I am taking an overdue break after a most unusual year in ministry and so I offer these thoughts on ‘the Word become flesh’ from several years ago.
I have to say, I got a little misty remembering our traditional gatherings in the barn on Christmas Eve for this year the pandemic kept us from gathering in this way or any other. And yet? Won’t you wonder with me at what the incarnation means in this particular time and place? Oh what does it mean that God came to us into a world marked by both raging disease and powerful heroism and deadening despair and limitless hope all at the same time?
Indeed, what does this amazing gift mean for you as we turn the corner together into 2021?
God bless you each one in the new year. I look forward to being back sharing with you in a couple of weeks…
We had our “Christmas in the Barn” again this year. The weather was a little warmer and so the crowd was a little bigger and there were a number of children present with us — ranging in age from 18 months to maybe seven years. I called them to the front after I read the Christmas Gospel — up close where they could get a closer look at the pair of goats and the pig and a couple of miniature donkeys. And the manger. Of course, the manger.
We have a life size wooden manger we keep at church. For eleven and a half months it is stored away, but it gets pulled out every year at this time, of course — first for the Children’s Christmas Program and now for our barn service. Gerry had come into town earlier in the day to pick it up and deliver it. The straw stays in it year around. The blanket had been left from the Children’s Program a couple of weeks ago. And nestled into the straw was a plastic doll —- meant, of course, to remind us of the baby Jesus.
The little ones gathered around as we pointed out pieces of the story represented there that night, for we were in an actual barn with animals and all the associated sights and sounds and smells. Indeed, I think they were probably more excited about the proximity of the live animals than by our plastic approximation of Jesus. Even so, I noted that one of them — probably four or five years old — with a sense of wonder and curiosity that children sometimes show— was reaching in to touch our baby Jesus’ eyes. I’ve seen small children do this with actual babies, too. They go for a most vulnerable place —- closing the eyelids — even as this little one did this Christmas Eve.
I didn’t get the chance to ask, but I have to believe he didn’t think this baby Jesus was real. Even so — everything else in the barn was real that night, so maybe he thought this was, too? Maybe in some small way he wondered if this could be real as well?
It is, of course, the first wonder of Christmas and one that carries throughout Jesus’ life here on earth. He was human. He was flesh and blood —- real — like you and me with all of its wonder and all of its frailty.
I have become a little more aware of this frailty this year. I know I’ve mentioned this before — my mid-summer’s meeting of the ground from my place on an extension ladder. I am so very fortunate that the ground was not hard and my distance from it was not so far. I was so very fortunate, I know, to walk away with only some bruises. But, oh, those bruises… In fact, it was only after a quick trip to Minneapolis this fall that I realized how wounded I really was. For when I returned I was not able to twist and turn to look over my shoulder. It turns out I had and have a rib out of place. For some reason the symptoms did not kick in until late October. I’ve been seeing a chiropractor about it ever since. It seems to be helping, but it is slow healing, that’s for sure.
Here is one thing I have noticed in the chiropractor’s open room where adjustments are made and traction is held and where ice and electric stimulation are applied. At any given time there can be a dozen patients in there at once. Now I confess, I don’t get it, but there are toddlers brought in as well. And infants, too.
Truly, it’s beyond me how a newborn could possibly be in need of a chiropractic adjustment but since I am usually otherwise occupied with my own slow road towards healing, and really it is none of my business, I don’t ask. Even so, I can’t help but think of how very fragile this human flesh is — how from the start we are so very vulnerable to wound and disease. And to think that God’s Own Son would take this on in our behalf? To think that Jesus would come as one of us? When I pause in this simple truth, it takes my breath away.
For this human flesh will not last as long as that plastic baby doll we placed in the manger on Christmas Eve. (I’m told that given the right conditions, that one’s life span could be indefinite!) In fact, even as I write this afternoon, I find myself remembering an old song called “Plastic Jesus” which was recorded in the early 1960’s. You can look up the lyrics or listen to it sung elsewhere online, but here is the Wikipedia summary. If you haven’t heard it before, it may be helpful to know that it was ‘inspired’ by a radio station in Del Rio, Texas in the late 1950’s “which was run by a dentist and religious fanatic who sold the most outrageous stuff imaginable, all with magical healing properties.” It is a spoof, of course, and speaks to our certainty that inanimate objects in and of themselves cannot protect us or save us. At least not in the way Jesus — the Word become flesh —did and does.
And so it is that we pause here on the far edge of the Christmas season to marvel once again that “the Word became flesh.” With all of its risk and all of its promise, Jesus became one of us. No, this is no ‘Plastic Jesus’ — even if we have to use such as that to represent him in a barn on Christmas Eve. This Jesus lived like us, as we did and do. Oh, just think of it: God stooping to this for you and me! And of course, you and I who know the rest of the story know exactly what happened to the ‘Word become flesh’ who lived and died among us. That, of course, is the greatest wonder of all!
- How have you come to think of ‘the Word becoming flesh?’ What does this wonder mean to you?
- It is not enough, of course, to stand still in this wonder. How does this truth of Christmas speak to our callings as individuals and as congregations? How does faith in the living Jesus lead us to still ‘become flesh’ for the sake of the world?