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Sunday, December 15, 2013

Mystery of the Incarnation (John 1.1-14)

Sermon by: Robert Austell - December 15, 2013
Text: John 1:1-14

:: Sermon Audio (link) - scroll down for written draft
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:: Some Music Used
Gathering Music: "Partita on "Once in Royal David's City" (Behnke)

Hymn of Praise: "Once in Royal David's City")
First Lesson: Light in the Darkness (Isaiah 9:2,6-7)
Music: "The People that Walked in Darkness" (Handel)

Second Lesson: The Lion and the Lamb (Isaiah 11:1-3a,4a,6-9)
Music: "Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming" (ES IST EIN ROS)
Third Lesson: The Annunciation (Luke 1:26-35,38)
Music: (Children) "Be Not Afraid" (Vicki Hancock Wright)

Fourth Lesson: The Birth of Jesus (Luke 2:1,3-7)
Music: "Comfort and Joy" (Cathy Youngblood)
Fifth Lesson: Angels and Shepherds (Luke 2:8-16)
Music: "While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks" (Courtney)
Sixth Lesson: "Magi from the East" (Matthew 2:1-12)
Music: "The First Noel" (THE FIRST NOEL)

Seventh Lesson/Sermon: Mystery of the Incarnation (John 1:1-14)
Offering of Music: "Run to the Manger" (Victor Johnson)
Nativity Anthem: "Bethlehem Procession" (Victor Johnson)
Postlude: "In Culci Jubilo" (Bach)

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf)
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon, not used in the service. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose.

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. 4 In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. 5 The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. … 9 There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. 11 He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. 12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. 14 And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.  (John 1:1-5,9-14)
Today’s sermon will just be a short devotion on the seventh lesson, from John 1:1-14. It is entitled, “Mystery of the Incarnation.” In the scripture lessons you have heard this morning in word and music, you have already heard some of this mystery. “Incarnation” means “in the flesh”; the reason it is a mystery is that it refers to the infinite God coming among us as a finite human being. Who could put words (or music) to that!

Just think of what you’ve already heard:

From Isaiah (9:2,6-8; 11:1-9), there is description of a great light coming to a people who live in great darkness. And that great light will be a child upon whom great names and power will rest through the power of God. This promised one – child and light – will also bring justice, righteousness, peace, and more. What mystery! What promise! What hope!

From Luke (1-2) we heard several of the narratives around the birth of Jesus, again a mix of the human ordinary and the extraordinarily divine and wondrous. We have a pregnancy, birth, a government census, a strangely humble baby-bed and bed-clothes, with working class visitors to the young family. And we also have angels, visions, messages from God, and prophecies fulfilled. The stuff of Heaven meets the stuff of earth!

From Matthew (2:1–12) we heard one more piece of the narrative. More signs in the sky and noble visitors from far off intersecting both with the human family of Jesus and the political power of the day, who eventually goes after the child he views as a threat to his throne. More of the power of God intersecting ordinary life and unsettling the power of this world.

And we come to John (1:1-14), to what is less story and more spiritual reflection on the meaning of Christ coming among us. It begins with echoes of the creation story from Genesis: In the beginning, God…  But John expands that creation story in ways we cannot fully grasp (mystery!) by personalizing the Word (Logos) as the one who would be Light, Life, and ultimately be known as Jesus of Nazareth and Messiah/Christ. Again, what is complete mystery – the personalized Word in infinite pre-existence with God and AS God coming into this world, into this existence, into a body like yours or mine, walking and living among us.

That’s the journey John takes us on in fourteen short verses. In verse one the Word is identified with God and by verse fourteen the “Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” That’s the mystery of the Incarnation.

So what can I tell you about it?

I can point out the bookends in vv. 1 and 14. The infinite other which is God has come among us, not as a visitor passing through, but as one who “dwelt” – made a home – among us. And in doing that, Jesus living as God-with us, we caught a glimpse of the very glory of God.

Between those bookends, John offers us some imagery and explanation that we can begin to grab onto. Jesus, who is both mystery and God-in-the-flesh-with-us, brought us life, light, and love. And it’s more than bringing us those abstract things; he IS those things, lived out among us and for us. So let me speak to each briefly.

Jesus is the Life – As God, Jesus created life in the beginning. We have our existence because of and through Him. When humanity turned and turns from God, then, it is precisely Jesus who is what we need in the face of sin and death. Without God we die spiritually and physically. In Jesus, we have hope of more.

Jesus is the Light – Light is such a vivid metaphor. Only a little beats back the darkness. It shows the way. It “illumines” our mind as well as our path. It clarifies and helps distinguish truth from deception. Jesus does all that and, more so, embodies all that. Again, for humanity that has turned and turns from God, it is precisely Jesus as Light of the World that gives us hope and help.

Jesus as Love – This word is not used in these verses and is, perhaps, the most misleading of the three descriptions. It’s easy to think of love as “me getting what I want.” This is anything but; this is love as “someone offering me what I really need.” I use that word to sum up Jesus’ actions in these verses. Not only is Jesus involved in our creation and in bringing light and life to us; Jesus comes AS Light and Life so that we might become children of God. He comes and makes a home with us in order to invite us to make a home with Him. It is not forced, but offered. It is not earned, but given. It is not something we can attain, but made possible through His Life and Light. This is why I call it love, because it is what we truly need, offered to us because of God’s love.

It’s a lot to take in and it’s a lot to attach to a baby lying in a manger. But this is the Christmas story. It’s really more than that; it is God’s story, begun before time began but present with us today. It is mystery; it is incarnation. It is extraordinary meeting the ordinary. It is God-with-us: Life, Light, and Love. Amen!

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