Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Word became flesh (J. Barry Vaughn, Dec. 30, 2012)

John tells us that “The Word became flesh…” It is a statement that we hear every Christmas. It is especially well liked by Episcopalian clergy, because (as we are often told) the Anglican tradition is incarnational.


But I’d like to step back and look at this idea of “incarnation.” The root Carneus means “of the flesh” or even “not spiritual.” It’s also the root of our word “carnival.” I’m sure you know this but “carnival” is a compound of two words that literally mean “farewell to meat” because carnival immediately precedes Lent and the beginning of the Lenten fast.


But let’s put the idea of incarnation into simpler terms. “The Word became flesh…”


What do you do when you are trying to communicate a difficult and complicated concept to a child? You look for a simple illustration.


In a sense, the incarnation is God’s illustration. God had filled an enormous book with words. It’s a wonderful book, and if you want to know about God, you can hardly do better than read the Old Testament. But words only take us so far.


It’s as though God said, “I give up! I’ve been talking myself hoarse for centuries. I talked to Moses and David and Isaiah and Jeremiah and Amos, and you still don’t get it. Well, allow me to illustrate…”


And the Word… the WORDS of God… became flesh.


The abstract became concrete


The distant drew close


The invisible became visible


The intangible reached out and grasped our hand


All the words that God had spoken… all the words the prophets spoke… all the commandments that Moses received on Sinai… they all took on flesh and blood.


Jesus embodies all of God’s words, God’s thoughts, God’s love. He is God’s living, breathing illustration.


Forgive this somewhat irreverent illustration, but think about incarnation in this way. The internet is a wonderful thing. I love being able to read The New York Times on my computer and Shakespeare’s plays on my Kindle. But it’s not the same thing as holding a copy of the Times or a leather-bound copy of Romeo and Juliet. And when you receive an important email, it’s not enough just to read it on your computer screen. So what do you do? You print it out. You make a “hard copy.”


In a sense, that’s what the incarnation is all about. Jesus is the “hard copy” of God’s message. He embodies God’s message.


The incarnation was a unique and unrepeatable event. But the principle, the idea of incarnation is all around us.


It’s all very well and good to write love letters to our sweetheart. At least, I hope that people still write love letters! But when we really want them to understand that we love them, we have to look them in the eye, take their hand, and put our arms around them.


English poet Richard Crashaw wrote,


“Welcome, all wonders in one sight !
Eternity shut in a span !

Summer in Winter, Day in Night !
Heaven in Earth, and God in man !

Great, little One ! whose all-embracing birth

Lifts Earth to Heaven, stoops Heaven to Earth !”


That’s what the incarnation means: In Jesus’ birth, God embraces us, literally wraps the divine arms around our humanity, blesses us in all our messy humanity—


Our flesh and blood


Our tears and fears


Our life and our death.


And God invites us to do the same, to be agents of the incarnation by extending its reach, to wrap our arms around those we love and those we don’t love… the whole and the broken… the sad and the happy… the cheerful and the fearful…

Oh, come let us adore him!