The Word Became Flesh And Dwelled [Among Us]
December 30, 2007
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
A Real Stumbling Block
1. We do it every year, and this year as well the scripture passage on Christmas was given in recitation again. It is the story where the angel announces the holy conception to Mary. It is the story when Mary first started to give birth to her son in Bethlehem, but there was no place for them to stay at the inn and she had to put the child to bed in a feeding trough. It is the story where an angel appeared to shepherds, who were camping out and keeping watch over a flock of sheep, and the angel announced to them the birth of the savior. It is the story where an army of angels appeared and gave praise to God, and then some erudite men from the east had come to visit [the savior] having been guided by a star. Even for the people who have come to church for the first time this year, they will undoubtedly not feel uncomfortable with the parts performed in the pageant and with these passages of scripture as they are read aloud in the service.
2. But then, the second time around with a serious look, if you were asked, "Do you believe this story? Do you accept this story?," what would your answer be? As a story in a pageant, I'm fine with it, however, when it comes to being able to accept it or not as something in the real world, I think that it is quite difficult to [accept it]. I say that because angels don't typically appear and do things in our normal daily lives. Nor do we ever hear word of women conceiving babies by means of the Holy Spirit. I think for any modern person the entire narrative sequence on the birth of Christ is extremely difficult to accept.
3. So, since this is hard to accept by modern people, then was it a story easy for the people two thousand years ago to accept? No, it truly wasn't then either. This story was one with which the people back then, especially those within [any] Greek cultural circles, had felt very uncomfortable, even more uncomfortable than we feel with it. After [the text] proclaims that Jesus is the messiah and the son of God, then what is written in the text here goes against that. It is not the point about angels appearing or marvelous things being recorded or anything like that. Instead, it's the opposite. It lies in the point that no marvelous things are recorded. Namely, it's that this person named Jesus was born in a normal manner of delivery. Of course it was [under] a special circumstance of being in a cattle pen. But, generally speaking, he was born in a normal way as an ordinary person.
4. The text says repeatedly that the newborn would be "wrapped in cloth." Some explain this being "wrapped in cloth" as what we [now] call "a diaper." [To be as plain as can be], they made a diaper because the baby would have to go poo-poo and pee-pee. Obviously, it was none other than [a real] baby sleeping there, he would be a handful for his parents and he would soil diapers. The church, pointing to this baby who would have to have his dirty diapers changed, proclaimed "This very one is the son of God, he is indeed God the Son, the true God." For the average common sense person this was a huge stumbling block. They would want him to look like God if he were really one. They would want him to be from a different world than that of diapers. Perhaps we today are the same on that. We don't like to have to think too much of a diaper soiling and wetting Jesus, do we?
5. That is precisely where the truly difficult to accept part of the biblical narrative is. The Gospel According To John simply puts it like this, "The word became flesh and dwelled among us," (1:14). The Word stands for God the Son. [John's Gospel] says God the Son "became flesh." To say "[God the Son] became flesh" means he became a human being. It means he even became a diaper dirtying baby.
6. As compared to the stumbling block that this statement brings, the appearing of the angels and all is not that big a deal. In speaking about God the including of "marvelous things or miracles" is to be expected. Still more so, when considering that a decisive intervention from God has taken place, in that the savior has come into the world, what would you think if one or two miraculous things did not happen? Armies of angels or things to that degree must not NOT make an appearance. That's what you'd expect. Instead, the problem lies in that at the most important time something miraculous does not take place. The manner of his birth was way too ordinary. He was born of Mary as a quite ordinary baby. "The word became flesh."
We Are flesh
7. Well, just before I said, he became "a diaper dirtying baby." But, a baby dirtying a diaper is not that big a deal. Instead rather, it has a cutesy feel to it. The reality which the scripture expresses with "flesh" is undoubtedly very very harsh. For example, as humans with bodies we are always getting tired, hungry, and so on. We even get sick. When we're sick, we get to experience all kinds of agonies. Both the person himself or herself and the family members are given some really tough lessons to learn about how dreadful it can be to be a human being with a body. Then our age piles up year by year. Getting old is harsh. We become unable to do what we used to do. Then as the years pile on this way, we meet with death at the last. Our having bodies and living in them is truly harsh in this way.
