A sermon for the First Sunday after Christmas, December 30, 2018
Trinity Episcopal Church of Morrisania, Bronx, New York
And 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 law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.
No one has ever seen God. The God who created the heavens and the earth, the galaxies and the elements is too big, too complicated for anyone to comprehend. Some are brilliant at observing, thinking and reasoning; others have tremendously powerful religious experiences. Yet none of them can say in all honesty that they have seen God in God’s fullness—the finite human mind, and indeed all the minds in all ages put together, and all the computers and books that we might put together to help us, cannot hold, or comprehend God.
Human beings are but one small slice of God’s glorious creation.
Yet God loves this world and God loves human beings. And that love is also far more than we can comprehend. God loves us so much that from the beginning he chose to be among us. Jesus is what a human being is from God’s perspective—his love is genuine, his honesty is compassionate, he does not give in to the temptation to make his allies and benefactors comfortable at the expense of those who nobody cares about. God’s Word became flesh. In him, the unknowable God is made known.
Anyone who looks and listens can understand Jesus, his compassion, his calling people out when they represent themselves as being the holy or righteous ones while they are really just trying to get the advantage over others; his courage for the sake of others, especially the poor and the weak. When people don’t understand, it is because they wish not to understand that listening to Jesus might disrupt their strategy to be on top, or their desire to hold on to things or status. The stories, the images, the message, and the life of Jesus are not incomprehensible—all it takes is openness to the truth—he is The Way, The Truth, and The Life. What is incomprehensible, is the love of God, that God would do this—spend everything so that human creatures could know how to live humanly. The compassion of Jesus, is the compassion of God and the only way to be human is to live in God’s compassion.
To choose against compassion is to choose hate, and that will eat you up and destroy you. Some appear to think that merely using the word, “Jesus,” takes the place of listening to him; that piously calling themselves “Christian” means that compassion isn’t necessary; and that it is okay to trumpet their own righteousness while despising the poor and blaming those who suffer. There are Christians in our country who are happy to see children incarcerated in camps in Texas and New Mexico without even basic medical attention. When our Gospel says that Jesus “came to his own, and his own people did not accept him,” it is referring to such people. We are called to receive him, not just in forms of words, but by internalizing God’s compassion, living truthfully and thus humbly, by being God’s children, not defending ourselves through hate of others, but in lives of generosity.
The Word became Flesh to give us life, abundant and joyful life, not destruction. It is not some manual of instructions that he brings, not a set of teachings or rules to memorize. It is the very life of Jesus, God come in the flesh, that shows us God’s compassion – how to live as compassionate human beings.
The Latin word for “becoming flesh” is Incarnation. And God’s becoming flesh and blood with us is so important that the Church celebrates the feast of the Incarnation for twelve days. Monday night, we had mass on Christmas Eve. Today is the sixth full day of that feast, the first Sunday of Christmas. We feast and celebrate. We call to mind that the power of Jesus’ love is in his entire life, even as a tiny baby. Today we celebrate and rejoice in his coming.
Let us bless the Lord and rejoice in his love for us. As it says in today’s psalm:
Worship the Lord, O Jerusalem; praise your God, O Zion;
For he has strengthened the bars of your gates;
he has blessed your children within you.
He has established peace on your borders; he satisfies you with the finest wheat.