Sermons

"'I Would NOT Have Done it That Way' and Other Thoughts on the Incarnation" - Sermon for the 1st Sunday After Christmas, Year B

"'I Would NOT Have Done it That Way' and Other Thoughts on the Incarnation" - Sermon for the 1st Sunday After Christmas, Year B

Dec 27, 2020

Passage:John 1:1-18

Preacher: The Rev. E. Courtney Jones

Category: Christology, Ecclesiology

Detail:

Do you guys have a movie-talker?
 
 
My family consists of quiet, stoic frontiers-people, and Michele's family is, well, Italian.  
 
And other than the weird kissing-on-the-mouth thing that they do, the big difference, of course, between holidays with my family and those with Michele's family, is the amount of words.
 
Michele's family talks a loooot more.  
 
They recount family tales, they argue about politics, they just talk.  A lot.
 
And the talking is not limited to each other.  
 
We also watch movies together during the holidays, and they will TALK TO THE MOVIE.  
 
Now, maybe this is a phenomenon that you're familiar with, but in my family of origin, we snack through the movie. And we are quiet.
 
In Michele's family, they offer commentary.
 
My very favorite instance of this was in a few Thanksgivings back, we were all packed into the den around an action movie.  It was one of those movies where the White House is under attack and the President has been taken hostage.  Some action hero, I'm remembering a Jason-Statham-type -- a big, meaty, rough looking man -- is trying to get the President out of the White House and out of harms way.  And he's like "Come with me, Mr. President," and they get into a vehicle of some sort and they put the petal to the floor and attempt to crash through a barricade.  But instead of crashing through it, they just like, high-center or something and get stuck.  
 
And in this high octane moment of the movie, my 80 pound little Italian mother-in-law looks at the TV, shakes her head and says disapprovingly "Oh.  I would NOT have done it that way."
 
And in that moment, I couldn't help but replace that beefy action star with my little 80 pound Italian mother in law.   Her little West Virginia accent and everything.
 
"Come with me, Mr. President, we're gonna get you out of here."
And then she racks a shotgun and just like  . . . falls over from the weight of it.  
 
To this day, when I watch action movies, sometimes I can't help but substitute her in as the hero.  
 
"Oh, I would not have done it that way."
 
 
And yet, as silly as that is to imagine, every year when I hear the Nativity story it just kind of goes over my head.   “Yeah yeah, baby, manger, angels, star.”  Cool Cool.  
 
But I mean, when you really start to think about the incarnation it’s a major “Whoa, I would not have done it that way."
 
 
Like, the all-powerful Creator of the Universe looks at the world and says, "You know what I'm going to do?  Be born to travelers who can't find a place to stay.  To a persecuted minority.  Living in occupied territory."
 
No.  I'm not doing that.  
 
At minimum, I'm going to need at least a really clean 3 or better star hotel in a town of decent size. 
 
And if I were God, I would want to be welcomed with fanfare.  Not shepherds.  
 
I would want to be welcomed more like Caeser, you know?  
 
When Caesar came to a town, he would have these giant parades of chariots and soldiers and everybody from the town would come out and meet him waving flags and signs and tree branches and hailing him as a god.  
 
That sounds much more glorious.  
 
At the very least, I would want people to recognize me.  
 
 
 
The Prologue of John’s Gospel  puts the nativity in a broader perspective for us.  
 
In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God.
 
The world came into being through him, yet the world did not know him.
 
The word, the logos, the logic of God became flesh.
 
 
John the evangelist gives us this absolutely stunning poem as a key to understanding Jesus. It gives us a key to what God is doing in the Incarnation.  John is saying: "Look y’all, here’s what God’s logic looks like in the world.  Here’s what God looks like with skin on."
 
And then John’s Gospel, and all the Gospels for that matter, paint a picture of Jesus that is very unlike what people expect when they think of a glorious Messiah. 
 
God, surrounding himself with all of the wrong people.  Children, women, lepers, beggars. 
 
God, healing the sick.
 
