Sunday, January 5, 2014

the Word was made flesh

May my words be in the Name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: + Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

In our Gospel reading today we hear those powerful words: and the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. Carl Barth, the pre-eminent protestant theologian of the 20th century calls it the defining statement of the Christian faith and it is not hard to see why. That God became man and lived among us is pretty much at the heart of what Christianity is all about.

Now, it may interest some of you to know that there are those who say that the idea that Jesus was God was a fairly late idea of the Christian faith and that it wasn't until John's Gospel was written, somewhere between 40 and 60 years after the death and resurrection of Christ that such claims begin to be made; and that the other Gospels make no claims in regard to the divinity of Jesus at all. Now, it is true that it is in St John's Gospel that Jesus' claims to divinity are most explicit; however it is far from true that claims to divinity are absent from the previous Gospels.

Consider for example the account of the healing of the paralytic. When the man is lowered through the roof, Jesus first response is to tell the man that his sins are forgiven. The bystanders are shocked, because only God has the authority to forgive sins. They believe Jesus is guilty of blasphemy, that he a mere man is claiming the power to be able to do something that only God can do. But Jesus, far from denying that this is what he is doing, confirms it. I have the authority to forgive sins, he says. And to to prove that he has it, he then heals the man.

In other places in those earlier Gospels Jesus does something equally shocking, which also make it clear that Jesus sees himself as having divine status. Again and again we see people falling at Jesus feet, worshipping him, after they have been cured. When this happens to his followers in the Acts of the Apostles they are quite distressed; they tell those doing it to stop, that they are only men like themselves, not God. But this isn't what Jesus does; he accepts their worship. And in fact, in the passage about the healing of the 10 lepers, not only does he not stop the one who returns from falling at his feet, he wonders aloud as to where the other nine are!

Now these might be said to be implicit rather than explicit indications of Jesus' divinity in these Gospels. However, there are places in Matthew and Luke where the claims of Jesus' divinity are abundantly clear – and these are passages that should be ringing in the ears of us all during this Christmas season. I am talking, of course, about the infancy narratives, the accounts of Jesus birth that we have read so often over the last few weeks.

St Matthew in his account says not once but twice that Mary was with child by the Holy Spirit and of how St Joseph was told of this by an angel in a dream. St Luke tells us the story from the perspective of the Blessed Virgin Mary, relating in detail the visit she had from the Archangel Gabriel; and how a few days later, when she visits her cousin, St Elizabeth prophetically recognises that the child within Mary's womb is 'her Lord.'

Now this early in the history of the Church, the understanding of the Holy Trinity was not as developed as it would later be, but one thing they would have understood quite clearly; and that was that the Holy Spirit was God. This they would have known from their Jewish background, because the Old Testament is full of examples of how God works and moves through the action of his Spirit. And Mary has conceived through the action of the Holy Spirit, not, as both evangelists are at pains to point out, in the ordinary human way. Christ has no father but our Father in heaven. He is the Son of God. And this is what St Mark declares plainly, opening, and unambiguously in the opening verse of his Gospel, where he writes: 'The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ the Son of God.' A fact that is confirmed at the baptism of our Lord and his Transfiguration, when the heavens open and God the Father proclaims he is his beloved Son.

And we have, as well, even earlier documents than the Gospels that were produced by the early Christian community. They would be well known to all here today, for they are also part of the New Testament. I am speaking of the letters of St Paul. There are too many places to go into here where St Paul makes it clear that he considers that Jesus has the status of the divine, so I'll limit myself to just one citation, that from Philippines, chapter 2, where he states that Jesus was in the very nature of God, yet he emptied himself, and taking the form of a servant, was born in human form.

And the words of St Paul make it clear that Christians from the beginning believed that Jesus was God come down to earth for the sake of man, that the Word was truly made flesh and lived among us. Why would they not have? They knew the truth of what they had seen, and what the apostles and disciples bore witness to. This is the truth that Paul, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John wrote down; and what the Church Christ founded has passed down to us to this day. Why? Because they knew, as Karl Barth did, how central this fact is to our faith; that not only did God make us in his own image and likeness, but he made himself in our likeness so that our sins might be forgiven, that our relationship with him might be restored, and we might have eternal life with him. The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us so that we might in the end dwell with him in heaven. This goes beyond truth – it is our joy and our hope – a joy and hope that I pray will fill you and all men this day and always. Amen

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