Summit Presbyterian Church
December 25, 2011
John 1: 1-14
Do You See What I See?
A few weeks ago I went looking in the neighborhood for Christmas Cards. It wasn't easy to find them in walking distance of Summit, or even at the closest CVS or Barnes & Nobles. There were Holiday cards - lovely drawings of birds and trees and polar bears - Santa Claus cards and Peace cards. Now, I like holiday cards and buy them since many of my friends aren't Christians. (This isn't going to be a War on Christmas sermon). But especially as a pastor, I wanted to send religious Christmas cards to fellow Christians. And in my limited search I found a limited selection which were - frankly - pretty cheesy. In the assortment I bought some were unsendable: drawings of the Holy Family in Hello Kitty style or other cutsie pictures. Others were fine, with pictures of Bethlehem from a distance, or they just had stars and symbols. Others weren't offensive - they tried to show the nativity in a realistic if soft light - but they had a generic, sub-Hallmark, funny color quality that just didn't do justice to the Word that was in the beginning, and was with God and was God -- and that became flesh and lived among us.
But even the highest quality, most elegant Marcel Shuman or Metropolitan Museum of Art Christmas cards aren't quite right. For we claim that in the manger was not only the flesh and blood son of the flesh and blood Mary, but the light of light, true God of true God, -- the creator of the universe. And no painting or stained glass window, even done by the most brilliant artist, can portray the Divine One who is beyond our imagining. Many Christians, through the centuries, have said it's even sinful to try, and some have gone around smashing statues and stained glass windows to make their point. Historically, Presbyterians have been among those Christians suspicious of the visual arts. They thought pictures of Christ were misleading, even blasphemous, unable to do justice to the majesty of God, leading worshippers astray. "Although Christ assumed human nature," it says in the Second Helvetic Confession of , "yet he did not on that account assume it in order to provide a model for carvers and painters." But other Christians have argued that God assumed human nature so that we could see, and touch, and know God in a new and intimate way, and that pictures of Jesus are not only appropriate but important testimony to God with us. Of course no picture or statue will be a close likeness of the human Jesus, let alone the Divine Christ. Most often, the Holy Family looks like the family of the artist. But -argue supporters of paintings and statues - images of Jesus can point us to both the divine and human Christ, they can be used by God to strengthen faith. Although even the strongest supporters of nativity scenes may draw the line at the marshmallow-kitty kat-kitchen timer-and veggie tale nativities that are circulating on facebook. (Google 27 worst nativity scenes)
John is pointing, with words rather than pictures, to the divine and human Jesus. It's hard for us to grasp, -- The Word who was with God from the beginning, the light of all peoples, and who also become flesh and lived among us. Most of us shortchange one or the other in our devotional lives, in our thoughts, in our prayers. We may think of Jesus mainly as a human teacher, a brilliant interpreter of the law, while keeping God a separate creator and sustainer of the universe. Or perhaps we're drawn to the cosmic Christ, judge of the living and the dead at the end of time, and neglect the Jesus who picnickcd on the beach or fell asleep on a boat. Or we adore the Jesus in the manger without expecting Christ to come again in glory. Or we have a close, intimate relationship with Jesus, but we don't look to him as creator and sustainer of the universe and it's galaxies. This (practical heresy) is understandable. The fully human fully divine Jesus does not make sense- could Jesus really steer the stars in their courses while he was in diapers? It certainly can't be proved in any way. In the eyes of faith it is, but it remains a mystery.
But it's a mystery that John invites us to believe in and trust. For in this mystery is the key to God's love. Christ, who was in the beginning with God, who was with God, who was God . . . . . also came to live among us as a vulnerable, human being, feeling pain and love as we do, tempted just we are. God came to us in Christ so that we might know God, and become children of God. So that through the love and forgiveness of Jesus, we might know God's grace. So that through the teaching and life of Christ we might know God's truth. So that through the light of Christ, the light of the world, we might be led out of all the dark places - of despair and violence, hard-heartedness and pain. And for this we rejoice on Christmas morning. We rejoice in word, we rejoice in song, and we rejoice in what we can see: the beauty of creation and the image of Jesus among us, in nativity scenes and pictures of the holy one. Fully human but also fully divine. Fully for us and for our salvation.