The Incarnation Sermon

So heads up—as we’re actually going to be reading
from three different passages of Scripture today.

We’re going to start today in Genesis 1,
then we’re going to make our way to the gospel of John,
and then we’re going to end in the letter to the Colossians.

We’re looking at something so big and so significant and so central to the Christian faith
that we’re going to be trying to see a picture from a constellation of passages.

Just thought I’d give you a heads up.

Last week we did something as a community
that I don’t think BCC has done very often:

We told the short story of our faith together by saying the Apostle’s Creed.
We’re going to do it again this week. Right now, in fact.

So I’d like to invite you to join me in confessing our faith together:

We believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.

We believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.

On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come to judge the living and the dead.

We believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.

For the last three weeks, we’ve been reflecting on these ancient words—
what has been called “The Apostle’s Creed.”

These words are so helpful…
because they function like cliffsnotes for a really big story.

The good news is a story—
a story about what God is like
and about what God has done in the world,
and about what God will do in the world.

These words help us to remember and retell the gospel.

About a God of love who is eternally dancing and delighting in himself (as Father, Son, and Spirit) and who chooses to create out of the overflow of his boundless love.

The good news is about God.

The gospel is not primarily about us.
And that’s precisely why it’s good news.

It doesn’t depend on us.
It really is news.

The good news is about God—
that God is Father, Son, and Spirit
and that this God is Creator of everything.

And this includes us.

We hear about the birth of the human race at the opening of the BIble,
and this is that way that it’s described:

(1.26-27) Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

So God created mankind in his own image,
    in the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them.

So God is a community of love who creates a good world
and he choose to create us “in his own image.”

Now… there’s a lot that we could say about that little phrase—
that we are made in the very image of God.

Let’s think of an image of someone…
Martin Luther King. Let’s run with him.

Imagine a painting of Martin Luther King—
or, maybe better, a statue.

That statue has something of the physical shape of Dr. King to it, right?

An image has got to resemble someone in particular way,
otherwise it wouldn’t be an image of that person.

If I say I’m carving a statue of Martin Luther King Jr,
but then proceed to make that statue tall and lanky with a beard and top hat,
I can say all day long that it’s MLK, but it probably looks a lot more like Abraham Lincoln.

An image resembles someone.

I think the same is true with God—
that God has stamped something of himself deep within us.

At the very core of being human, we resemble the dancing Triune God—
his boundless love and endless relationship and infinite delight.

We’re all capable of love and relationship and delight.

We’re not only capable of these things,
this is where we feel most alive—most human, most ourselves.

We’re meant for these things.

We’re meant for love.

To seek the good of each other
and to receive good from each other.

We’re meant to be in relationship.

To know each other
and to be known by each other.

We’re meant for delight.

To celebrate the goodness of God
and enjoy the goodness of all he has created.

We resemble God in extraordinary ways—
he’s stamped himself on us.

We’re made in God’s image.

But an image isn’t meant to just resemble a person.

An image is also reflect a person.

The reason we make an image of someone
is to somehow extend that person into the world.

Going back to our state of Dr. King,
we probably wouldn’t want it collecting dust
in an dark and empty warehouse.

We’d probably want that statue in public—
maybe in a city park somewhere (maybe in Baltimore).

Because we want people to look at that image of Dr. King,
and remember he stood for (nonviolence, equality, justice, peace)
and somehow extend those qualities into the world.

Kings in the ancient world did this all the time—
they wanted to make sure their presence was felt
in every far corner of their kingdoms.

And so they would put images of themselves throughout their kingdom—
statues, coins, pictures, you name it.

That seems to be what this opening poem in Genesis has in mind.

God creates humanity in his image—God wants humanity to “rule over” the earth—
so that the loving heart of God will reflect into every far corner of creation.

And the tragedy of the Genesis story
is that the human race rebelled against this.

We distrusted the king,
we rebelled against the Creator—
distorting the image of God within us
and failing to reflect the image of God around us.

This is the long and tragic story of the Old Testament—
humanity who was meant to bear God’s image in the world
has willfully wandered into darkness and distortion and death.

We don’t even need to read the Bible to know this though.

Look around.
Watch the news.
Listen to your own heart.

All of us know—deep in our bones—
there is something unspeakably special about the human race
and something tragically wrong with the human race.

We’re capable of both the deepest kinds of love
and the most despicable kinds of evil.

We hear show incredible heroism one minute
and inflict immense horror the next.

We kiss and we kill.
We drill wells and we drop bombs.

