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Mar 04, 2018

EPIC #7 - God Moved Into the Neighborhood: Incarnation Means More than Christmas

Passage: John 1:1-14

Preacher: John Huizinga

Series: The Grand Story of God

Category: The Grand Story of God

Keywords: body, christmas, incarnation, jesus, john, witness, excarnation


Incarnation: God Came And Moved Into the Neighborhood. Once a month we have been journeying through the Grand Story of God. All creation and life are gifts of God’s grace, and the Lord graciously invites, rescues, and delivers us into this story. Along the way we have talked about the big themes of the Bible: creation, fall into sin, covenant, exodus, kingdom, and exile. Now we arrive in the New Testament and the story of Jesus. He is God who became human, the divine one took on human flesh – that’s incarnation. God with us became God one of us. It’s about more than Christmas. In the flesh Jesus came to preach, to teach, and to heal. But most of all he came to sacrifice his life for the sin of the world because God so loved the world. Because God the Creator became a created one, there is a sacredness about the body and what we do to it that we sometimes forget. Too often we make faith just about the mind. We call that ex-carnation, disembodying faith, discipleship, service and worship. We are saved in the body, we live out faith in the body, we praise God in the body, we obey and trust the Lord in our bodies.


EPIC #7 – Incarnation: God Moved Into the Neighborhood


John 1:14 says, The Word who Is God became flesh and made his dwelling among us.

This verse in the version called The Message reads like this, The Word became flesh and blood,

    and moved into the neighborhood.


God came here.

The Son of God became a human being.

God-with-us became God-one-of-us.

We call this the incarnation, when the one true God put on flesh.

This revelation answers a question human beings have had since this beginning of time:

who is God? and what is God like?


Native American Yakima tribes of the northwest

looked at the mountains

and said that is how God comes to us.

Mt St Helen is called Si Yett,

the god who protects the people

from two fighting brother gods

which we know as Mt Adams and Mt Hood.

For some native American tribes god comes

to us as a mountain.


If you visit India you will be told that Hindus consider the Ganges River a god who purifies them.

For Hindus god comes as a river.


You watch the weather channel

and when a storm arises

you might hear the weather reporter say

Mother Nature is sure mad today,

or something like that.

Is god the wind and the weather?


Throughout history human beings have believed God came to earth as a mountain, or a river, or something else in nature.


Scripture reveals the truth of who God is

and what God is like:

God doesn’t come as a mountain,

or a river,

or the wind and the weather.

How did God come?

God came as a person, a human, Jesus.

At the close of the film Black Panther,

a child says to T’Challa, “Who are you?”

T’Challa isn’t sure who he is,

or if he is up to the task of figuring it out.

And we feel his struggle:

we’re not always sure who we are either,

or if what dad taught us is enough,

or how to be equal to the tasks

and responsibilities we have been given.


When  God comes and comes as one of us,

we see in Jesus who we are

because we see in Jesus who God is.

God comes not only to bless life but to save life.

And the Lord fills life with meaning

and purpose and truth and grace.

John writes from experience:

We have seen his glory,

the glory of the one and only Son,

who came from the Father,

full of grace and truth.

To those who receive him they find out who they are:

children of God

and that identity forms our purposes and meaning.


If you have seen me, you have seen the Father,

Jesus says later in John 14.

Who is God and what is God like?

See the Lord in Jesus,

who became one of us to be with us.

His life is the light, says the gospel,

God blesses us with

understanding, meaning, purpose, the way

and the way through and the way out.

Incarnation means more than Christmas.

So let’s apply some lessons of incarnation

to our life and faith.

How are we blessed in the grace and truth

that God became human in order to save

and to redeem you and me and all creation?


First, because God became human

the Lord shows us that life is precious, a gift, sacred.

God could have come as a mountain,

or a river, or a wolf even.

But God chose to become a person.

This shows how highly God values human life.

Psalm 139 sings out,

I am fearfully and wonderfully made,

and the Lord underlines and highlights this

about you and me and our neighbors

by becoming human also.


Now we don’t know much about the particulars

of Jesus’ life on earth.

But some of what we do know should encourage

us in valuing life:

Isiah 53:2 prophesies about him:

He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,

nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.

So being fearfully and wonderfully made

is about something other than how we look.

We also know he worked for a living,

that he got tired, that he didn’t live anyplace special.

When Nathanael heard of him

his first reaction was that he couldn’t have been

anything more than ordinary:

Can anything good come out of Nazareth? he says.


He never married.

Though he lived into his thirties

he lived without being sexually fulfilled.


This is how God came:

not beautiful by outward appearance

not rich or having celebrity status

not a life of material or worldly success

not a life of sexual self-fulfillment.

