Thursday, December 25, 2014

In the Flesh

"Christmas 2014"

On Christmas Day it is a common practice in the Christian tradition to read from the Gospel of John - not the traditional story about angels and shepherds and a babe in a manger but rather a "theology" about what Christmas actually means. 

John starts out his Gospel by announcing:

And the Word became flesh
and dwelt among us.

With the birth of Jesus,"God" took on human flesh.

I have always thought it odd that on one hand the church would celebrate the nobility of human flesh as a dwelling place for God's own self and then through most of its history go on to denigrate flesh as an evil to be avoided- a source of shame, a cause of sin and temptation. 

In fact the church has either explicitly or implicitly taught that punishing the flesh was a discipline for achieving greater holiness.  To this very day some people think that celibate men or women are somehow "purer" than those who marry. They are closer to God because they refrain from sexual activity.

Many years ago I remember reading this Gospel of John on a Christmas morning and was angrily confronted by a parishioner for doing so after the service was over. She objected to the fact that that the traditional Christmas story about baby Jesus wasn't read, but more than that, she just didn't like the fact that we were using the word "flesh" in a church service on Christmas morning.

But that's exactly what John tells us as he explains Christmas- "God" becomes flesh. Flesh is noble, flesh is sacred, flesh is holy.

Back in the 2nd century, Saint Irenaeus, one of the earliest and most respected teachers of the ancient church wrote this rather extraordinary commentary about the Christmas message:

The Word of God became human so that humans might become God.

The word became incarnate in Jesus, but the Holy Presence is also incarnate in every single one of us. The energy of "God" is on us, flows through us, and connects us all in a wonderfully beautiful complex web of relationship. 

The message of Christmas is that we find "God" in flesh. We meet "God"in flesh.

Christmas is a day not only for Christians but for all human beings to exalt and celebrate our "incarnation." Divinity is wed to humanity - noble flesh, holy flesh, sacred flesh.

Merry Christmas! 

1 comment:

  1. How true, the church has had a sordid history of relating sin to the human body, especially the female body. Martin Luther the Reformer spent some time beating himself to get closer to God.

    I wrote this little poem a few years ago after falling in love. It came to my mind when reading your article.

    Flesh Needs Flesh

    Flesh needs flesh -
    needs the pressing of skin
    against skin, needs the touch
    of hands traversing
    the contours of the body,
    needs the musky scent of desire in the nostrils
    and the warmth of breath in the ear;
    all which tend to serve the notion that
    flesh needs flesh.