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Edward F. Markquart

Christmas, the word became flesh

Christmas morning or Sunday after Christmas or Christmas II     John 1:1-18 

Most of us do not realize it, but there are two sets of Christmas stories in the gospels. One set of Christmas stories is from the Gospels of Matthew and Luke and the other from the Gospel of John. The first set of Christmas stories are more familiar to us. We can see those stories, visualize those stories and imagine those stories such as Zechariah and Elizabeth, Mary and Joseph, the baby in the manger, the sheep and the shepherds, the angels and angel’s choirs, the three wise men and their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  But the second Christmas story comes from the Gospel of John and we cannot see or visualize or draw John’s Christmas story. Painters cannot paint paintings about John’s Christmas story. John’s Christmas story is abstract and philosophical.

Let me explain. There is a website that I enjoy. It is entitled, Illustrated Gospel by Maurice Lamouroux.
This French man who created this website must have had a Ph.D. in both the History of Painting and Biblical studies. Maurice Lamouroux has assembled famous paintings of Biblical stories according to Biblical theme. This website takes all the famous stories in the Bible, and assembles paintings from art museums around the world that picture those famous Bible stories. On the theme of the birth of Jesus, Dr. Lamouroux has 500 paintings that depict Jesus’ infancy. Those 500 paintings about Jesus’ birth are so visual and so graphic. Those Christmas stories from Matthew and Luke are highly picturesque; they can be visualized and painted.  Then, the author of this website lists John 1:1-18, the Christmas story from the Gospel of John. How many paintings of Jesus’ birth are based on John 1;1-18? Another 500? No, not one. Not one. Not one painter has been inspired to attempt to paint the Christmas story according to the Gospel of John. Why? John’s Christmas story is too abstract, too philosophical, and too mind numbing. 

Normally, during the Christmas season, we focus on the Christmas story from the Gospels of Matthew and Mark. But today, we are going to focus on the Christmas story from the Gospel of John. Today’s sermon is a Bible study of the Christmas story in John 1:1-4 and 1:14-18. Would you please pull out your bulletin and we will carefully examine John’s Christmas story.

“In the beginning was the Word.”  Circle the word, “Word.” The Greek word for Word is “logos” from which we get our word, “logic.”  Write down the word, “logic.” “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God” can be translated:  “In the beginning was the Logic and the Logic was with God and the Logic was God.” How do you paint that? How do you paint the phrase, “the Logic was God.” You can’t. That is why there are no paintings of John’s Christmas story.

“The Logic was with God.” John was making a distinction between the Logic and God. “The Logic was with God.” In the next sentence, John says “the Logic was God.” Will John make up his mind? Is the Logic with God or is the Logic, God? John is laying the groundwork for the pre-existence Christ, that Christ was with God before the creation of the universe, and that Christ was the brains or divine intelligence behind the universe.

Before there was any creation, before there was matter, before there was light and life, obviously, there had to be a set of brains.  That’s the way it always is;  you have to have brains lay out a plan.  There had to be some logic to it.  God was and is essentially a large cranial cavity of intelligence and brilliance.  In the beginning was the logic and the logic was with God and the logic was God.  The mind was God.  The intelligence was God.  The brilliance was God.  What the Bible is saying is before something was created, there had to be a mastermind behind it; and from this logic, all light and life was created.

J.B. Phillips once wrote a book entitled, YOUR GOD IS TOO SMALL.  I would like to suggest to you that Phillips should have written another book entitled, YOUR JESUS IS TOO SMALL.  Too many people think that Jesus was simply the man who walked on earth.  Or, Jesus is my sweet savior. When I was in ninth grade, someone gave me a picture of Jesus.  It was on a wooden board, and it was a pretty picture with a pretty Jesus with long pretty brown hair and pretty light blue eyes.  According to this picture, Jesus was sweet and sentimental.  My childhood Jesus was too small, too sweet and too sentimental.   I had forgotten that the Jesus of the Bible is the Mind who existed even before creation.  The Bible teaches that before the world began, Jesus was the logic of God, the mind of God, the brilliance of God.  In the beginning was the Logic, and the Logic was with God, meaning Jesus, and the brilliant Logic became flesh and lived among us.  So Jesus existed far before measured time began and Jesus is the logic, the master-mind of creation. 

