Incarnation
 — Rev. Phil Hobson

January 4, 2015


Jeremiah 31:7-14
John 1: 1-18

Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.

KidsHope USA, the mentoring program that Pastor Tom has led us in for the past several years, has an expression about how to be a faithful church member walking into a secular school to mentor children. It has to do with not proselytizing, but more importantly, it is about the kind of presence that a mentor brings to the room. They say, “Be Jesus with skin on.” Do not talk about religion or church or God. Be the kind of presence you would talk about if you did. Be the word of God for them, just in whatever size or shape body you have.

Incarnation is the $17 church word for God with skin on. Or as John puts it,

And the Word became flesh and lived among us…
full of grace and truth.

In John, we have this expansive description of the word: it is present at creation, and the world was created through the word. It was with God and it was God. This is the language of mystics. It is paradox. Of course, in good reformed theology we take such statements and try to work out some kind of algebra of God’s nature, we take such poetic phrases and try to make them logical arguments by which we can try and subdue the world. But if we just stay with the text, we have this amazing image of God, out of God’s own essence, bringing about the work of creation.

And then it says that this very part of God took on flesh and bone, skin and sinew, and lived among us. This is a love song to God’s willingness to suffer on our behalf. As I am learning more and more, to have skin and bones, to have muscles and sinew, is to make funny noises in the morning. As a child, snap, crackle and pop were the little characters helping to sell Rice Crispies cereal. Now they are the sounds my body makes getting out of bed.

To have a body is to be able to glory in the warmth of the sun, in the feeling of a cool breeze, in the amazing ways that our senses bring to us the world around us. To have a body is to not want to get out of bed because the room is chilly and the quilt is warm. To have a body means we smell bread baking, we see artwork that brings a sublime sense of joy, we hear the choir sing the Messiah and our souls reach out as if to touch the very hand of God. To have a body is to know pain, to hunger, to age, to bleed, to ache, and finally, to die.

The Gospels, and particularly John’s Gospel, whatever else they have to say to us, are also telling us that God came to be human, to know human suffering, to share our common lot, to reach us as we are.

I recently read the story of three pastors talking about how we should pray. One said that the right posture of prayer is one of humility. We come before the Lord in our humanness and so we should kneel, heads bowed, eyes closed, and seek God’s mercy. The second pastor said, no, we are created in God’s own image, and we are called to praise, and we are to stand before the Lord, arms raised, faces lifted, eyes on the heavens. They turned to the third pastor and asked what he thought the proper posture for prayer was. He thought for a minute, and slowly said, “Well, I don’t know about prayer postures, but the best praying I ever did was when I was upside down in a well.”

I have never been upside down in a well, but lying in bed at the Ronald McDonald House in Detroit, I was upside down in a well. And I have rarely prayed as hard before or since.

The hope I have in Jesus Christ is that God is with us, even if we are upside down in a well, or upside down in our mortgage, or our relationships, or our bodies hurt, or our minds yearn, or our souls ache, or our hearts grieve. As the prophet says:

See, I am going to bring them from the land of the north,
and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth,
among them the blind and the lame,
those with child and those in labor, together;
a great company, they shall return here.

However far away, in whatever condition, however young or old, God will gather us, God is with us.

But it is not enough to say that God is with us. There comes with it a promise:

They shall come and sing aloud on the height of Zion,
and they shall be radiant over the goodness of the LORD,
over the grain, the wine, and the oil,
and over the young of the flock and the herd;
their life shall become like a watered garden,
and they shall never languish again.

Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance,
and the young men and the old shall be merry.
I will turn their mourning into joy,
I will comfort them,
and give them gladness for sorrow.

These last words are words I have tied around my waist like a rope that has been lowered to someone upside down in a well.

I will turn their mourning into joy,
I will comfort them,
and give them gladness for sorrow.

These are the promises that can support us, that can lift us, that can set us right-side up.

In [the Word]was life,
and the life was the light of all people.
The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness did not overcome it.

Thanks be to God.
Amen.