“And the Word became flesh and lived among us” (From John 1:1-18; First Sunday after Christmas)
How was your Christmas? It is a question I have asked and been asked over the last few days. While I understand what is being asked I also hear an underlying assumption that Christmas is over. It is the same assumption that underlies the birthday wishes to Jesus. “Happy birthday Jesus” suggests that Christmas is the celebration of a past event, an anniversary. It is the reason why in at least a few homes the tree has already been taken down, the decorations packed away for another year, and the leftovers thrown out.
I raise these three points not as a criticism or judgment but diagnostically, in recognition that we are event driven people. We tend to live our lives from one event to the next. If you don’t think so, take a look at your calendar. It is a schedule of events. Our days are full of events and if there is a day or two with no scheduled events then we say things like, “Nothing is going on that day,” or “I am not doing anything that day,” as if there is no life, nothing to learn or discover, nothing to experience on those days. How different is St. John’s understanding of Christmas, life, and humanity.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.
This, for St. John, is the Christmas story and it is set in the context of creation, “In the beginning.” Creation is not an event of the past but the ongoing life of God with his people. St. John echoes and continues the Genesis story of creation, “In the beginning God said, ‘Let there be…’ and there was….” Land, sky, vegetation, living creatures from the water, birds of the air, living creatures from the earth, and humankind made in the image and likeness of God.
Christmas is God continuing to give life to his people. “And the Word became flesh and lived among us.” Christmas, says St. Gregory of Nyssa, is the “festival of re-creation.” It is God giving God’s own life to his people. It is as if God said, “I want humanity to see my face. I want them to hear my voice. I want them to touch me. I want them to smell my sweat. I want them to eat my body. I want to live their life. I want them to live my life.” “And the word became flesh and lived among us.” This is God in the flesh, the divine human, holy humanity.
This festival of re-creation is God’s celebration of humanity. It is God entrusting God’s self to human beings, to you and to me. It is God’s reaffirmation of humanity’s goodness. It is the sharing and exchanging of life between God and you and me. That’s why the early church could say that God became human so that humanity might become God. The Son of God became the son of man so that the sons of men might become sons of God. Divinity was clothed in humanity so that humanity might clothed in divinity.
How beautiful is that? Imagine what that means for us. It means we are holy and intended to be holy, not as an achievement on our own but as a gift of God. This is the gift of Christmas. We have been given the power to become children of God. This happens not by blood, or the will of the flesh, or the will of people, but by God. “And the Word became flesh and lived among us.”
God sees humanity as the opportunity and the means to reveal himself. Yet far too often we use our humanity as an excuse. “I’m only human,” we declare, as if we are somehow deficient. We fail to see, to believe, to understand that in the Word becoming flesh and living among us we are God’s first sacrament. Human beings are the tangible, outward, and visible signs and carriers of God’s inward and spiritual presence.
Have you ever thought of yourself as a sacrament? Have you ever looked at someone across the street and said, “Hey, look! There is the sacramental image of God?” Why not? Why do we not see that in ourselves and each other? After all, “The Word became flesh and lived among us.”
In the Jewish tradition that rabbis tell a story that each person has a procession of angels going before them and crying out, “Make way for the image of God.” Imagine how different our lives and world would be if we lived with this as our reality and the truth that guided our lives.
Everywhere we go the angels go with us announcing the coming of the image of God and reminding us of who we are. That is the truth of Christmas for us. It is also the Christmas truth for the person living next door, for those we love, for those we fear, for those who are like us and those who are different, for the stranger, and for our enemies. “And the Word became flesh and lived among us.”
The implications are profound. It changes how we see our selves and one another, the way we live, our actions, and our words. It means that Christmas cannot be limited to an event. Christmas is a life to be lived, a way of being. It means that Christmas is more properly understood as a verb rather than a noun. So maybe we should stop asking, “How was your Christmas?” Instead we should be asking, “How are you ‘Christmassing?’” Are you recognizing the Word become flesh in your own life? Are you recognizing the Word become flesh in the lives of others? Do you see the procession of angels and hear their voices?
“And the Word became flesh and lived among us.” The Word became flesh and has never ceased living among us. The Word became flesh and will never cease living among us. So make way. Wherever you go. Whatever you are doing. Whoever you are with. Make way for the image of God. Christmas your way through life.