Sunday, December 20, 2020 – Pastor Teressa Sivers
During this long pandemic I have strengthened my devotional time each day by reading one of my favorite Christian authors, the Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor. She is an Episcopal priest, teacher, amazing speaking, and, of course, prolific author. I just finished her book, Learning to Walk in the Dark, in which she explores the holiness found in darkness. Her book lifts up that God is not only found in the light, but true transformative encounters with the divine happen many times in the dark throughout scripture. Creation begins in darkness. Each day, as Genesis proclaims, begins at sunset; “there was evening, there was morning, the first day.” Barbara also reminds us to be very careful with the spiritual metaphor of light and dark, and the language we use. Though this is a powerful metaphor and important to our spiritual enrichment and growth, this language is also used within the insidiousness of racism: light and white equaling good, and dark and black equaling bad. As we spend time with the gospel writer John and his love of the light-dark metaphor, let us be mindful of this language.
As I spent much prayerful time this week with the opening of John’s Gospel, two other books by Barbara Brown Taylor resonated deeply with me and with this powerful prologue. In her book, An Altar in the World, Taylor speaks compellingly to a spirituality that is embodied, physical…enfleshed. She calls for a relationship with God that is embodied in our everyday life. However, it was an encounter she shared in another book, Holy Envy, that opened John’s first chapter in a new way. In Holy Envy, Taylor recounts her first field trip with her Religions 101 undergraduate class to a Hindu Temple. She vividly describes entering the space which was very foreign to her and her students, filled with sights and sounds and aromas that were completely different from her Christian experience. She and the class had been invited to witness an act of worship, the weekly bathing and changing of the clothes of one of the statues of a Hindi god. As Taylor and the class watched, she was struck by the intimacy of the actions, the fleshiness of it, and was suddenly aware of her own discomfort to think of her God in such a fleshy way. How striking that a priest of a faith that proclaims that God took on flesh and lives among us should be so uncomfortable with that fleshiness.
“The Word became flesh and lived among us.” That is how verse 14 of John’s first chapter reads in the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). Other translation use verbs like ‘dwelt’ or ‘took up residence.’ And Rev. Eugene Peterson, in The Message paraphrase, playfully uses, “moved into the neighborhood.’ The verb in Greek literally means ‘tented’ or ‘tabernacled.’ This is a direct reference back to the great Exodus journey through the wilderness to the Promised Land where God instructed the Israelites to build God a tent—the Tabernacle—so God could live among them, travel with them, be part of their journey and their everyday lives. I love the Common English Bible’s (CEB) translation that Anne just read for us: “The Word became flesh and made a HOME among us. Home…this speaks of intimacy, of true everyday life, of embodiment…of being fleshy.
Home..this is where real life happens, at least in theory. Home is supposed to be the place where we are fully ourselves, where we can ‘let our hair down’ so to speak. Home is where the heart is as the saying goes. I would suggest that home is, when home is a truly safe place, where we are at our fleshiest. We eat most of our meals at home. We sleep at home. It is where we do our fleshy stuff such as bathing or showering, changing our cloths, and other…stuff. We don’t consider these things holy or sacred or ‘churchy.’ But, John, in his first chapter, his idea of a ‘birth narrative,’ insists that God in Jesus meets us in all our fleshiness…and God gets all fleshy right beside us.
John actually drives this point home in the final verse of today’s reading, verse 18. Here, the CEB betrays our Christian discomfort with fleshiness in relation to our God. The CEB reads, “No one has ever seen God. God the only Son, who is at the Father’s side, has made God known.” “…who is at the Father’s side…” The NRSV translate it differently, “…who is close to the Father’s heart…” This, at least, is a bit more intimate, but it is still safely unfleshy. It is the King James Version that tries to come closer to the strange Greek language used here: “No man hath seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father…in the bosom of the Father…” Bosom and Father—what a great mixed metaphor. This word ‘bosom’ holds connotations in the Greek of the nursing of an infant, so that here we have the image of a father nursing a baby. There is our birth narrative! Here is true intimacy, true embodiment, true fleshiness! The Word became flesh—the One who nurses at the bosom of our fathering God—and is making a home even now with us! Wow!
That is how much God-Revealed-In-Jesus loves us, yearns for us! God pulled out all the stops to meet us in every way, to share every moment, to make our living holy. This homecoming, fleshiness of God takes on new meaning this year as we find ourselves spending more time at home than we every imagined. This homecoming, fleshiness of God takes on new meaning as our healthcare workers on the front lines of the pandemic struggle under the havoc this virus creates on the flesh. It takes on new meaning as protestors clash in the streets, crying out their pain and their fear and their anger. It takes on new meaning as racism seeks to declare some flesh as less worthy, less holy, than other flesh. Into all the messiness of our fleshiness…Emmanuel! God is with us! Into all the chaos of our humanity, the Word of creation, the Light of God, take on our flesh and mess, our humanness and chaos, breathing love and healing and comfort. The Word comes to create some order and stability, but most importantly, to meet us right where we are, in the midst of the flesh and mess, and calls us beloved and precious and holy!
The Word became flesh—embodied—and makes a home with us, and asks us to see our flesh as holy. Making breakfast this morning—holy! Whether you showered or not—holy! Whether you are tackling the day or huddled on the couch feeling a hot mess—You ARE Holy! The Word became flesh—enfleshed—and is at home WITHIN us, whether we are isolated in our homes or out in the world exposed. Healthcare workers with their faces carved with the lines of their N95 masks—holy! Patients in hospital beds hooked up to ventilators—holy! Black Lives Matter protesters crying for justice—holy! Proud boy marchers acting out their fear and anger—holy—even if their actions are not. The Word is flesh and IS with us each and every moment, right where we are.
This week, as we prepare for a very different Christmas and find ourselves filled with such a deluge of emotions, let us remind ourselves and one another of the essence of this holy day. For God so loved the world that God gave God’s only Child, so that everyone who believes in that Child may not perish—may not languish—but may have life eternal, life abundant. Or as Peterson’s The Message shares the good news: This is how much God loves the world: God gave God’s Child, God’s one and only Child. And this is why, so that no one need be destroyed. By believing in the Child, anyone can have whole and lasting life! Anyone! Merry Christmas! Let us be at home with God!