8. Indeed there is more, as the harshness that "the flesh" is is not just in that. The body and the mind are connected. The body and the emotions are connected. Amid the daily lives connected to our bodies, often times we experience emotions that are hard to check and urges that are hard to check. That, too, is the reality of being "flesh." There may be anger. There may be jealousy and hatred. There may be any of the many kinds of lust. We are often at a loss of what to do with these urges from the flesh. These bodies of ours can be unmanageable. We get sad at ourselves, [so] helpless to feel [this way]. A man named Paul expressed this in the following way. "I know that inside me, that is in my flesh, good does not live because there is a will [in me] that tries to do good, but I cannot put it into practice. What a miserable human being I am! Who will save me from this body fixed in death?," (Romans 7:18,24). That's it, that's what is meant by we are "flesh."
9. Therefore, in the viewpoint for things Greek back then, the way of thinking they had, in what they thought defiled the body, does make some sense because we often think that way too, that the body is a dirty thing, that being a human being with a body is in and of itself a truly detestable reality. About the time this gospel account had been written, the idea that everything in the visible material world, including the physical body, was something worthless, something dirty, a detestable evil, but that the invisible spirit was something eternal and something good, had exerted a great influence even upon the church. Thus, some people were saying, "What, how ridiculous that God the Son had become a human being with the same body as us! He only looks that way. It is no more than an assumed appearance and form. Jesus is all the way through just God and so he is of a completely different existence from human beings!" What do you [think] about that? Does this way sound like it has common sense to it?
10. But against that, the church has continuously said, "No! That's wrong. The son certainly did become human." It has stated, "For sure, Jesus was born of Mary through a normal delivery. And [she] made [him] a diaper. He was an ordinary diaper dirtying baby." And it has continuously said, "He shed red blood just the same as we do if we cut ourselves and shed blood, and he suffered just like we do when we suffer, and he died [a real death] on the cross just like we do when we die."
The Purpose For Which [The Son Of God] Became Flesh
11. Why in the world was the church so particular as it was when it proclaimed Jesus, so obsessed in saying that Jesus was truly "a human being?" Why did it keep stating in the confession of the faith that he was born from a human being named Mary? Was it so important that it put it as "The word became flesh?"
12. First, it is because it shows our deep bond with God. God has a persistent and permanent connection to this world, as a world which he himself created. God puts a high value on us too, on the entire existence of the "I, the individual being," which includes the body. How much value does he place on [us]? It is to the degree that God the Son himself would become flesh.
13. To the degree that the Son was ready to become flesh, God had made full solidarity with us in Him. That is the very God in whom we believe. That is the God with whom we associate fully at that point [in His Son]; a God who will never abandon this world or us living in it. That is the very God which the Christmas story is telling us about. His son became a baby who was put to bed in a manger. He even had a diaper on him.
14. Just ago I mentioned the fact that we are flesh is a harsh reality. However, we do not need to bear on our backs alone this extremely harsh reality of living in this visible world as enfleshed existences. Nor do we need to throw up [our hands] claiming how unbearable it is. For, the God who became flesh bears it with us. So we must not give up on what God does not give up; whether it be the world or even our own selves. No matter how ugly things get or how at a loss we are to figure out the solution, we must not abandon ourselves. Never! Instead, we ought to live with true respect for ourselves and the world as that which God loves; for, "The Word became flesh."
15. And then second, the reason "the word became flesh" is important is that it has decisive significance in the atonement for sin.
16. In today's second reading the epistle to the disciples at Colossae was read. I will read to you once more from the last section from it. "The father has delivered us from the power of darkness, and moved us under the rule of his beloved son. We obtain atonement through his son, that is, the forgiveness of sin," (Colossians 1:13-14). That's right; we are given forgiveness of sin through the son. The faith life is such that we are forgiven of sin through the son and we live under the son's rule. At that time we no longer are under the rule of the power of darkness. Nothing at all, not even the power of death, can destroy us because we are with God's son as persons forgiven of sin.
17. How has God the Son given us forgiveness of sin? How did he accomplish the work of the atonement for sin? God the Son did it when he became flesh, he became a human being the same as us, and he became a representation of us, even a representative of us. He did it by doing that. He didn't just make full solidarity with us. He suffered on the cross with that body by which he had become flesh. As a human being through thick and thin completely so, as one of the people, he shed his blood, he suffered through to the end and died. For what purpose? It was for the purpose of bearing our sins upon his very own back as a human representative, and then he received the judgment for it. It was for the purpose of receiving the judgment as a representative of humanity, and then to grant forgiveness of sin to us. Through the Son, through the son who had become flesh, we obtain atonement, that is, the forgiveness of sin.
18. As a week has passed since Christmas, the Christmas lights that were decorating everything so beautifully have disappeared from the streets in town in just a flash. But, for us the joy of Christmas shouldn't be like that. "The Word became flesh, and dwelled among us." This is the faith we are given. In this [faith] we have the joy of Christmas which simply will never disappear, which will never fade away.