A sermon by Rev. Chris Jorgensen
March 10, 2019
Scripture: John 1:1-5,14
I have good news for you today, church. This is going to be a short sermon for two reasons. One: because we had a baptism, and I always try to keep things short after a baptism. And two: because my Dad told me to keep it short. I talked to him on the phone this week, and he tells me to keep my sermons short pretty much every time we talk. But you should know he only gets away with telling me that because he’s my Dad.
I was glad for his reminder this week though…because What can we actually say about God? There is a whole school of Christian thought that is apophatic (you knew we were going to use big words today, right?). Apophatic means that we cannot say anything with 100% confidence about who or what God IS. We only can say things about what God is NOT. In other words, any time we think that we have fully captured the reality of God in words, we are wrong. Or at least we have not captured who God is fully. All of our words fall short.
In today’s sermon image, you see the letters G-O-D. That is not God. Sure, it’s the word that Christians and other folks use to try to capture the idea of God. But it is not God. Not any more than the letters C-H-R-I-S capture the fullness of who I am – probably even les. It’s just some letters, just a word. The word G-O-D is not God.
The second image here is the bible. The bible is not God. In fact, this is where our official big word of the day “incarnation” comes into play. In our reading this morning, we hear about the Word of God, the Word who became flesh in the person of Jesus Christ. I know I have talked about this before, but to remind you…the Word that became flesh does not mean that Jesus was the bible in the flesh.
The word translated in the Gospel of John as capital-W “Word” is actually the Greek term logos. Logos does not mean scripture. It doesn’t mean the bible. Logos means something like knowledge or wisdom or reason. We might think of logos as the mind of God. Try hearing it this way:
In the person of Jesus, the Reason of God became flesh.
In the person of Jesus Christ, the Wisdom of God became flesh.
(If we are being properly trinitarian – a big word that we will discuss next week – we could say:)
In the person of Jesus, God’s own self became flesh.
Well, that does not make sense. There is no way for us to figure it out. We can’t figure out the mechanics of exactly how, the fullness of God who is outside of time and space and who is also present at all times to all of creation could have been fully present 2,000 years ago in one very particular brown-skinned Jewish person in the Middle Eastern part of this planet earth. To say so is a faith statement. It is an utter mystery.
The incarnation tells us that Christ is both fully God and fully human, and God is at once God of the universe and the person of Jesus Christ. Yet we have one God. It’s like 1+1=1. Now I’m not great at math, but I don’t think that’s mathematically correct. It does not make rational sense.
This incarnation business, to say that Jesus Christ was fully God and fully human: it is a statement of faith. It cannot be proven. It can only be believed, and it can only be believed, I think, by those people who have experienced the irrational, mysterious, incomprehensible, and transformative presence of the living Christ in their own lives.
Let’s turn back to our image, and the things that God is NOT. God is not that baby. It’s a cute baby. It might be kind of what Jesus looked like when he was born. But the image of the baby does not capture who God is with us and for us in fullness. Likewise, an image of a grown person – no matter how powerful or perfect they are – it also does not capture who God is.
But the mystery of the incarnation, if we dare to take it on faith, does tell us some things.
The incarnation is an incredible gift. It is an incredible gift to receive this very particular image of what God looks like with flesh on. What an amazing revelation of who God is that we find in the stories about Jesus! As we read the gospels and hear about this God-in-Christ, we hear about Jesus’ teaching and healing, about the way he chose sides with the poor and marginalized and outcast, about how he helped the powerless and the powerful alike, how he died on the cross and forgave those who put him there, how even death could not hold him. In these stories, we get an incredible picture of who this God is – this God who is with us and for us and even among us.
Theologian Elizabeth Johnson describes the incarnation as “an unimaginable act of loving solidarity…the kind of divine love that blesses people…but also enters…into their experience, self-identifying with the glory and agony of human life from within, befriending even the godless and the godforsaken. In Jesus Christ, the unfathomable God has now joined the mess…” (Creation and the Cross, p.178-179).
That God became flesh means that God was and is with us. Not above us. Not far away from us. But here with us in every joyful triumph, in every devastating loss, and in every moment between. God is with us, and because God was one of us… because God lived our life, and died our death, God truly knows us – and loves us…and all of creation in every moment.
It is a mystery beyond imagining. It takes my breath away.
And I cannot explain it to you…any more than I can explain to you how much or why I love my daughter. Just like I can’t explain the fact that every time I meet with a family whose loved one has just died, and hear the story of their life, the presence of God rings out clear as a bell.
God is in and yet is not fully any of these things. God is even more than that: a divine mystery of love without beginning or end.
And God is even more.
Always even more.
Thanks be to God.
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION & REFLECTION
1) If we believe in the incarnation, it means that we believe the particularities of Jesus’ life reveal the nature of God to us. What is one story (or aspect) of Jesus’ life and ministry that is meaningful to you, and what might that tell us about what God is like?
2) When in your life have you experienced God-with-us in the mess (the complexity of human existence)? Specifically, when did you sense God in the midst of great hardship?
3) Similarly, when did you sense God is in the midst of great joy?