Please turn to the epistle in your bulletin. This epistle lesson from Colossians illustrates that Jesus existed before the universe began and Jesus was the creator of the universe. Colossians 1:15-17 15”He (Christ) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. 17He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 

Please turn to John 1:14 and circle the word, “flesh.” The brilliant mind and logic behind the universe became flesh.  The brilliant logical mind of the universe became flesh, a human being.  The message of the Christmas story is that the Logic/God who created the universe became a human being, a real, authentic human being.

Now, when the Greek language uses the word, “flesh,” it uses the word, “sarx,” from which we get our word, sarcophagus. The Greek word, “flesh,” doesn’t simply refer to our skin and bones and body that we can touch. The word, “flesh,” in Greek, refers to the totality of who we are; it refers to our mind, body, emotions and spirit.  In Hebrew and Greek, a human being is composed of several parts: body, mind, emotion and spirit. We human beings are still composed of body, mind, emotion and spirit. The Bible is saying that the brilliant logical mind that created the universe because a full human being, flesh.

Now, why is this so important? The Bible is saying that the master intelligence behind the universe did not stay up in the safety of heaven, that God did not remain living up there in heaven, far away from the evil and suffering of earth, that God didn’t live in some kind of eternal suburb, safe from it all.  God didn’t live away from the rough and tumble of the world, but God came down here to this earth to suffer like we do. Jesus suffered and died on the cross and his suffering and death were real, true and authentic, just as our suffering and death are real, true and authentic.

Now, in all the other world religions, in their prophets, seers, and angels, God does not dare to become a human being, does not dare to come down to earth and its ghettos.  In the philosophy of Docetism, and even in Greek mythology, God doesn’t actually become a real human being but only pretends to be a real human being.  In our Christian religion, unlike every other religion of the world, ours is the only religion in the world that claims that the brilliance logical intelligence actually became a real life human being and occupies the same turf that you and I do.  Even our hymn is titled, “From heaven above to earth I come.”  This means that God became Jesus who was a little baby, wet his diapers, messed his pants, burped, upchucked, cried and whined in the synagogue at age two, and later drove his parents crazy during the worship services. Jesus was a true, authentic, real human being.

Now, this doctrine that God became flesh, is one of the central doctrines of the Christian faith. It is called the Incarnation, incarnal, in the flesh.  Now, if you were a good Roman Catholic, for centuries, any time in the Latin liturgy you would hear the phrase, “incarnal est,” you, as a Catholic, would automatically bow.  For centuries Catholics did not understand the Latin, but when they would hear the phrase, “incarnal est,” they would drop to their knees in reverence. Martin Luther was also a Roman Catholic from childhood, and in his commentary on this passage, said:  “If you truly believe that the Word became flesh, that the logic of the universe became a human being, that is powerful enough to drive demons and devils away from you.”

We continue our Bible study. The Bible then says, “He made us dwelling among us.”  He dwelled among us; that is, he tabernacled among us. Now, there are many Greek words that could be used for the word, “dwelled,” but the author chose the Old Testament word, “tabernacled.”  I would like to talk about the word, “tabernacled,” for a moment.  The tabernacle in the Old Testament was the localized presence of God.  The tabernacle was a big tent, about 75 by 150 feet.  At the far end of the sacred tent or tabernacle, was the Holy of Holies, a room separated by a heavy curtain, and behind that curtain was the Ark of the Covenant, a special holy box, and inside that Ark or box, were the Ten Commandments.  Now, this was the most sacred place where God lived: in the tabernacle, in the Holy of Holies, in the Ark, and most sacredly, in the Ten Commandments.  Clearly, in the ancient Jewish mind, that is where God lived.

This Bible passage from the Christmas gospel of John implies a question:  “Where is God most present?  Where is God most localized? Where are you to find God living?  In the Ark of the Covenant? In the Ten Commandments. In the moral law for all humankind?” No, In the flesh of Jesus of Nazareth.  If you want to find the localized and focalized presence of God, it is no longer to be found in the moral law of the Ten Commandments but in the flesh of Jesus Christ.  If you are currently looking for God, where do you find God?  Do you look for God in the Ten Commandments?  No.  Do you look for God here in this sanctuary, in this building?  No.  Where is God localized and focalized more than any other place?  In the flesh of Jesus Christ.  In the mind, body, emotions and spirit of Jesus Christ. In Jesus’ birth, baptism, temptation, teachings, parables, miracles, suffering and death. If you want to find God, that is where God lives.  In the flesh of Jesus.

