For our gospel reading this morning, this second Sunday of the Christmas season, we return to a reading from Christmas Eve: John 1:1-18. We read this as our fourth lesson at the 11:00 service, but it comes up in the lectionary, the list of readings for the church year, again this morning. The two Sundays after Christmas each emphasize the most important belief that Christians have: that Jesus Christ is both really and fully a human being, and that he is both really and fully God. Last week the reading from Luke 2, which was about Jesus in the temple as a 12-year old boy, underscored the humanity of Jesus. This week John 1 reinforces that this human being Jesus really was and is the Son of God.
The New Testament—the whole thing, start to finish—is a long answer to the question, “Who is Jesus Christ?” There’s a lot of time spent trying to make other questions more important, or least to avoid that question. Sometimes, instead, we ask questions, like, “Who was Paul?” Or “When exactly was the Roman census that forced Mary and Joseph to travel to Bethlehem?” Or “Who should be the next president?” Questions like these are interesting and maybe even important, but they’re not what the New Testament is about. The New Testament wants to answer the question, “Who is Jesus Christ?” And the New Testament’s answer, consistently, across the board, is that Jesus Christ was and is a human being and true God, for us and for our salvation. In some passages the emphasis of the answer falls on the human side. Jesus Christ is a human being (and true God). Other passages place the accent on the divine side: Jesus Christ is (a human being and) true God. But the question is always the same: Who is Jesus Christ? And the answer is consistent: truly human, truly God, for us and for our salvation.
About 100 years ago in Cambridge, England, the dean and the music director of the chapel of King’s College got together to present a new Christmas Eve service. Instead of a few Scripture readings, prayers, some music, and a sermon, maybe with Communion, they devised a Service of Lessons and Carols: nine readings, from the Old and New Testaments, one or two prayers, no preaching or Communion, and lots of singing of Christmas carols, by the choir as well as the congregation. The service became wildly popular. It was copied by churches and even secular institutions all over the world. And on Christmas Eve thousands of people line up outside the chapel to get a seat for the service and millions of people all over the world listen to a live broadcast of the service.
The last reading, the ninth lesson, of the Service of Lessons and Carols is always John 1, the passage we read for our gospel lesson this morning. The entire service—and this, I think, more than anything else, is what this service gets right—the entire service builds up to this critical passage. Because John 1 itself takes the accent of Christ’s divinity that is found in other New Testament passages and turns the accent into a symphony. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was—God!
God has come to dwell with us. God, the creator of the universe, the maker of all that is, seen and unseen, has come among us. God, who makes the beginning of creation, now begins to be a human being. God, who exists eternally and can be held by nothing, now has a date of birth and a date of death, now is contained by a mere human body. God, who is life and life’s source, now lives among us. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was—God! And the Word became flesh and lived among us! In the New Testament, only Matthew uses the word “Emmanuel,” God is with us, but Emmanuel stands behind every syllable, every pulse, every breath of John 1. God is with us.
John also tells us that “the Word became flesh and lived among us.” I don’t do this very often, but I want to take just a second to read that verse in Greek. (Read from GNT). That word, eskénosen. In the Old Testament, before there was a temple, before there was Solomon or David, God dwelled among the Israelites, the people of God, in a tent, called the Tabernacle. This was no ordinary tent, no pup tent for a quick weekend camping trip. Entire chapters, multiple chapters, in Exodus are dedicated to describing the size and furnishings of the Tabernacle, the tent of meeting, the place where the Israelites met and worshiped God, the place that traveled with the Israelites through the wilderness and into Canaan. Wherever the Israelites went, the Tabernacle, and God’s presence, went with them.
And that word, eskénosen, that John uses, it’s the same word used in the Old Testament for the Tabernacle. “And the Word became flesh and lived among us” could just as easily read “And the Word became flesh and pitched a tent with us” or better “And the Word became flesh and set up his Tabernacle among us.” Once God had been housed in a temple, a beautiful building of stone and ornament. Once God had traveled in a tent, a simpler structure, though still ornate and impressive. Now God has taken up residence in Jesus Christ, a house not made by human hands, a dwelling created by God alone, who alone is the Creator.
God is with us. God is here, among us. In Jesus Christ, God resides with us, journeys with us, and invites us to worship him, not in the Tabernacle, not in the temple, but in Jesus Christ. “The Word became flesh and lived among us.” “The Word became flesh and set up his Tabernacle among us.” God is with us. God is among us.
And once again, God is on the move. God is on the move! God’s residence with us, God’s full dwelling with us, is in the tent of a human body. To say “God is with us” is also to say “God is on the move.” God has not laid unshakable foundations. God has not stacked immovable stone upon immovable stone. God has pitched a tent once more, and once more God is on the move. In Jesus Christ, the Word who was with God, who was God, in the beginning, a new beginning has erupted. And in Jesus Christ God is on the move to bring that new beginning, the new creation, into its final, perfect form. From Bethlehem to Nazareth, in Jesus Christ God is on the move. From Nazareth to the Jordan, from Capernaum to Jerusalem, in Jesus Christ God is on the move. From the court of Pontius Pilate to the hill of Golgotha, in Jesus Christ God is on the move. From the tomb in the garden to the road to Emmaus, from Emmaus to the Upper Room, and from the Upper Room to Galilee once more, in Jesus Christ God is on the move.
And in 2016, in Jesus Christ God is still on the move. From the rivers and lakes that flow to the seas to this font that flows to the soul, in Jesus Christ God is on the move. From the grain of the field and the grape of the vine to the bread and cup of this table, in Jesus Christ God is on the move. From this table in this church to the tables of the poor, the homeless, the abandoned, the abused, in Jesus Christ God is on the move. And from your comfortable places, your safe zones, from the places of habit and routine where you have been entrenched for far too long, to the new, the undiscovered, the distant, the unfamiliar terrain of new mission and new ministry and new life, in Jesus Christ God is on the move.
Who is Jesus Christ? Jesus Christ is God with us. God among us. God tenting in a human being. The Word setting up his Tabernacle among us. God on the move. That is who Jesus Christ is.
And Jesus is on the move again, bound for the new creation. Will you journey with him?