John 1:1-5, 14 & 18
The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
December 25, 2016
The Word was God. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen His glory.
When Clark Cothern was five years old, he thought that college presidents were remote, powerful and frightening beings. That is, until one president stooped low to enter his world.
Clark caught his first glimpses of college presidents from floor level, where he would play beside his mother’s desk in the administration building of the university where she served as a dean.
He would watch as students would walk slowly up to the door of the president’s office and hesitate a moment there. They would rub their sweaty palms on their pants or skirts, take a deep breath, and knock. The door would then creak open and Clark would behold the president’s shiny, black wingtip shoes. A steady, strong hand would then reach out and shake the student’s trembling hand. Then, the student would disappear inside the mysterious chamber known as “The President’s Office”.
Little Clark figured that walking into that room must be like going before the throne of judgment. It was a terrifying thought – until the day when the high and mighty president bent down to get eyeball to eyeball with him and engage with him at his own low level.
This one day Clark was playing with his toy car on the floor when the president’s door opened. There were those shiny, black wingtip shoes again. The next thing he knew, President Robert Sutherland, the biggest man on campus, dressed in his pinstriped, three-piece suit, knelt down in his crisply creased trousers, and asked with a smile whether he could have a turn with the car. After they played cars together, Pres. Sutherland asked if Clark would do him the favor of calling him “Dr. Bob”. That day Clark changed his opinion about college presidents.
Many of us have viewed God as a remote, powerful, frightening being. Yet, when we experience Him stooping down to us, engaging with us at our level, and enabling us to we get to know Him as one human being might get to know another, we change our opinion about God.
In the birth of Jesus Christ, God was doing all that. God came down at Christmas in order to bring Himself within view, that we might see Him eyeball to eyeball, relax a bit, and enter into a friendship with Him.
Jesus Christ started out as a baby and grew into a child whose nose had to be wiped and whose habits of life had to be engrained by repetition. He lived out His adulthood as a poor man beset by every kind of trouble and pain. He did that to show His heart and His active concern for our welfare.
A politician, of all people, has recently done the same. According to a BBC news
report four years ago, Jose Mujica, the president of Uruguay, moved out of the luxurious presidential palace in the capital city of Montevideo and took up a residence in a ramshackle farm located on a dirt road, with laundry strung outside, weeds in the yard, and only two police officers and a three-legged dog named Manuela guarding the place.
Mujica shunned the privileges and pleasures he could have continued to enjoy in order to show how much he cared about even the poorest of his citizens. He made their problems his own, that they might trust him and support his efforts to improve their lives.
That gives us a sense of what Jesus was about in taking flesh and dwelling among us.
But the analogy also hides a very significant difference. For Mujica it was in the most significant way only a lateral move; for, while his situation was greatly changed, he only changed from being a human being living in wealth to being a human being living in poverty. In the incarnation, however, God’s Son changed from being 100% divine to being 100% human, though without sacrificing any percentage of His divinity. That descent from divinity to humanity was a very great descent, not because we are such low creature – for we were made in God’s image and after God’s likeness, and we are, the Bible tells us, just a little lower than the angels – but because God is so supremely great, and infinite and eternal in all His virtues and powers. That’s why the descent of the Son of God from divinity to humanity was an even greater descent than if we human beings could descend from being a human being to, say, being a badger – something a veterinarian named Charles Foster has approximated!
While also practicing law and teaching at Oxford University, this veterinarian pursues an avid interest in getting on the level of badgers – those tunnel-making, nocturnal mammals about the size of a dog that survive mainly on worms. In his attempt to identify with them, he has lived like a badger for weeks at a time. In his book Being a Beast he describes how he digs himself a 15-foot long den in the ground for sleeping in, crawls around on his hands and feet, blindfolds himself (since badgers’ eyesight is terrible), and eats mostly earthworms (since worms constitute 85% of a typical badger’s diet).
As strange and repugnant as that may be to think about, it is still stranger and more repugnant to think about the Word of God, who created all things, whose life was the light of all people, who exists in perfect beauty and everlasting glory, becoming a human being in our benighted, sin-sick world – and living beneath Himself like that, not just for a month or two like Charles Foster, but for three decades. Yet, it is at the same time a beautiful and glorious thing because He did it out of love for us, for the purpose of elevating us into a beautiful life now and a glorious life for eternity.
The Word became flesh and lived among us that we might know God, if not fully, still truly; and that we, in gaining some sense of who He really is, might trust Him and follow Him into a happier, stronger life here and now, and into a life of infinite happiness and everlasting strength in the hereafter. Let us pray.