God, eating with sinners.
 
God, being fully present to the little child on his lap.
 
God, honoring the poor.
 
God, calling out the powerful.
 
God, teasing the religious authorities. 
 
 
 
God, with a towel draped over his shoulder, hunched over, humbly washing the filthy feet of tired disciples.  
 
 
 
I don’t know about you, but I would not have done it that way.
 
God, completely upending our expectations.  
 
 
 
 
The Incarnation, God becoming flesh and dwelling among us, as perplexing as the idea may seem
 
Is actually an amazing gift.  
 
We humans have so many callers on our life.  So many people telling us “Do this this way” “Do that that way”
 
“God wants you to do blank”
 
 
 
I mean, I get it.  The human condition is to want to protect ourselves.  To want to have the right answers and do things the right way and keep ourselves safe.  And so it makes sense that we want to gravitate to strong personalities that “tell it like it is” and “don’t take no crap.”  It makes sense that we’re kind of always looking for a Caesar that parades huge armies.  It makes sense that we are attracted to strength and certainty.  It makes sense that we love action heroes.  
 
But y’all.  That's not how God's logic, God's glory works.  
 
Empires fall.  Kings are forgotten.  Heroes will eventually disappoint us.  
 
It is Good News for us is that God has shown us a totally different kind of glory.
 
John the evangelist says:
The word (the logos, the logic of God) became flesh and dwelled among us and we have seen his glory.
 
 
 
 
What if, instead of following our own human logic, which, Lord have mercy, seems to vary wildly from personto person . . .
 
What if instead trying to beat our own fears back with certainty . . . we got curious about God’s logic?
 
The word (the logos, the logic of God) became flesh and dwelled among us
 
What is we traded human glory for the kind of glory we see with Jesus?
 
What might that look like?
 
 
There was a young man from a wealthy family.   His father was in international sales, and the son stood to be heir of the family business.  But the son found himself compelled by the story of Jesus.  He got curious about the things that Jesus did.  Not to sound like a 90s youth group poster, but he asked himself “What would Jesus do?" He studied the things that Jesus did in the Gospels, and tried to do, often quite literally, those things.  
 
He sold his shares of the business, and began giving the money away to feed the sick and clothe the poor.  He built a church. He built a monastery.  He took a vow of poverty and began living among and ministering to the poor around him.  
 
Basically, he made a series of decisions that would easily illicit an “I would not have done it that way” from any reasonable person.
 
Definitely not the way I would have done it, and yet, this man  by studying Jesus was so tapped into God’s logic, became so full of God's type of glory -- that 800 years later he’s standing in the birdbath out in our courtyard right now.  
 
You may even have a statue of St. Francis of Assisi in your home.   He died a poor man nearly 800 years ago but lived a life that made such an impact on the kingdom of God that you for sure know the name "St. Francis of Assisi" -- you may even have a statue of him in your house.  His story may seem to be upside down, but that seems to be how God’s logic works.  
 
God’s logic makes us free to be our true selves.
Our “child of God” selves.1  
Not necessarily who the world expects us to be.
Not even necessarily who we were raised to be,
But who we were created to be.  
 
The Good News is that we know what God looks like with skin on.  We know what it looks like when God “moves into the neighborhood.”2 It looks like Jesus.  
 
When we get curious about Jesus.  When we ask ourselves, “What would Jesus do?” We begin to unlock something true, and gracious in ourselves.  We begin to live less like we are expected to be, and more into who we are created to be.  
 
What has come into being in him was life.  And that life was the light of all people.  
 
 
These remaining days of Christmas, and the upcoming season of Epiphany are an invitation to look at God's logic.  To pay attention to how Jesus handled situations.  It's an invitation to look at what grace and truth look like.  An invitation to trade action hero and parading Caesar for a baby in a manager.  An invitation to trade the world's logic and the world's view of glory -- for God's logic and God's glory.  To trade "I would not have done it that way" for "What would Jesus do?"
 
The word became flesh and dwelled among us, and we have seen his glory.