Word made flesh
Most of us will gather on Christmas Eve to hear the Christmas story from Luke. It’s understandable. Mark really has no birth story. Matthew is mostly genealogy. I can’t ever hear Luke without thinking of Linus in the Charlie Brown Christmas special. Linus, blanket and all, cuts through everyone’s commercial preparations with his moving recitation of the Lukan Christmas narrative, ending with, “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.” Well, yes and no. That’s Luke’s version. John approaches it in an altogether different way.
“In the beginning was the Word.” (Greek: Logos = logic, idea, concept)
John, a generation later than Luke, makes less of a historical and more of a theological claim. Pre-existent to the creation itself was this Logos, this power through which God “spoke” the world into being in Genesis. The Word. In verse 14 of chapter 1, John makes an astounding claim. This Word became flesh, which means this Word is known to us first and foremost as a PERSON, not static ink on a page. That’s why Luther indicated in various sources that the scriptures are “the manger in which the Christ-child is laid” or “the swaddling clothes in which Christ is wrapped.” The lens, therefore, through which Lutherans have always interpreted Scripture is not static literalism—or selective literalism, which is the only literalism I have ever really seen—but a LIVING WORD, Jesus, incarnate, crucified, risen, who will come again and who is always about to do a new thing.
This is messy business, scandalous business. To take on flesh and to be born into our world is to take on our joys, fears, and sorrows, our life and our death, our hurt and our hope, our limitations of time and space. Why would the great God and creator of the cosmos do such a thing? You can’t read John’s Gospel piecemeal. It all goes together. It’s all about “abiding” (dwelt) and love. “God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son so that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” God self-limits, becomes incarnate, risks it all, for the sake of love. For you, the beloved.
As you come forward to receive the blessed sacrament this Christmas season, ponder not just the oft-sentimentalized Lukan baby but John’s cosmic incarnation. The Word became, becomes, enfleshed. Body. Blood. Given for you. Shed for you. Is it mere coincidence that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, in Hebrew Beth Lechem, “House of Bread”? Ponder that what we are claiming is that the Logos which evokes the universe, the presence of the Christ, becomes flesh for us regularly, is placed in our hands or on our tongue, digested in our inner parts, courses through our bloodstream. We are constantly being re-created from the outside in Word and Sacrament to become like Mary, bearers and birthers of Christ to the world (now, in Christ, from the inside out, our discipleship). With Mary, ponder…ponder. The world, and we, are continually and forever changed.
Bishop Tim Smith
Bishop Tim Smith