Christmas I—Year C, Isaiah 61:10-62:3, Psalm 147, Galatians 3:23-25; 4:4-7, John 1:1-18
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…” Do you ever get tired of hearing this soaring language at the beginning of the Gospel of John? If the Feast of the Nativity draws our gaze to the particularity of the flesh that Divinity wishes to inhabit, today draws our gaze to the particularity of the God who inhabits that fragile, human flesh. It’s a Word who has been looking for a way under our skin since the beginning of creation itself. The great New Testament scholar Ray Brown notes that this image of the Word and its association with the act of creation means that creation itself is an act of revelation. Everything, everything holds the ability to reveal God to us. God speaks, and creation is. God speaks, and we hear God’s voice. Our eucharistic prayer reminds us that this Word keeps tumbling through time—we hear it in the calling of Israel, we hear it in the prophet’s cry, and John reminds us that this same Word becomes flesh, not just to speak at us, but to live among us.
I mean honestly, who among us likes to be spoken at? Okay, I will put this question to our kids. Do you like it when your parents start talking at you? What do you hear? Do you hear the brilliance of their words? Do you hear the eloquence of their wisdom? Or, do you just hear the Charlie Brown teacher voice, “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah?” As mystically as God taught the people the Divine name “I AM,” they mostly didn’t get it. As brilliantly as God spoke through the law, the people experienced it like a disciplinarian. As powerfully as God spoke through the prophets, the people just tuned them out, or silenced them. The Word was hard to comprehend. It’s like God was speaking a different language, which maybe is sometimes how you kids experience your parents, or how you parents experience your kids.
But God is persistent. God was bent on revealing the fullness of God’s steadfast love to us. Up to this point, God had been a little reluctant to be seen in the fullness of grace. Remember when Moses asked to see God’s face? God hid Moses in the cleft of a rock and let him catch a glimpse of his back as he passed by. Not much to go on, ehhh? But times change, relationships change, and sometimes, there comes a time, when a radical leap of faith is called for by one of the parties. It may be a radical leap of faith for us to leave our fields or kingdoms and journey to a stable in Bethlehem, but it’s a radical leap of faith for God to leave the safety of distant dimensions of time and space and journey into our human flesh. We may not be able to hear words, especially when they are heaped upon other words, but it’s hard to miss a gaze that locks your eyes and won’t let you go. It’s hard to miss a touch that breaks through your isolation. It’s hard to miss shared laughter or shared sorrow or the shared silence that says more than a thousand words ever could.
Kids, which speaks to your heart more, a lecture from your parents, or a hug? And grown-ups, are we really so different from our kids? All the abstract theories about God and the nature of God are wonderful and powerful and interesting, but sometimes, we just need a God with skin on, and the Word who had been trying to communicate with us from the beginning, finally understood that too. Words can capture our imaginations, but flesh can capture our hearts—that’s what Jesus did as he lived his life.
And there is one other aspect to how this Word now dwells in flesh that is important for us. You see it’s not that this Word made flesh threw out all that went before as if to say, “None of that mattered.” The greek tells us that in the fullness of time this Word became flesh and pitched a tent among us. Pitched a tent…that image taps a deep, deep well in the Jewish psyche; it goes to the very heart of the Jewish understanding of God’s presence. In the wilderness, Moses set up a tent where he would go to meet God and sit with God in the fullness of God’s presence. When he would come out of that tent, his face would be shining; it would be shining so brightly that he would have to veil his face, but when he would go into the tent, Moses would unveil his face. And this tent would go wherever the people went.
In Jesus, God pitches a tent, a place where we can go to meet the fullness of God. In Jesus, God commits to being a God on the move, to being with us on the human journey wherever that journey takes us. In Jesus, God inhabits a space where we can unveil our face and let God see us in the fullness of who we are and where God can unveil God’s face and let us gaze on God in the fullness of God’s love and mercy and grace. In Jesus, God commits to revealing God’s heart to humanity and gives us a space that is safe enough for us to reveal our heart to God. In Jesus, we have our tent of meeting. No doubt, it is not the only place where God deigns to meet us—after all, all creation came into being through the Word; God meets us everywhere. But Jesus is a particularly powerful tent of meeting because this is where presence gazes upon Presence radically unveiled.
So, on this First Sunday after Christmas, as we contemplate all these words about the Word, how might we drop the words and simply come into the tent of meeting? How might we remove our veil and allow God in Jesus to gaze into our heart and soul? How might we lift our eyes and look into Jesus’ gaze and allow ourselves to meet God’s heart and soul there? What if we shed all the words that try to capture and define Jesus and just experienced him as our tent of meeting?
Sisters and brothers, remove your veil, come into this tent of meeting, and risk the fact that you will not emerge the same; risk the possibility that you will come out “shining like the sun.”1 Amen.
1 This phrase comes from Thomas Merton’s conversion experience on the corner of 4th and Walnut in Louisville, KY on March 18, 1958: “I have the immense joy of being man, a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now that I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.”
The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Boone, NC
December 30, 2012