Sermon for December 30, 2018: Down to Earth (The Rev. Walter Ramsey)
The first job that I had after returning to civilian life from the Navy was to work on project Apollo at the manned spacecraft Center in Houston Texas. This was the early stages of the Moon landing mission prior to any landings. Space flight had been limited to low Earth orbit flights by American and Russian astronauts and we were preparing to send men to the moon, an incredible 240,000 miles from Earth. Considering these distances space was still a pretty small place for us.
Of course, the vaster distances of our solar system had been quite accurately measured but it wasn’t until advances in technology and cosmology that the mind-blowing size of the universe began to be understood.
It has been calculated that the universe is approximately 15 billion years old and its size is about 90 billion light years across, meaning we will never see the end or beginning of it. As Douglas Adams puts it in his book The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, “Space is big. Really big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist, but that's just peanuts to space.”
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.”
When I was young, I was often accused of having my head in the clouds. In fact, my parents would tell me to get my head out of the clouds especially when there was school homework to be done.
When I would hear the Prologue of John proclaimed every Christmas, I would imagine God as an amorphous being of Love and Joy binding the Trinity together. The Word speaking the universe into existence, space and time, sub atomic particles to galaxies. The Word giving life the light of everyone. Then I would be brought down to earth when the story changed to John the Baptist. To me it almost seemed like a hard landing. Now it became even more down to earth when the Word was made flesh and lived among us.
“And the Word became Flesh and lived among us.” This is the mystery which lies at the heart of Christian faith and life, mission and ministry. God poured God’s own self into human form. This eternal Word was God’s agent in the creation of all things—even life itself—in a paradoxical descent from godhood took form as a baby of the humblest origins. This astonishing proclamation overwhelms the limits of human imagination and understanding. God that fills 90 billion light years of creation, far greater than a trip to Rite Aid or a 10 day walk from Nazareth to Bethlehem, becomes a helpless, vulnerable infant human being. How do you get more down to earth than that?
Jesus, truly God, came to share in human experience, human suffering, human agony of every kind—even the most gruesome of human deaths. For us that means God is not far away from us. God is as close as our next breath, as close as the person sitting next to you. God bears the pain we bear as well as celebrates the joy in which we exult. (1)
If we are bearing an unbearable loss, God is present in our suffering. If our nation is embroiled in internal and international conflict, God is embedded with us in the human predicament. There is no darkness, even unto death, in which God is not intimately acquainted and engaged, present and powerful, loving and true. Jesus is our gracious companion, friend, savior, life, light, lover. This paradoxical mystery of power and self-emptying, exaltation and humiliation, captured in the first verses of John lies at the heart of the essential Christian proclamation. This proclamation directly addresses the situation of all those who have ears to hear the message. (2)
God’s intention, why God became human in the flesh of Jesus Christ is to make one God’s creation of heaven and earth once again. One before humanity opted out of living in the love and joy of the holy Trinity. To bring grace and truth back together in humanity. As NT Wright puts it truth growing up from the earth and grace coming down from heaven.
This portrait of God and Jesus in the prologue to John does offers a grand cosmic vision of history unfolding. But it also states that God’s intention is to become like the stuff of this world and live in specific moments in our world, in our communities, in our lives. This is the challenge to us contemporary Christians in this vision of the incarnation. It is to talk a little less and let our words take on flesh and live in the world, to bring it down to earth.
God’s incarnational intention is that God’s story gets lived out in recognizable ways in the world. Not only over some grand cosmic saga, but also in the way we engage the specific broken places in our communities and even in the interactions we have with our neighbors.
God’s incarnational intention is that God’s presence becomes unmistakable in our midst because we the faithful have put our bodies, and not just our language, into effect for what we believe to be true.
God’s incarnational intention is that we the faithful enact our hope in liturgy and protest. That we embody God’s justice and love in the world, not just by speaking it, but by living it out. Not through testing metaphysical decrees against the long arc of history, but by showing up in the world we have, as the people we are, to make God into flesh once again.
The intangible light, glory, grace, and truth of God are embodied in Jesus. God puts flash on those divine qualities so that we followers who want to know how they sound, and act have someone to show us. John says, "to all who received him who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God." We followers are also in the incarnation business through our actions.
Rev. Deb in a sermon a few weeks ago made known to us the teachings of Howard Thurman, a great civil rights leader in the early 20th century. He was also a mentor of Dr. Martin Luther King Junior. I can think of no better words than a poem he wrote “when the song of the angels is stilled” that how we may fully participate in God’s incarnation business. He wrote:
When the song of the angels is stilled, When the star in the sky is gone, When the kings and princes are home, When the shepherds are back with their flock, The work of Christmas begins: To find the lost, To heal the broken, To feed the hungry, To release the prisoner, To rebuild the nations, To bring peace among people, To make music in the heart.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, that is most assuredly down to earth! Happy Christmas.
1 &2- David L. Bartlett. Feasting on the Word: Year C, Volume 1: Advent through Transfiguration. Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.