The Nativity of our Lord
December 25, 2020
“The Word Dwelt Among Us”
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
Remember this date. September 13, 2006. That’s when it all happened. That’s when things went south. That’s when the bottom fell out and that’s when everything came completely undone. You haven’t forgotten that date already, have you? I’ll be asking you to repeat it back to me later in this sermon. September 13, 2006.
On March 13, 1930, things had begun with such excitement. There was fanfare. There were fireworks. And there was a great flourish of excitement! It was global – really. But that was on March 13, 1930, when it was discovered.
But on September 13, 2006, it all came crashing down. On that day the International Astronomical Union, meeting in Prague in the Czech Republic, voted to downgrade the planet Pluto. To what? To a dwarf planet! Pluto was no Pluto. The International Astronomical Union now officially calls Pluto “asteroid #134340.” Pluto got bumped. Pluto got cut from the team. Voted off the island. Hosed. Rejected. Demoted. Devalued. Demeaned. Dismissed. One day Pluto’s in. The next day Pluto’s out. This was such a stunning turn of events that in 2006 the word of the year was – Plutoed! Pluto, the proper noun, became Pluto the verb – plutoed. Plutoed? We all know what that feels like. We were the wrong size, the wrong height, the wrong shape, the wrong color, the wrong age. We had the wrong friends and went to the wrong school. We had the wrong parents. People get plutoed by bosses, businesses, boyfriends, girlfriends, and all kinds of busybodies.
That is why the truth of Christmas is so important. I have chosen the verse from John 1:14 as my text. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Why did He come? For plutoed people. When you read John’s gospel you will find the long list of folks who had been dismissed, devalued and demeaned – the very people that Jesus came for. Let’s see – the Samaritan woman who had been divorced 5 times. The paralytic, who had been crippled for 38 years. Mary and Martha whose brother had died. The man born blind. Discouraged disciples. Sheep without a shepherd. Everyone of them had been rejected. But then John tells us of the incarnation – God is with us in the incarnation, God is with us in Jesus Christ. And He did it for all of us plutoed people.
Christianity is so unique because Christ is so unique. This verse begins, “The Word became flesh”. To the Greeks and Romans that made no sense at all. The flesh is the part of your self that gets you into trouble. It can be weak and vulnerable. It is can make the wrong choices. Flesh would eventually grow weak and fail and die. “The Word became flesh?” Can’t be.
The spirit is better. Right? It can be noble and strong. It is the best part of a person. Your spirit is where your genius resides. It is where your most noble thoughts live. Great thinkers, the best philosophers had the great spirit within them.
They thought there was no place for the immortal God on earth. He was better than that. He would never sink so low as to become part of his creation. That is what they thought. But that is not what God thought. In Corinthians Paul is boasting about the manner of salvation through the cross of Christ which God had arranged for both Jewish people and Gentile folks. But His way was not their way. “Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified; a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.” (I Corinthians 1:22-25)
When Jesus was beaten badly and looked in anguish before Pilate, Pilate pointed to him and said, “Behold the man.” (John 19:5) Look at what happened to Jesus! He leaves His eternal throne in heaven to come to a stable in Bethlehem. Instead of the cries of “Holy, Holy, Holy” in God’s temple by the angels of God, we run into some bewildered shepherds. Instead of looking like a king with a halo as you see in some paintings from hundreds of years ago, you see an infant, who quite opposite of what we sing in “Away in a Manger” (“The cattle are lowing, the baby awakes, but little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes”) was a real baby who really cried!!
A couple of weeks ago when we were recording one of our services, Mike Zehnder, was coming from the balcony, and he was visibly shaken. There were tears in his eyes. He had just sung, “Oh, Come All Ye Faithful” and he said that he had a hard time singing the last stanza, “Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing”, which says that God became man. When he thought of that great humiliation of Jesus becoming fully human, all for us and for our salvation, it was just too much to take in. “The Word became flesh!!” That’s what Christmas tells us. The fully divine became fully human. In the Nicene Creed we speak this, “Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary and was made man…”
Our reading about the birth of Jesus, John 1:14 goes on, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” In the Old Testament the idea of God making his dwelling among His people, the nation was Israel was constant. When the Israelites left Egypt and headed to the new land that God was going to give them, He dwelt among them as a cloud during the day and a pillar of light at night. Then came the Tabernacle – a tent that moved when the people of God moved. Inside of that tent was the Ark of the Covenant. Then Solomon built a Temple – a place where the glory of God would dwell. But none of those places would be the place where God’s great glory was to dwell.
Now the dwelling of God would not be in a cloud or a pillar of light, it wouldn’t be in a tent or a building – it would be in a person. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” Years ago Bette Midler sang a song titled, “From a Distance”. Some of the words go like this, “God is watching us. God is watching us. God is watching us from a distance.” That is what some people think. That doesn’t give me much hope and comfort. Life gets plutoed – it falls apart into a million pieces and all we can say about this is that God is distant? He is only watching us from a distance? He doesn’t get involved, doesn’t want to get too close or His hands might get dirty? He’s aloof and uncaring? Any prayers we have simply go to deaf ears? I have that CD from Bette Midler – but she is wrong, God is not watching us from a distance. He made His dwelling among us. When the angel goes to Joseph to tell him about the birth of Jesus, he says, “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord has said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will be with child and give birth to a son, and they will call him ‘Immanuel’ – which means, ‘God with us.’” (Matthew 1:22-23)
What was that date that I told you to remember? Who can say it? (September 13, 2006) In 2006 the word of the year was “plutoed”. It describes a life that falls apart. Do you know what the dictionaries have chosen as the 2020 Word of the Year? The Merriam-Webster Dictionary declared the winner to be pandemic. By March they saw a 4,000% increase in the search for that word than from a year before. The New York Times said the word for 2020 was quarantine. The Oxford English Dictionary said that they had a number of words that they felt deserved that honor. Words like “unprecedented”, “lockdown” and “social distancing” all had great use this year.
I have a word that we can consider as our 2020 word of the year. It actually is a phrase and it is the hope for our life everyday into eternity. Here it is – “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” That is another way for Christians to say “Merry Christmas” to each other. Amen!!
(This sermon is adapted from the series, “The Word Became Flesh” from Concordia Seminary Press, 2017)