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God Became Flesh

January 6, 2012

A sermon preached at the White Plains Presbyterian Church

at 11:00 on Christmas Eve, December 24, 2011


Colossians 3: 12-17          Luke 2: 1-14          Isaiah 9:2-7

According to Bread for the World, a PC(USA) mission partner in the fight against global hunger, our world is facing a hunger crisis unlike anything it has seen in more than 50 years.

Every day, almost 16,000 children die from hunger –related causes. That’s one child every five seconds.

In 2008, nearly 9 million children died before their fifth birthday. One third of these deaths were due directly or indirectly to hunger and malnutrition.

We live in the worlds wealthiest nation. Yet 13 percent of people living in the United States live in poverty. Nearly one in four children live in households that struggle to put food on the table. That’s nearly 16.7 million children.

What if Jesus had been born into a household in Somalia? Would he have been able to grow in wisdom and in years, as he does in Luke’s Gospel, or would he have died of malnutrition?

These are fair questions to ponder as we wrestle theologically with what it really means for the divine to become human. It verges on outrage to imagine that our Savior might have suffered the same fate as starving children in our world. But the very idea of incarnation, God taking on and hallowing human flesh, seems both impossible and urgent in a world where so many people are hungry.

 The early church struggled for words and metaphors to describe how God became incarnate. One metaphor that early teachers frequently used was that of clothing: God clothes God’s self in humanity. God puts on human flesh. The Colossians texts invites us in turn to put on God by wrapping ourselves in the kinds of practices the text describes: compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, and, above all, love.

St. Athanasius, an early Church father, wrote a treatise called “On the Incarnation of the Word.” Meditating on why God became incarnate in Jesus he wrote, “For he was made man that we might be God God.” At first we may be taken aback by the proposal, which smacks of the worst sort of hubris. After all, Athanasius does not write, “So that man might become like God” but “that we might be made God.” It is an audacious claim to posit a responsive incarnation – the human putting on God. Bt no more audacious, perhaps, than imagining God’s incarnation in the distended flesh of a starving child. It’s as if incarnation required movement from both sides (God’s and humanity’s) if it is to achieve its purpose of uniting earth and heaven once more. For if God is incarnate in the flesh of a malnourished child, must not God need us to clothe ourselves in compassion and lovingly nurture her growth? Could the incarnation be an invitation to a reciprocal healing (in Hebrew, tikkun) of the divide between heaven and earth by a twin movement, first of God towards us and then of us towards God?[1]

Friends, the good news of this night is that our God has come to us, has dwelt among us, has known and loved us in the flesh, hallowing this stuff of which we are made.  What can we do in response but to love what God loves, to care for one another and to care for this world that God loves so much, this world which is a vulnerable as the baby in the manger.

When we move toward God, only to meet God coming toward us, O holy night, O night divine.

[1] Previously published by The Rev. Noelle Damico, Hunger for the Word: Lectionary Reflections on Food and Justice, Year B. edited by Larry Hollar. Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota.

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