were Muslims because the women wore head scarfs.

When Mohamed asked for the bill, the waitress brought him a receipt with a note that read: “Paid. Merry Christmas Beautiful Family.”

A stranger had paid for their entire dinner. Mohamed wrote: “I can’t express how this act touched our hearts. Among all the bad things happening to Muslims and the hate speech…there is still light in the dark, there is still hope in the frustration. All I can say to who did that: Merry Christmas to you too and God bless such a beautiful heart you have.”

 

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

We may resolve to have a year of global reading in 2016.

We may decide to have a year of mind-blowing theologizing.

But there’s more to make a rich all-rounded year.

John alludes to this in v14:

1:14 And the Word became flesh.

Words uttered by prophets or penned on pieces of papyrus are not enough.

The Word needs to be fleshed out. Fleshed out in our relationships. Fleshed out in care for the troubled. Fleshed out in justice for all people. God’s love needs to be seen. Visible. Tangible as it was in Christ.

V11 expresses the resistance to be encountered:

1:11 He came to [what was] his own, and his own people did not accept him.

1:14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us,

Literally, he pitched his tent among us. Nothing temporary but he set up his home and lived his life among us.

The Message translation is even more vivid:

“The Word became flesh and blood and moved into our neighbourhood.”[8]

Imagine that: Jesus living in Ashburton. Jesus living in our postcode.

They got to know him as the One who was “full of grace and truth.” (v14).

“From His fullness they had received, grace upon grace.” (v16)

At his place grace is not rationed. It is grace piled on grace.

A Harvard study has been tracking the lives of a group of men for 75 years. Researchers have been asking about the things that give health and happiness. [9]

Their findings aren’t about the importance of wealth or fame or working harder. The clearest message of this 75 year long study is this: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Full stop!

Social connections make us happier, healthier and they help us to live longer. It’s not the number of friends that count. It's the quality of the close friendships that matter.

The converse is that loneliness is toxic. Loneliness kills. The sad reality is, that loneliness is rife.

When John says: “The Word became flesh and lived among us” we see Jesus not only modeling strong human connections but inviting us into a vibrant, growing friendship with the living God.

Hopefully and increasingly in this New Year we can say with John:

The Word became flesh and lived among us and we have seen his glory.”

Amen. Thanks be to God.

 


[1] Ann Morgan, ‘My Year of Reading a Book from Every Country in the World’, TED Talks, September 2015.

[2] Ann used the United Nations’ list, ‘Member States of the United Nations’.

[3] Ann Morgan, A Year of Reading the World.

[4] J R R Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring, Book 1, The Lord of the Rings, Del Rey, 1986.

[5] Seth Godin, Is it too little butter or too much bread? Seth’s Blog, 28 December 2015.

[6] Queen Elizabeth II Hails Triumph Over ‘Moments of Darkness’ in Christmas Message, ABC, 25 December 2015.

[7] Lacey McLaughlin, “This Muslim Family Visited a Restaurant in the Deep South and Got an Unexpected Surprise,” US Uncut, 27 December 2015.

[8] John 1, ‘The Message’, Bible Gateway.

[9] Robert Waldinger, ‘What Makes a Good Life?’ Ted Talk, November 2015.