Emmanuel Baptist Church
275 State St. Albany, NY 12210
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|A Welcoming and Affirming Congregation||
Minister: Rev. Kathy J. Donley
Moving Into the Neighborhood
Rev. Kathy Donley
12/24/2011 Christmas Eve
Scripture Lesson: John 1:1-14
came to pass that there were two brothers 8 and 10 years
old, who were exceedingly mischievous. Whatever went wrong
in the neighborhood, it turned out they had a hand in it.
Their parents were at their wits' end.
Sisters and brothers, the message of Christmas is that God is not missing. As the priest knew, God is in fact everywhere, but we often find God in the most unexpected places.
Every generation has its own language. The same meanings get expressed in different ways. An older generation of church-going folks says “Amen” even when they’re not in church. It means “Yes, true, well-said, or let it be so.” Another generation said “Right On” to mean pretty much the same things. And today, instead of saying “Amen” or “Right On” some young people use the one-syllable expression “Word.”
The Word, referred to in John’s gospel, is the Greek logos. Logos is another word that changed in meaning over the generations, but by the time of John’s writing, it referred to God’s creative power, to the logic of the universe. In the beginning was the Word. In the beginning was God’s brilliance and wisdom, the mastermind that created all that is. Logos, Word, was the mechanism through which God created the universe.
To add to the confusion about Word and words, Genesis tells us that God spoke creation into being. God said “Light” and light came into existence. Many ancient people believed that words, especially names, had power. To be able to name something or someone was to have power over it. And words still have power. Think about “It’s time to go.” or “I love you.” or “You’re hired.” Words are the most fundamental tool of communication. For good or ill, they guide our lives.
The Word, in John’s gospel, was the wisdom of God, present from the beginning of time. That wisdom which God had tried to communicate with human beings, in different ways for different generations, but never to God’s satisfaction. Until the Word, the wisdom, the communication of God, became flesh and lived among us.
So, if those two boys believed God to be missing and went searching, where would you tell them to look? God is everywhere, but where is God most evident, most easily seen? In the flesh, in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. In the mind and body and emotions and teachings and relationships of Jesus. That is where God is most present.
The Word, in flesh, became God's best way of communicating with us. The Word became flesh and lived among us. Or a more literal translation would say, "The Word became flesh and tabernacled among us." The tabernacle was the place where God met Moses in ancient times. It was the place that contained the Ark of the Covenant and the Ten Commandments. It was the place where God was known to be present. And yet, John says, God became a human being and tabernacled among us. God came to us, not in a set of rules, not in a special building, but in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.
Another translation for this verse says, "The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood." The God who had formed humans out of the clay of the earth, took on that clay form and became like us. The mastermind of the universe stooped to us. God became a human being so that we might understand God. In the process, God experienced human beings from a new point of view, from inside our neighborhood. God shared with us all the pain and joy, all the everydayness and the exhilaration and petty annoyances and deep sorrows of life.
The Rev. John Claypool talks about a time when he was a very young minister. He was called to the home of an elderly woman whose husband had just died. He went to her very earnestly, intending to be as much comfort as he could. At that time, he had never lost a significant person in his life, so he didn’t know much about grief. But he went and said the best words he could think of. While he was speaking, another woman came into the house. She walked across the room and put her arms around the grieving widow and simply said, “I understand, my dear. I understand.” Later, Claypool learned that this second woman had lost her husband six months earlier. She really did understand what her friend was experiencing.
This is the good news of Christmas, Jesus moved into the neighborhood. He became like us so that we might become as he is. When we are anxious or afraid, Jesus understands. When the people around us reject us or mistreat us, Jesus understands. When we are tempted to sin and when we aren’t sure we want to follow the path laid before us, Jesus understands.
Human beings live in a particular place and time. We are born or adopted into certain families. It is significant that Jesus came into the world, not at the top, but at the bottom. He could have been born into a family of high social status or wealth or power. Instead, he was born to an ordinary peasant family from a small village. If those boys went looking for God, it probably would have been the last sort of place they would have looked.
This is our story about God. God reaches down into the depths of human life and is with us. With the socially outcast shepherds, the mangy cattle, the displaced refugee family, the common worker. “Majesty in the midst of the mundane. Holiness in the filth of sheep manure and sweat. Divinity entering the world on the floor of a stable, through the womb of a teenager and in the presence of a carpenter.” God moving into our neighborhood.
A five year old girl named Sharon was sure of the Christmas story. She recited it solemnly, convinced that every word was revelation. She said, “They were so poor they had only peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to eat and they went a long way from home without getting lost. The lady rode a donkey, the man walked, and the baby was inside the lady. They had to stay in a stable with an ox and an ass, but the Three Rich Men found them because a star lighted the roof. Shepherds came and you could pet the sheep but not feed them. Then the baby was borned. And do you know who he was?" Her quarter eyes inflated to silver dollars. "The baby was God." And she jumped in the air, whirled around, dove into the sofa and buried her head under the cushion, which is the only proper response to the Good News of the Incarnation."
So the message of Christmas is this: Dive for the couch. Hide in the pillows. Look for the one who understands who will cross the room and embrace you. The Word has become flesh. God has moved into the neighborhood, right here, right now. In an unwed teenager’s unexpected pregnancy, with refugee families wandering far from home, with regular folks just trying to get by. God is with us, God is among us. God is right here, right now, living with and in you and me. Word!