A sermon delivered by David Hughes, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Winston-Salem, Nc., on January 2, 2011.
John 1:1, 10-18
Life is a messy business.
If you don’t believe it, hang out with a family with young children as they open presents on Christmas Day. Rarely is the process orderly. Usually, children are flying around the room while wrapping paper is flying through the air, and the floor is rapidly filling up with bundles of paper and ribbon and toys. In the chaos that ensues some adult’s coffee spills on the floor, and banana bread crumbs are scattered as far as the eye can see!
Try as we might to keep our living rooms and lives clean and tidy, they get messy with all manner of problems. Problems with our spouses and children. Problems with our bosses and colleagues at work. Problems with our friends and fellow church members. Problems with our jobs and finances. Problems with our physical and mental health.
And of course, all that personal messiness is eventually played out in our public affairs—economies that are tanking; school systems that are failing; governments that are bickering; terrorists that are attacking; and armies that are fighting while the polluted earth keeps warming and the forgotten poor keep starving.
The world is just one big mess. And the wonder of it all is that Jesus, the Son of God, left the lovely, peaceful, undefiled confines of heaven and got down in the mess with us.
That’s essentially the message of the “prologue” of the gospel of John. Reflecting on those first spell binding 18 verses of John’s gospel, St. Augustine said it is beyond the power of a human being to speak as John does in his prologue. Later John Calvin would observe that what John wrote in his prologue is more than our minds can take in.
Because John’s inspiring prologue reflects the very mind and heart of God, its material is well beyond our grasp. We could never do it justice. But here’s a quick summary of the mind-bending truths contained in the first 9 versus of John 1:
1) Jesus and God are made of the same divine stuff, yet they are still distinct from each other;
2) Jesus is co-eternal with God. God has always been, and will always be. And the same is true of Jesus;
3) Jesus is co-creator with God. In ways we cannot understand or explain, Jesus was involved with every facet of creation.
4) Jesus is the source of true life. He really is the way, the truth, and the life;
5) In a world of darkness, Jesus is the true Light.
We’ve barely begun John’s gospel and already our minds are blown. But John saves his most transcendent truth for verse 14 where he says in effect—through Jesus Christ, the Creator of all that is and ever will be became flesh and dwelt among us.
It’s interesting that John did not say that the Word, or the substance of God became human, or even a body, but flesh. Flesh was a crude word that would have made many people in John’s reading audience flinch. Much of Greek philosophy considered flesh not only irrelevant to the life of the Spirit—it was downright hostile to the Spirit! God would have nothing to do flesh, nor flesh with God.
But in Jesus’ birth flesh and Spirit meshed in a way no one thought possible. Yes, Jesus was conceived supernaturally through the power of the Holy Spirit. But he was carried to term by a flesh and blood mother in a flesh and blood womb.
Max Lucado captures the wonder of what theologians call the “incarnation” when he writes, “The omnipotent, in one instant, made himself breakable. He who had been spirit—became pierceable. He who was larger than the universe had become an embryo. And he who sustains the world with a word chose to be dependent upon the nourishment of a young girl.
“God as a fetus. Holiness sleeping in a womb. The Creator of life being created.” Several years ago I read a personal story written by a guy from Decatur, Georgia named David Slagle that describes the messy doctrine of incarnation as well as any I’ve ever come across. Slagle entitles his story, “Our Dumpster-Diving God.”
“Being from the South,” says David Slagle, “I love ribs. I remember hearing about this particular restaurant that had amazing ribs, and a bunch of my friends and I drove fifty minutes to get there. The place was packed, and the food was great. It was an ‘all you can eat rib night,’ and the rib bones were piling up as fast as the line to get in.
“Eating ribs is a messy business. Barbeque sauce gets on your face, fingers, and clothes; dirty napkins pile up next to half-eaten bowls of baked beans and cole slaw. When our crew had eaten all we could eat, we paid our tab and waddled out to the car.
“That’s when I reached into my pocket for my keys and came up with nothing but lint. Starting to feel panicked, I looked through the (car) window at the ignition. I was hoping I had locked my keys in my car, because in the back of my mind a more disgusting possibility was taking shape.
“When I saw that the ignition was empty, I knew exactly where my keys were—the keys to my car, my house, and my office. Only seconds earlier, those precious keys had slid right off my tray and followed a half-eaten corn cob and several bones to the bottom of a trash can. I had thrown away my keys on all-you-can-eat rib night.
“It was a long walk home, and my friends certainly weren’t going to do my dirty work for me. So I dove in. I fished through bones, beans, barbeque, corn, cake, cole slaw, and a host of saliva-soaked napkins. A shiny layer of trashcan slime had coated my arms before I finally grasped hold of those precious keys.
“As I meditate on the incarnation this Christmas season, I think about our dumpster-diving God. I mean no disrespect by calling him that. On the contrary, I have a soaring adoration for the infinite God who left a pristine, sinless heaven to search through the filth and rubbish of this fallen world for something precious to him—me.”
Friends, the good news of the gospel this Christmastide is that our Savior is not afraid of our mess. He dives right into our messes with us because even in all our slimy messiness we are precious in his sight.
Why else would he die for us on a cross? Why else would he allow himself to be beaten into a bloody mess?
This morning I can think of no better way to begin 2011 than to remember through Communion the God who became flesh, the God who loved us enough to dive into the messiness of humanity. Thanks be to our dumpster-diving God!