The same species who brought you the Red Cross
also brought you the Holocaust.

God may have indeed created this world good,
but there’s a lot wrong with it now—with humanity front and center.

God made us to be like him—to bear his image—
to resemble him and reflect him…

but what will God do
when the statue is crumbling,
when the mirror is darkened,
when the image is distorted beyond recognition?

How does God respond to the human race?
And what is God going to do with us?

Those are the two questions that we’re going to reflect on briefly,
and then we’ll come to the table.

So the first question: how does God respond to the human race?

Well, that just happens to be what the good news is all about.

John begins his good news—he begins his gospel—like this:

(1.1-5) In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

(1.14) The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

(1.18) No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.

Consider what John is saying for a minute.

God’s perfect self-expression—
the Word of God, the Son of God, God himself—
has become flesh.

That’s quite the way to start a story.
In his opening words, John is saying something stunning—something shocking, something scandalous— and the church throughout the centuries is going to keep saying it:

God has become fully and actually human.

The Word became flesh.

So this is what the Church is claiming
even through it’s the most audacious claim in all of human history:

Near the beginning of the first century,
a young girl named Mary became the mother of God—
she gave birth to God himself.

God loves his creation so much
that he chose to actually become part of it.

Our world is like a watercolor that God loves so much that he paints himself into it.
Human history is like a story that God loves so much that he writes himself into it.

And this isn’t just a show—not just God playing dress-up in a human costume.

And so Mary gave birth to a real baby—
a crying, smiling, hungry, nursing, pooping baby.

A real baby.
A real person.
A real human being.

Jesus really is fully human—just like us.

He’s got a human body,
he’s got a human soul,
he’s got a human will.

He’s fully and completely human
and fully and completely God.

That’s the wild confession of the Christian church.
And that’s how we know what God is like.

Because by becoming a human being,
God is showing us as clearly as he can what he is like.

Nobody has ever seen God—
how could we know what he is like?

Is he angry? Is he distant? Is he ashamed of us?
Is he tired of us, sick of us, done with us?

Does he care about all of the stuff going on in this world?
About earthquakes in Nepal?
About riots in Baltimore?

Does he care about all of the stuff in our lives?
Family problems, car problems, emotional problems,
sexual problems, health problems, financial problems?

Nobody knows,
because no one has seen God

But—Jesus has come into the world
to shed light on what God is like.

And evidently God cares—about all of it.

Just watch the way
Jesus interacts with people.

Every pain, every problem, all the dirt and all the details—
God cares about every bit of it.

God isn’t condemning us or condemning the world—
God loves us and love this world.

How does God respond to the human race?

Instead of destroying us,
God has become one of us.

Instead of annihilation,
God has chosen incarnation.

God has plunged himself into the middle of us—
smack into the middle of human history.

For that second question—what is God going to do with us?

For that we turn to the letter to the Colossians.

We’re going to end up in chapter three,
but while we’re turning there, I think it might be worth noting
some of what Paul mentions in chapters one and two:

(Col 1.15a) The Son is the image of the invisible God,

The Son is the image of God?

You mean, the image that we were supposed to bearing?
The Son is that image?

Well… I guess that kinda makes sense.

I mean, if anyone was going to perfectly reflect God’s image,
it would be God.

That’s kind of ironic.

That person who who epitomized what it means to be human
(the person shows us most fully what all of us were meant to be)—
that person was God.

When God becomes human,
he’s showing us what every single one of us
was meant to be.

God’s humanity is where
we see true humanity.

Jesus doesn’t just reveal what God is like…
Jesus reveals what humanity is like.

What real humanity looks like.

In the words of G.K. Chesterton, in the life of Jesus we find
“something more human than humanity.”

In Jesus of Nazareth, you’ve got God becoming a human being—
and somehow his life and death and resurrection
puts the universe back together
at the deepest levels.

God and humanity are literally put back together in him.

God has made the tragedy of the human race his own tragedy.

He says,
“You’ve rebelled?” “You’ve sinned?”
“You’re broken it and wrecked it?”
“You’re dying and it’s all your fault?”

“Let me take all that.”

“I’ll take your curse, your sin, your death—I’ll actually take them—
so that you can become what you were always meant to be.”

“I will become what you are so that you can become what I am.”

“So that you can be whole and complete—
reflecting my boundless love and endless relationship and infinite delight
to each other and back to me and into the universe.”

God has taken our tragedy made it his tragedy—
and God has taken his comedy and made it our comedy.