Look at the next phrase, “We have seen his glory, the glory of the …” Let us focus on the word “glory.”  Glory is an interesting word, from which we get the word “Gloria” and we sing the “Gloria.” The Greek word is “doxa” from which we get our word “doxology.”  Doxology is simply the word, “praise,” and the Hebrew word behind the Greek word, “doxology,” is the Hebrew word, “shekina.”  Shekina implies light and shining.  In the Old Testament, there was the Shining Presence of God in the pillar of fire by night, which guided the Jews in the desert.  The image is that of glowing, shining presence of God.

A member of our congregation was riding on the bus to downtown Seattle the other day, in the early morning, and she witnessed a glorious sunrise coming up near Mount Rainer.  It was spectacular and magnificent.  The bus driver, of all people, said into his bus microphone:  “Would all of you turn to the right and look at the sunrise?”  The bus driver then said simply, “Well, if you don’t believe in God; I don’t know.  It’s pretty hard to look at that sunrise and not believe in God.”  He said that and kept on driving.  No big deal.  Well, everyone looked over at the sunrise and many people saw the Shekinah, the glorious shining presence of God. Peoples’ hearts were blown away by the splendor of the morning sunrise.

Or we see God’s glorious shining presence in the splendid sunsets west over Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains and we exclaim our pleasure of those glorious sunsets. We ooh and ah at their beauty. Or we see the stars at night over east of the mountains. We see through the clarity of the air and we “ooh and ah” as we stare at those midnight stars. We see the glorious presence of God, shining in the heavens.

We know shekinah. We know God’s glorious presence. The Gospel of John mentions none of this. John does not “ooh and ah” about the glorious light of a morning sunrise nor the glow of an evening sunset nor the clarity of the midnight stars. Rather, for John, the glorious presence of God is most clearly seen in the flesh of Jesus Christ. In his birth, baptism, temptation, teachings, miracles, parables, death and resurrection. It is in the flesh of Jesus that the light of God most clearly shines.  We look at the light of God shining in Jesus and our hearts go “oh and ah.” The beauty of God is so beautiful in the flesh, in the humanity of Jesus.

Let us look at that next words, “the one and only.” In the Revised Standard Version of the New Testament, we heard the phrase, “only begotten.”  The phrase, “only begotten, is rare in the Bible. It is used only twice in the Bible, and that is here in this passage. The word comes from the Greek word, “monogenesis.”  Mono means one; genesis means “beginning” like in the book of Genesis.  The only Genesis.  Our modern word, “genetics,” comes from this Greek word. In contemporary language and thought, this implies that Jesus has the only genes from the Father.  Jesus is the only begotten son, the only genetic son, the only biological son, the only son from the Father. In old language, the church would say that Christ is of the same nature of the Father; today, we would say that Christ is of the same chromosomes of the father.  Christ is the same as the Father; the rest of us are the adopted children.  We are not biological children; we do not have the same biological nature as the father.  God adopts all the great religious leaders of the world such as Mohammed, Buddha, and Moses.  There is only one only begotten, mono begotten, monogenesis, of the Father and that is the flesh of Jesus of Nazareth.  If you want to know what God the Father is like, look at the identical carbon copy of the Father in the Son.

I found a University of Minnesota’s study of identical twins to be most fascinating.  A physiologist studied identical twins, not fraternal sins, and he was going to prove how powerful the environment was on these identical twins who were separated from each other for thirty and forty years. These sets of identical twins were separated at birth.  What were his conclusions?  Even though separated at birth for thirty to forty years, these identical twins were still very alike in many ways. The way they reacted to smoke; the way they crossed their legs; the similarity of toothpaste; the similarity of using a rare cologne from England in one pair.  The physiologist took a reading of their galvanized skin responses that were measured by electrodes in their bodies, and their reactions to stimuli were identical.  They listened to symphonies and the measurements of the GSR were the same. They heard shocking noises, and their brains responded just the same, even though the identical twins had been separated from birth.  The twins had the same genes; the same chromosomes. After so many years, they were still alike.  …What the Bible is saying is that Jesus is identical to the Father.  Christ is the same substance of the Father, the same nature.  If you want to know what the Father is like, look at the genetic reproduction of the Son.  There is only one.  That Christmas is all about…that God, the logical intelligence behind the universe, was born into the flesh of Jesus of Nazareth.

