The Significance Of Christ's Birth
December 24, 2006, Christmas Sunday
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
1. Merry Christmas! Christmas is the holiday when we celebrate the fact that Jesus Christ was born into this world. The birth of Jesus Christ is expressed with various phrases in the scriptures. One of them is the words from the scriptures that we read today. In chapter one and verse fourteen of The Gospel According To John, it is expressed as "The word became flesh and dwelled among us."
What It Means To Be Flesh
2. "The word" is the Christ. Right after this he is expressed as "the only son of the father." ["The word"] stands for Christ, the only son of God the Father. Christ, the son of God, has become a human being. That is what "The word became flesh" is saying.
3. But, if that's what it means then wouldn't it be easier to understand if we just said, "The son of God became a human being?" But, it's not that way and so why has it been expressed by design as "[The word] became flesh?" When the scripture uses the word "flesh," it is not just merely [to express] the fact that he "is a human being" biologically, but it is expressing a very realistic and vivid reality of humanity -- truly the phenomenon of sinful humanity.
4. It is that reality that we so reluctantly see and hear every day in the newspapers and on television news. In the rage of anger one's own flesh-and-blood child kills his or her parent, and a parent kills a child in order to preserve his or her own happiness. One nation destroys another nation in the name of righteousness, and those who have had their families killed shed tears of sadness, grief, and anger. Grudges over it take shape in the form of terrorist retribution, the result of that will bring forth new [cases] of losing parents and families losing children. That is a way to define being "flesh."
5. No, indeed, this is not a remote set of words for us. What we daily see, hear, feel, and experience is on the same ground level for all of us. We are living [in a world where we are] always hating and being hated, resenting or being resented, being jealous or being the cause of someone's jealousy, are betraying or being betrayed, are hurting [somebody] or even hurting ourselves. We are living amid all that and we're always giving in somewhere that "Humans are in the final analysis just built that way" and always somehow we reach a compromise in our hearts [to that effect]. This is "the flesh."
6. We could possibly express this figure of humanity as having lost its original spark of life. In the scriptures it is written that "God created humans in his own image," (Genesis 1:27). That was the original figure of humanity, a being which reflected the glory of God. The life [in humans] was sparkling amid fellowship with God. That seems to have been the original way people were. But, then human beings lost that sparkle of life. That is what is meant by "the flesh."
7. The Bible is a book that expresses humanity as "flesh" just the way it is, not falsifying it, not beautifying it. If anybody has read even a little of the Old Testament he or she would know that. Its stories are told in almost a raw sort of way, so that you might feel like asking why did they write something like that, or you may feel like covering over your eyes or stopping your ears. That is the Bible.
8. In such a Bible there is a book called The Psalms; the psalmist in those psalms speaks as follows. "From the bottom of the deep abyss, oh Lord, you call. Oh Lord, please hear this voice [of mine]. Please incline your ears to my voice which groans and prays," (Psalm one hundred and thirty). The term "deep abyss" can be found a number of times; this is the word "deep place, the depths." It is a truly deep place. It is not just a misfortunate person for some particular reason who is calling [his or her plight] "the deep abyss." We could probably say that it is a word which expresses the reality of human society in a matter of fact way.
9. Of course there are plenty of things that make us forget that we are at the bottom of a deep abyss. Not everybody is crying out like this psalmist in [this] psalm. But, as long as someone is alive, the time will come when he or she will inevitably have to come face to face with a reality of that nature somewhere [along the road of life] before [it's] over. It may be at the end of one's life, or it may be along [the journey of life]. Regardless of [when], when we have found ourselves at the bottom of the deep abyss, we'll want to creep on up out of the hole. We also know that we mustn't set into the muddy waters at the bottom of the hole. We also know that we should climb the walls. But, we do end up falling into the mud even after we've been careful where we put our hands and our feet and we slip. We end up falling into the mud even though we might even be able to get up out of the muddy waters for a time. We cannot ever ever climb up out of the hole. [We're] in a place so very deep. That is the real world we're in, which is "the flesh."
The Word Became Flesh
10. But, the Bible does not only tell the stark reality of the way our world really is, of this "flesh" of ours, but it also tells something else. [It tells us] that, "The word became flesh and dwelled among us." Christ descended down into that deep hole [with us]. That's what "The word became flesh and dwelled among us" means. He does not command from on high, from outside the hole, "You must not be in such a place. Come out." He does not encourage us from on high saying, "Come on now. You can do it." That's not how it is; rather, he himself came down to the bottom of the hole. He is amid the mud* as we are amid the mud at the bottom of the hole. In order to save us, he was ready to go so far as to sink into the mud. That's what "The word became flesh and dwelt among us" means.