The human race is destined for a happy ending—
for whatever reason, we don’t see it yet.

But we’re invited to believe it—
and invited to begin to taste that life right now.

Then in chapter two of Colossians,

Paul says that when we welcome Jesus as Lord (2.6)
and recognize his death as our own death (2.12, 20)
we’re invited to allow his life of resurrection to become ours (3.4).

Paul tells us not to fooled by our eyes—by earthly things—
don’t dwell on world we see around us.

He wants us the humanity’s happy ending to fill our minds:

In chapter three, he says:

(3.2-10) Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature:
sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.

Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.

You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived.

But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these:
anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.

Do not lie to each other,
since you have taken off your old self
with its practices and have put on the new self,
which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.

Paul points out what we know too well— 
that there are ways of living that are less than fully human.

When we thoughtlessly consume people as products with lust,
when we quietly kill people in our hearts with anger,
when we use our words to hurt instead of heal—

it seems like every day that we slip into patterns of death
that don’t reflect what we were made to be.

Patterns that don’t look like the dance of God—ways of living
that aren’t rooted in love, that don’t deepen relationships,
that can’t give lasting delight.

The good news is about God—
that God has restored the statue,
that God has cleaned the mirror,
that God has given us a true image of himself,
and that God freely gives back to us what we all desperately want:

True humanity.
True life.

Christ—“who is your life” (v4, that’s stunning!)—is going to appear one day
and the deepest truth about all of us will appear with him.

One day True Life is going to flood the world and remake the universe—
and all of us are invited to practice putting on this True Life right now (v10).

The good news is not primarily about us
but the good news invites us into this story.

I think this a huge part of what it means to be a Christian—
to look at the full and complete and true humanity revealed in Jesus
and then to learn how to practice True Humanity ourselves.

People often think of Christians as people who are stifling their humanity.

That true life—that full humanity—is found
by chasing the glitter and the applause,
by following our appetites, by satisfying our every craving,
and by taking whatever we can get from life however we can get it;

But I’ve tried those things in various forms,
and I’ll tell you with 100% certainty from experience
that it hasn’t worked for me.

Has it for you?

There might be passing pleasure,
but there’s no lasting satisfaction.

There might be a fleeting feeling of fullness,
but there’s no permanent peace.

And there never is… until we begin walking the way of Jesus.
Then we begin to glimpse

The way of self-surrender, the way of self-giving,
the way of forgiveness, the way of the cross.

As we walk that way—as we walk that path—
we discover what we’ve all been looking for.

Our humanity.

The Christian faith—the way of Jesus—
isn’t about stifling our humanity.

The way of Jesus is about finding our truest humanity.
The Christian faith is about becoming what we were made to be.

As we approach the table today,
what would it look like for you
to practice true humanity?

I’d like to invite all of us to close our eyes,
and just reflect for a minute.

Are there places in your life
where you’re exhausted, where you’re despairing, where you’re refusing to let go?

Are there parts of your life—
a relationship, a situation, a habit—
where you feel like you’re crumbling?

Where do you feel like you’re darkened?
Places of anger, places of despair, places of anxiety?

Where you wish that someone would heal you—
restore you, give you your real life?

I think we’ve all got those crumbling areas.

Sometimes it’s hard to even put words on;
it’s something deeper—like we’ve got a crumbling soul.

Now imagine Jesus standing before you,
and he’s looking at you with compassion,
and he’s reaching out and he’s putting his hands on you.

What would it look like to give your crumbling to him?
What would it look like to give your darkness to him?

Will you let him take it? Or will you keep it?

That’s why he’s here—to take our brokenness and give us his wholeness.

Jesus wants you to receive his very own life—
true humanity.

It’s going to be a long process of receiving it,
but make no mistake: he’s always giving it.

Will you dare to believe—even in the smallest of ways—that this might be true?

The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread,
and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said,
“This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.”

In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying,
“This cup is the new covenant in my blood;
do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

You’re welcome to spend a couple of minutes
reflecting and praying and listening.

When you’re ready, you’re invited to come down the middle aisle,
to receive the bread, dip it into the cup,
and then return to your seat along the sides.

As you come, may you open yourself to receive the life of Jesus.

May you recognize true humanity in the humanity of God—
may you see him broken and poured out,
may you be filled with the power of his resurrection,
and may he teach you how to practice putting on new life.

Trust that in these moments—in this cracker and juice—
Christ is doing what he’s always doing: making us new until he appears.