I Believe: Incarnate

I Believe: Incarnate

Text: John 1:1-14

2,000 years ago, everything changed. The people of God had always known that the LORD their God was wilder and more untamable than the sea, more mysterious than the starless corners of the night sky, yet this was something else.  Even those around Jesus struggled to come to grips with what God had done.  Even the Gospels themselves, if you read them either in the order that they were written or in the order they appear in our Bible, build.

It is clear from the start that Jesus is something special.  Even his birth itself is a miracle. The people of God had seen miraculous births in the past, like the birth of Isaac, Abraham’s child of promise, but nothing like this. And in beginning of the story come some of the clearest hints of his true identity.  He will save God’s people from their sins and he will be called Emmanuel, God is with us.  (cf Matthew 1:21-23)  And then as he grows he speaks with power and authority that goes beyond any prophet.  He heals the sick and calms a storm, by his own power.  When he casts out demons it is not a great battle between opposing forces; the demons are terrified of him.  And those around him struggle to understand who he is, what he is.  Even the disciples ask “What sort of man is this, that even winds and the sea obey him?” (cf Matthew 8:27 NRSV)  Then he begins to do things that no mortal man, no prophet, however great, could do.  He forgives sins.  He calls the dead from their graves.  And ultimately he rises victoriously over death itself and ascends victoriously on high.  Then when you get to John, he spells it out. “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14 NRSV)

2,000 years ago, God did the unthinkable, the unimaginable: God became human.  The center, the heart and soul, of the Christian faith is the God has come to earth in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, and that Gods very self died for our sins and rose victoriously over sin and death. 

We will talk about the death and resurrection of Christ next week, but today it imperative that we wrestle with who Jesus really is.  Jesus is not a demi-god, not half god and half human, like Hercules, but truly God. The Nicene Creed puts it quite beautifully: “We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father; through him all things were made.” Likewise is not an avatar of God, nor God disguised in human form, like when God appeared in human form to wrestle Jacob, but truly human. He is truly God and truly human.  Eternity was born.  Infinity cooed and cried, and breathed, and bled.

This changes everything. This changes the story. It illumines all that came before and shows us where the story is going.  It means more than my feeble words can express.  It means more than this short sermon can convey.  It means more than ever sermon ever preached and every book ever written could possibly contain. 

In Colossians 1:15-23, one of the great Christological hymns in Scripture, the apostle Paul, speaking by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation;  for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him.  He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.  He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything.  For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross. – Colossians 1:15-23

Let’s zoom in on a few sentences.  First, in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.  In Christ, the fullness of God dwells.  Everything that God is found in Christ.  In Christ we see God.  Next, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him.   All things where created through him and for him.  We were created for God.  We were created to know and be known, to love and be loved by God.  Colossians even seems to imply that the very reason that very reason humanity was created was so that God could become incarnate, that the incarnation was not a just a way of dealing with sin, but would have happened even if we never fell.  All things were created for Christ.

The incarnation shows us who God is and it shows us where our story is going.  God has come to us.  Christianity is not about humanity’s search for God, it is about God’s search for humanity.  Christianity is not about us trying to reach God; it is about God coming down to reach us.  It is about the light of the world stepping down into darkness to pull humanity out.  One of my favorite paintings of all time is the eastern Orthodox icon of the resurrection.  It depicts Jesus rising from the dead and leading the saints of the old testament out with him.  The best part about the painting is that he is literally grabbing Adam and Eve by the wrists and dragging them out of the darkness.  He is not holding their hands and gently leading them.  He is dragging them out by the wrists.  God has come to us, to raise us out of the muck and the mire and in so doing creates a future that was greater than we could ever dream.

The end is better than the beginning.  The last thing that I want to name is that the incarnation means is that the end is better than the beginning.  We often like to think of the eschaton, the new heaven and new earth, as a return to the original state, before humanity fell. Yet there is a very important difference between the way we related to God before the fall, and how we will relate to God in the eschaton: God has become incarnate. The fact that God has become incarnate means that the end is not a return to what we once were; it’s better.  For now we can know God in a way that is otherwise impossible. 

One of my favorite books in scripture is Zephaniah. In three short chapters, just about as many pages, we see the whole gamut of prophecy on display, from warning of judgement, to promises of reconciliation, to a glimpse at God’s grand future where everything is set right. One particularly striking passage is chapter three, verses fourteen through seventeen, which reads…

Sing aloud, O daughter Zion;
    shout, O Israel!
Rejoice and exult with all your heart,
    O daughter Jerusalem!
The Lord has taken away the judgments against you,
    he has turned away your enemies.
The king of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst;
    you shall fear disaster no more.
On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:
Do not fear, O Zion;
    do not let your hands grow weak.
The Lord, your God, is in your midst,
    a warrior who gives victory;
he will rejoice over you with gladness,
    he will renew you in his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing
– Zephaniah 3:14-17 NRSV

I often wonder if when this finally fulfilled if it will be fulfilled far more literally than it’s original hearers ever dreamed, because now God has vocal chords with which to sing.  God now has eyes with which to look into the eyes of God’s children, arms with which to embrace God’s children, and vocal chords with which to sing to us.

I do not know what will happen in the coming days or months, none of us do.  We may be nearing Mordor, facing down the last leg of our journey, or we could be in The Two Towers, and Helm’s Deep lies just up ahead.  We don’t know.  But we do know how the story, which began at the birth of time, and echoes into all eternity, the story in which we live, will end.  We know what happens in that endless final chapter, and it is glorious. “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14 NRSV)  Whatever lies ahead we can face it with courage and compassion, because we worship Emmanuel, God is with us.

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