Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Word Became Flesh: Thoughts on Christmas Day

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” “‘Tis the season to be jolly.” And yet it’s also the time when the days grow shorter and the nights longer, when the shadows become outstretched and the clouds seem to linger forever, when the sun almost seems like a stranger. It’s a time when we hear from friends both old and new, and we read where they are, what they’re up to, and how they’re doing. And so it also becomes a time when we re-examine our lives; when we review our losses, our failures, our inadequacies. A time when we’re reminded of what we think our lives ought to have been, what they should have been. A time when we ponder what they could have been or might have been. And even a time when we think of what they used to be, what they once were, and how we long for it to be that way once again.

Christmas is a time when being happy and joyful, when joining in the constant merriment can be not just difficult, it can be down right exhausting—emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually. For Christmas is a time when all the crud of living in this world—the death of a husband or a wife, the loss of a father or a mother, our rising debts, or our imperfect marriages, children, families and lives, and the roles we’re expected to play in them—it’s a time when all of that resurfaces again and again and again, every time we read how perfect and rosy our friends’ lives are and every time we hear how wonderful and jolly this season is. And it makes even the happiest of people want to stay home, shut off the phone, kick back, and unplug.

The suffering, the death, the darkness we face, that we endure, is the reality of sin come into this world. They come with the sin of our first parents: “You will surely die,” “I will greatly multiply your sorrow,” and “Cursed is the ground for your sake.” They are the great solvents of our relationships not only with God but also with one another. Sin means isolation, alienation, as the Scriptures make clear but also as we know from our own experience. For which of us doesn’t carry the burden of hurtful words spoken in anger, in fear, or in pride—either in speaking or in hearing? Which of us doesn’t know the loss of a loved one or friend either because of death or hatred or apathy? And so whether it be physical, emotional, mental or spiritual—or all of them together—what we suffer in this life are the incursions of death, and death is simply sin becoming incarnate and dwelling among us. “For through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, thus death spread to all men, because all sinned.”

And that is why the Word became flesh. That is why God became man. That is why the eternal Son of God took on mortal flesh. And that is what makes this day and this season truly wonderful. It is what brings this day’s reason for joy.

For in the incarnation the fallen, corrupted, and broken creation is infused with and invested with everything that rightfully belongs to God. Eternity becomes history, subject to time and space. Immortality becomes subject to mortality. Purity takes on and into itself impurity. Incorruptibility takes on corruption. Holiness assumes desecration, and divinity humanity. In a most blessed exchange, God takes up in himself sin and death, and gives to His creation righteousness and life immortal. God became man so that life would conquer death, light would overcome darkness, and righteousness and holiness would reign in stead of sin.

The Word became flesh, God became man, so that man would no longer live in isolation, in alienation, but be reconciled: to God and to one another. He came to bring us out of isolation into HIs presence, not just someday in the future in heaven, but now, even here, on earth. He came to bring us out of darkness, out of the cold, and into the light and warmth of His love, His grace, and His mercy. He came to bring us out of death into true life. He came to bring us out of sin, out of suffering, out of the fallenness and brokenness of this world. He came to make all things new. For in the incarnation of the Word, you are a not just forgiven. You are more than justified. You are a new creation. Made in the image of God by the Word made flesh. “It is finished.” What was once proclaimed in His death, now rings out for you with life. You are new. You are whole. You are perfect. For you are of God.

This is the point of the incarnation: that the Eternal Son of God took on flesh, he became a son of Adam, so that the children of Adam and Eve would become the Sons of God in Him. You are His Brothers and Sisters. His Father is your Father, and you are His children. Welcome Home. So go ahead, shut off the phone, kick back, and receive the Word become flesh in bread and wine. And in that you will find the rest for your bodies and the refreshment for you souls, the comfort to face today and the courage to face tomorrow that only comes from Him. Merry Christmas.

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