Next, in John’s Christmas gospel, comes a beautiful phrase, “full of grace and truth.”  The Greek word for “full,” “pleroma,” is a very important word in the Bible.  In the Greek language, especially in classical Greek, the word refers to ships that are full of cargo.  It talks about gardens that full of weed, and we can easily visualize a garden that is full of weeds.  The Bible talks about baskets full of food.  Do you remember the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand, and there were twelve baskets left over and each basket was full of food.  Likewise, a person can be full of love, full of compassion.

This past week, I have been thinking about the word “full” and ways to illustrate it.  I have a glass bowl on the altar and the bowl is filled with oranges.  I guarantee you; you cannot get one more orange into that bowl.   I also have a punch bowl on the altar, and it is filled with orange water.  I guarantee you; you cannot get any more water into that punch bowl.  It is full.  Both bowls are full, totally full, up to the brim. They are filled with oranges and orange water.  The Christmas story today tells us that Jesus, the flesh of God, was totally full of two qualities:  grace and truth.

God in the flesh of Jesus was full of “grace.”  Let’s focus on the word, grace.  The Greek word for “grace” is “karas” and it means gift.  It means full of gracious love, which is given as a gift.  This is the only section in the Gospel of John where he uses the word “grace.”  Normally, John uses the word “agape,” but here he uses “grace.”  And grace always means gift:  you don’t earn it; you don’t work for it; you don’t deserve it.  Gift.  A gift like at Christmas time.  The gifts are all under the Christmas tree.  Our whole Christmas season is permeated with the word, “gift,” and giving. Christmas is permeated with the joy of giving a gift, the right gift, to someone.  And so Jesus is full of giving and we can understand that and we like that. God gives us his love.

Jesus is also full of “truth.”  There are two qualities that Jesus is full of; there are two bowls on the altar to today and both of them are full.  Jesus is also full of truth.  Now, when you and I think of the opposite of truth, we think of a lie.  It is a lie; it is a falsehood; that is the opposite of truth.  But that isn’t what the Greek language thinks of.  In the Greek language, the contrast isn’t between truth and lie but between real and unreal.  In Greek, true means real in contrast to illusion.  It is a contrast between authentic and inauthentic, genuine and false, real and unreal.  Jesus was filled with the reality of God. Jesus was a true, authentic, genuine human being, not a pretender at his humanity.

Now, there are many people who think that God is an illusion, God is make believe, God is a fantasy, God is a creation of the human mind.  The biggest question of all, so it seems to me, is whether God created humans or humans created God.  Many people secretly believe that humans created God. God is an illusion of our minds.  The Christmas Gospel of John says just the opposite.  God is real and Jesus was really God in human form.  The book of Colossians that “In Jesus, all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.”  So Jesus is full of two qualities:  full of grace or giving and full of the truth of God. 

Then comes one of the most beautiful lines in the Bible, a line that I have loved and lived with for decades. “From his fullness, we all have received grace upon grace, one blessing after another.”  We are all aware that God has surely blessed us everyone. Even though there has been much suffering, disappointment and death in our lives, we are keenly aware of God’s abundant generosity to us and on us. I am personally aware that my life has been overwhelmed with all the grace that God has given to me personally, grace upon grace upon grace.  There is a Russian hymn that is entitled, “O Day Full of Grace,” and we are those people who have been immeasurable blessed by God’s giving and giving.

John’s Christmas gospel is so clear; that all of us have received grace upon grace upon grace.  Circle the word, “all.” All of us. Not just Lutherans. Not just Americans.  Not just Christians. Not just those who live now in this ending of twentieth century in America.  No, not at all.  The Christmas Gospel is that God showers his gracious love on all of us, on the whole earth, on the whole universe.

We all love Christmas. We love the Christmas stories that we can easily visualize in our minds: Mary and Joseph and the baby, the straw and the manger, the sheep and the shepherds, the angels and the angelic choir, the three wise men, their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. But in John’s gospel, we hear none of this. There are no paintings of John’s Christmas gospel. None. Not one. Instead we hear, “In the beginning was the Logic and the Logic was with God and the Logic became God. All things in the universe were made by this Logic. And when the time was right, the Logic that made the universe became a human being who was full of grace and truth. And from his fullness, we all have received grace upon grace, one blessing after another.” Merry Christmas.

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