11. Then succeeding that statement, John speaks as follows. "We have seen that glory. It is the glory as of the father's only son, and it is full of grace and truth." As Christ's disciple John had eaten with and slept by [Jesus] for about three and one half years. The same John would recall him and state, "Have we not seen [his] glory?" To say that we have seen the glory as of the father's only son is to say, in other words, that "we have seen God."
12. John saw God in him. It was not in the figure that had gotten hold of glory and splendor. He saw God in the figure which had become muddied at the bottom of the same hole with the people. He saw God in the one who had stood by the side of those troubled by sin, as one of the people in this world. He saw God in the one who had stood by the side of those who are suffering with illness and have lost hope. He saw God in that one who unhurriedly stands by those who have lost a loved one and grieves with them, and who has shed tears as one of the people, that's how [he saw him].
13. Also, John saw God inside this [man] who had ultimately been crucified as a sinner. He was condemned as a sinner, he was whipped, he was scorned of men and women, he was spat upon, he was struck, he was worn out to tatters, and then he was crucified, but on this [man], on this figure of such a miserable miserable Christ, a figure so far removed from glory -- on that figure he had seen God. He had seen God in the one who had achieved a miserable death as if sinking himself into our own human and sinful mud.
14. Also, John has this to say about the glory that had appeared on that cross. He said, it was "full of grace and truth." In saying it was "full of grace and truth" it may be a statement that is a bit difficult to grasp but what John was calling to mind here is probably a statement from the Psalms from the Old Testament. For example, in the Psalms we find the following statement.
"Oh Lord, you are a compassionate God
You are rich in mercy and have strong patience
You are filled with lovingkindness and loyalty,"
16. "You are filled with lovingkindness and loyalty." -- In the Psalms we often find the words "lovingkindness and loyalty" in a form like this. "Grace and truth" means "lovingkindness and loyalty."
17. Lovingkindness is the love of God, which will absolutely never let you go. When we look at the Israelites in the Old Testament, even though it exposes their helpless sinfulness, in which they turned their backs and rebelled against God, God would absolutely not let go of the Israelites, he refused to cut them, that is "the lovingkindness of God." Even though the people were not worthy to be partners any longer, God continued to call out to them with a love that would not give up. That is the grace of God, it is his lovingkindness. Therefore, it appears in the text with the words of "You are rich in mercy and have strong patience." And "loyalty" also appears in the text with that. "Lovingkindness and loyalty." By saying "loyalty" it means God is "true, sincere, devoted." It is the loyalty of God, that God would never abandon us. John saw inside of Christ, inside the Christ who had become flesh, God's lovingkindness and loyalty.
18. Please give it some more thought. Whenever we, seemingly at the very bottom of a deep and dark hole, can still know God, have a part in God's life, have a part in salvation, it is only [God] showing forth his lovingkindness and loyalty, mercy and truth and it comes from his side of things alone, [we are not the initiators of any of it]. God still loves us though we are not qualified to receive it, and unless he demonstrates his grace, we could not be saved. Also, unless God was involved with us with a loyalty and a truth in which he would never forsake us, we could not be saved. Furthermore, Jesus Christ truly manifests God's love and truth. He has come to our place and manifested it. That indeed is the very "Significance Of Christ's Birth" which is the sermon title for today.
19. Jesus came into this very world so much like the bottom of a deep hole. So, we're quite all right. Though we might be as though crying out at the bottom of the deep hole, we're all right -- Because Christ took on flesh and dwelt among us and has shown us that God loves us the way we are. -- Because he revealed with his body that God will never forsake us, that God cares for us totally, and that he will surely save us.
20. So, what is it that is important for us to do? We are to believe. We are only to believe. We are only to believe in the lovingkindness and loyalty which has been revealed in Christ. We are to believe. In the very act of believing, there is a joy that we can have in spite of the fact that we are nothing but flesh. There is a joy that is alive. The joy comes from beyond ourselves. And as flesh in this world of reality of ours, joy will overflow. That's why we celebrate Christmas. We celebrate with great joy the fact that Christ became flesh. Because we have Christmas, we can still live with hope in this dark world.
Translator End Note:
* It seems better to me to translate this as being amid the mud rather than his becoming muddied, which may imply sinfulness. Christ did take on flesh but yet without sin. The point here is that Christ did enter this dirty stinking world to be with us.