All the things we’re told matter today

don’t matter to God.

Jesus lived a full life

and we find fullness in the light of his life.


Before the world stage

Pilate declares Look, here is the man!

A real, true human being.

The Father speaks from heaven not just once:

this is my Son whom I love

with him I am well pleased.

The value of life

because God also lived a human life.


So what does that say about your life and mine?

How you are precious to God right now:

never mind the illness, the ordinariness,

the burden or routine,

the hopes and desires unfulfilled.

Even the shortness of it – for Jesus lived

for only around 33 years or so.


The Word became flesh – life is precious.

So how will you give thanks for precious life,

not just your own,

but your neighbor’s,

the stranger,

the poor and the one in need,

the sick and hurting?


Second, look at the choices Jesus made

as he lived this life.

John can only describe it as full,

full of grace and truth.

And I wonder how often that’s the measure I use

in making my choices:

to be gracious,

to love the truth.


What did Jesus do with his life?

Was he known as a consumer?

Was his wardrobe fashionable?

How many horses in the garage for Jesus?

Do you know how big his house was?

We read, The Son of Man had no place

to lay his head.

This sacred life, loved by the Father,

was not about material goods and gains.


Did Jesus live to be safe and secure? He said,

I lay down my life of my own accord.

He laid down his life for you, he endured the cross,

there was nothing safe or secure about that.


Was life for Jesus about doing whatever he wanted to?

John 6:38 For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.


He worshipped regularly with his community.

He prayed often and at length.

He knew the scriptures.


So what are you doing with your life?

The incarnation challenges our assumptions

about what makes for the good life.

And guides our intentions and choices.

Peter, Paul and John look at how Jesus lived

and teach us to make these our habits

and strive for this kind of virtuous life:

1 Peter 2:21

For you have been called for this purpose, since

Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps . . .

Philippians 2 –

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

6 Who, being in very nature God,

    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;

7 rather, he made himself nothing

    by taking the very nature of a servant . . .

1 John 2:6

6 Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.


Let the light of Jesus’ earthly life shine

into the choices and decisions before you in your life.


Third, when we think of the earthly life

of the Son of God

all his miracles come to mind.

What’s your favorite miracle story?

There are a lot of them:

turning water to wine

feeding five thousand

walking on water

healing Peter’s mother-in-law, the blind, the lame

and even raising Lazarus from the dead.


He testifies to the grace and truth that God

does intervene in the created world and order.

The Lord isn’t just watching from a distance.

God hears our prayers and answers.


Once when friend brought to Jesus a paralyzed man

the first thing Jesus did

was to declare this man’s forgiveness.

So all our prayers and all Christ’s healing mercies

are for the purposes of redemption

and salvation.

That is God’s glory revealed.

And that’s how we pray and receive

the times when God answers yes, or wait,

or even when God says no.


So reflecting on the life of Christ

we can renew our commitment to prayer.

Despite what some may say,

God DOES act in our world,

graciously, redemptively,

and even miraculously.


Fourth, we confess Jesus lived a sinless life.

Tempted in every way just as we are,

he never sinned.

He honored God with his body.

His emotions, his desires, his actions, and his words

were all occasions for obedience

to the commands of God

to live righteously and justly.

So 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 says to us,

You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.

This is for our good,

for fullness and blessing.

On Television,

Bari Weiss the feminist and Bill Maher the atheist

talked about how in this cultural and political moment, no one knows what the rules are

when it comes to dating and sex.

But then the feminist and the atheist

confess that their worldviews had betrayed them

and are false.

Weiss said, there are

“lies that the sexual revolution sold to women.”

Lies such as, “gender is a social construct;

nature doesn’t matter at all;

and there’s really no difference

between men and women.”


She complained that all of the talk

about sex these days is about “consent and pain.”

“Whatever happened to intimacy, love, and romance?” she asked.

Maher then pointed out the contradiction

of a culture in which people simultaneously worry about whether courtship is harassment,

and then use the app Tinder to “hook up”

with total strangers twenty minutes later.


People try to write their own rules about the body

and live their own way when it comes to sexuality,

but the result is being lost

and losing the beauty of God-given gifts.


Jesus showed us how to honor God with our bodies

and in his spirit how it is possible to do that

and when we do that

we find abundance and fullness in life.

Instead of the lies humans share

that promise freedom,

but only rob us of beauty, joy and love,

he lived the truth.

And the result was a full life, an honorable life.


Fifth, Jesus was fulfilled relationally.

He took the time to be a friend

and to make friends.

Jesus didn’t live out his life alone.

He shared life with his disciples.

