“Behold!” – Sermon for January 3, 2016

Categories: Sermons

"And the Word Became Flesh", Adam Yates, 2015

“And the Word Became Flesh”, Adam Yates, 2015


A Sermon on John 1:1-18 for the 2nd Sunday after Christmas Day; preached January 3, 2016, by the Rev. Matthew Emery, Senior Minister


“The Word became flesh and lived among us.”

I have spent a little more than half of the past three weeks living among my family—that is to say, family other than my partner Adam—13 out of the past 21 days to be precise.  Many of you know I was away for a week visiting my own family out in Michigan, my parents and my two older sisters.  And then, arriving late on the day after Christmas, we’ve spent most of this past week hosting Adam’s parents and younger sister (and their two cats, and their elderly Pekingese dog), all of whom headed back home to the metro-Washington-DC area on the afternoon of New Year’s Day.

And ‘tis the season, isn’t it?  Whether as the travelers or as the hosts, many of us end up connecting with family in one way or another over the holiday season, this stretch between Thanksgiving and New Year’s.  I must insist, however, that connecting with family for Christmas dinner is not the same as actually going for a week to live with them, or having them come for a week to live with you.

When you live among, you start to see for yourself things that might remain hidden in the course of a shorter encounter, things about the other and things about yourself.  Gosh, what’s with that nagging cough he seems unable to shake?  Oh, that’s really sweet to watch how she cares for her day-in and day-out.  Wow, I’m really impressed with how open they’ve becomeUggh, does he really have to do that every time?  Man, why do I react this way?

When you live among, the ways of life and patterns of behavior start shifting too.  Regardless of whether I go to visit my family in Michigan or they come to visit me here, what I end up doing on a day-by-day and hour-by-hour basis will change.  I imagine the same is true for them, even if the shift is not as significant.

Living among, it changes how we experience the other, and it changes us ourselves.

“And the Word became flesh and lived among us.”

Each year when Christmas rolls around—and the season-of-Christmas following it, too—we hear these majestic and profound words from the opening of the gospel according to John.  It is a passage that, as one commentator puts it, “lifts [us] above history and into mystery.”[1]  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

But for all the mystery and majesty wrapped up in these poetic and powerful verses, they ultimately point to something very intimate… to the passion and love of God who desires both the risk and the reward of living among us, among humankind in all our creatureliness.

The truth we celebrate each and every Christmas is that God risks getting to know us and our pain, and that God even risks being changed by the encounter with us—changed by us, and changed by God’s own work among us.  “God[—]in becoming flesh in Jesus[—]has committed God’s self,” writes one commentator, “not only to revealing what God’s grace looks like, but that God wants to know and feel it as well.  While the source of our experiences of grace is most certainly God, we do not take the incarnation seriously if we think God is unaffected by such action.”[2]

Those of us who have been around Christianity and the church for a while, this whole business about Christmas and incarnation may seem like old hat.  But let us not forget how utterly countercultural it was 2,000 years ago, and how utterly countercultural it still remains today.  The birth of Jesus Christ, the living-among-us of God as one of us, it pierces through the dividing wall that most of us still try to put up between heaven and earth, between human and divine, between the supposedly “spiritual” and the material, between history and eternity.

It even puts an end to our need to go searching for something we presume to be distant and difficult.  “We do not need to search for God,” says one writer, “but only to recognize the one in whom God came to live among us and whose spirit remains in us.”[3]  Or as the blessed and gifted preacher Barbara Brown Taylor once wrote, “God puts skin on those divine attributes [of grace and truth] so that followers who want to know how they sound and act have someone to show them.”[4]

And that, my friends, is what happens each and every time we gather here at this table, too.  Here at the feast table of Christ, God puts some skin on all the divine promises of grace and love and new life, so that we who want to know what all of that sounds like and looks like and acts like and tastes like, we see it as bread is blessed and broken and given for us and for all.  Here in the mystery and majesty of the Lord’s Supper, God pierces through the veil between heaven and earth, spiritual and material, history and eternity.  Here in the meal shared among us, God risks coming and dwelling among us in the flesh, full of grace and truth, once again.

And the Word became flesh and lived among us.  Sisters and brothers, let us see its glory!



[1] Lamar Williamson Jr., Preaching the Gospel of John:  Proclaiming the Living Word (Louisville, KY:  Westminster John Knox Press, 2004), 1.

[2] Karoline M. Lewis, John, Fortress Biblical Preaching Commentaries (Minneapolis, MN:  Fortress Press, 2014), 19.

[3] Williamson, ibid., 9.

[4] Barbara Brown Taylor, homiletical commentary on John 1:(1-9) 10-18, in Feasting on the Word:  Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, Year C, vol. 1 (Louisville, KY:  Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 191.


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