There is so much that captures our imaginations in this wonderful poetry found in John’s first chapter. Indeed, one might find oneself reflecting on the similarity of these opening words to that of Genesis 1 where both writers weave poetry about ‘beginnings.’ One could stand still in the marvelous contrast between light and darkness. One surely can’t help but consider the truth that some received and receive Jesus well — and others simply do did not and do not still. Or you might, as I have found myself again today, be carried away by the image of the Word becoming flesh… and, in my favorite way of hearing these words … “and the Word became flesh and ‘pitched a tent’ (or tabernacle or booth) among us.”
It is such a concrete, down to earth, image — this one I carry of Jesus kneeling down with hammer in hand and pounding tent pegs into the ground to hold his temporary shelter in place. But there is so much more than that to this, of course. For this image ties the experience of the Incarnation to the history of the people of Israel — in particular recalling that time when God ‘tabernacled’ with God’s people in their wanderings in the wilderness. Oh no, this was not and will not be the first time that ‘God came near,’ taking up residence with God’s people wherever they may find themselves.
And yet it is so that from the distance of these many years it is hard to imagine what the Word become flesh must have been for those who first walked with Jesus. It is difficult for us to grasp it for in every real sense, time and space stands between us now. It must be so then, it seems to me, that this Word become flesh ‘pitching a tent among us’ must happen now through God’s people — those who have “become children of God… those born of God…” Else, I can’t see how it happens at all.
Now I know that it goes without saying that all too often those who should be living like the Word Become Flesh do not. Even so, I can remember time and again when this has been so: when God’s people have lived like the one who pitched a tent alongside us — doing the same in turn for a hurting, broken world.
This story of this being so returned to my memory just last night.
I was a young pastor then, serving a small church. The people there were kind, I knew this to be so for I had experienced it first hand. Still, I was not certain how they would react on the Sunday morning when one of our teen-agers showed up holding her new born baby boy.
She and her sister and her mother were with us in worship every week — in this rural church which boasted few young people. Her mother grew up among those people and probably her mother before her. Amanda had hidden her pregnancy well — wearing large sweatshirts and coats so no one would guess. The call announcing the birth of her baby was a surprise to me, too. And so, I did not know how this would go. How would God’s people — the Word become Flesh — in that time and place react to this? (We must remember that this was more than twenty years ago when this was much less commonplace than it is today.)
Oh, it’s not as though I expected a scene. More in keeping with the culture of that place, I would have thought people might simply turn the other way and say nothing at all. Much to my surprise though, when Amanda and her baby, her sister and her mother, walked up the steps into church that Sunday morning, not only did no one flinch, but old women gathered around reaching out their arms to welcome this new little one into their midst. Even without warning or announcement, they passed no judgment whatsoever. They simply loved.
Perhaps it would have been different if this family had not for generations been part of their own extended family there. I don’t know. And I don’t really know what motivated their welcome. Except perhaps they had seen enough and known enough and experienced enough to know that grace and kindness are really all we have. Maybe they were reaching out with a love they had received first themselves and they knew, in turn, it was simply theirs to share as well.
- It is easy to come up with examples of how God’s people have failed to ‘pitch their tent’ and live as the Word Become Flesh in the world today. Can you offer examples when it has been so? What was that like?
- There is a temporary quality to a ‘tent,’ a ‘tabernacle,’ or a ‘booth?’ That could be understood in a number of ways. On the one hand it means the one dwelling there may soon be ‘moving on.’ On the other hand, it offers flexibility to be available when and where needed and to go where people go. How do you understand it?