He went to weddings.

He went to the funeral of his friend.

He stayed with friends at their house.

He even ate with sinners.


This reveals that God is with us,

the creator God shares life with the created ones.

And that we are made to commune with God.

The Lord hears us when we call and cry to Jesus.

And we can discern the counsel and comfort

of the Holy Spirit.

He is the friend of sinners.


Here’s the blessing:

Jesus knows us by origin and experience

and is with us,

we are not alone in any temptation,

in any sorrow,

in any sacrifice,

and is with us thru every guilt or shame.

Plus he is the bridge to transcendence,

to that deep longing

for eternal meaning and purpose,

a peace the world can neither give nor take away.


So how do we thank the Lord God

for the incarnation of God’s Son?

Apply the reality of incarnation to our faith.


Charles Taylor says Christians don’t live

incarnationally today,

they live ex-carnationally.

Have we chosen excarnation over incarnation?


What’s excarnation?

We measure faith by science and reason

rather than by incarnation and spirit.

It is limiting and confining faith to

what we think and what we factually understand

about God.

Our faith is located in our brains.

It’s belief reduced to an idea, a concept.

Ask yourself,

when was the last time you kneeled down to pray?

Or you fasted for a period of time?

Or you got to know the name of a homeless person?

Or you clapped or raised your hands in worship?

Or you denied yourself physically or materially

in order to obey a command of God?

Are you hesitant to witness because

you don’t think you know enough?

How many of us don’t like it

when we’re asked to do something in worship,

like share prayer requests,

or hold hands for the doxology?

How many of us think during communion

we should have a private personal moment

with the Lord rather than coming forward

to receive the bread and cup together?

How much of our faith is just up here

in our heads?


Without realizing it we can

disembody worship and think Christianity

merely a message to be grasped in our minds.

Those who say I don’t need church

because I am spiritual but not religious

have fallen for this trap.

James KA Smith says,

Give us a few inspirational aphorisms,

a few “thoughts for the day”

to get us through the grind,

a couple of poignant one-liners

on the side of our Starbucks cups,

and that’s the “message” we need

to keep significance alive.

Why would you need the church?

You can watch Ellen or Oprah or a TED talk.


So what does incarnational faith look like to you?

Just as God became human in Jesus,

so Jesus builds his church.

The gospel is heard, received, and lived out

in communion with other believers as church.

When the Belgic Confession says

there is no salvation outside the church,

it is being incarnational.

Believers need the physical belonging

with one another

because the gospel is all about one another:

love one another

forgive one another

pray for one another

serve one another

rejoice with those who rejoice

and weep with those who weep,

and on and on.


If you’re bored by worship,

or your faith is stuck,

or you can’t really say you have a

living, active faith-relationship with Jesus,

one way to address this struggle

is to commit to active, serving involvement

in the church:

with a local, living congregation like ours.

We meet Jesus in his body, the church.


Then because Jesus served

and we are to love as he loved us,

It is the church’s nature to be for the sake of others, it’s mission is to pour itself out on behalf of those who do not yet know its Lord.

No sooner does John 1 refer to Christmas

and the response is a human witness to the light.


That’s the response to God becoming human,

the Word becoming flesh.


Jesus revealed the grace and truth of God

by moving into the neighborhood.

The church responds to the mission Christ has given

by being a neighborhood Christian community.

We’re trying,

but it’s got to become more than just an idea;

each one of us needs to take part.

Another help for us is to be incarnational

with our gospel acts.

James 2 –

15 Suppose a brother or a sister

is without clothes and daily food.

16 If one of you says to them,

“Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,”

but does nothing about their physical needs,

what good is it?

17 In the same way, faith by itself,

if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

18 But someone will say,

“You have faith; I have deeds.”

Show me your faith without deeds,

and I will show you my faith by my deeds.


Shockingly, in Matthew 25 Jesus reminds us

that we still encounter his presence

in the body today,

among those who are hungry, thirsty, sick,

and otherwise in need.

Whatever you do to the least of these,

you do to me, he says.


It sounds to me for us to get this

our worship must remember the incarnate Son.

So respond when worship asks us to exercise

our bodies and our senses.

Artwork helps us respond to the gospel

using our senses and our delight.

Since I’ve been here I have worked to add slides

to the sermon you hear,

 to give you beauty and grace to see.

Worship practices of standing,

using our hands and arms,

experiencing being together,

learning together the language of justice

in confession and repentance,

all these and more are encounters in incarnation.

When I try to sing a new song

and take to heart unfamiliar words

and different rhythms

and melodies I am unaccustomed to,

I am using my body in a new way

that the Spirit can bless with a freshness

to enliven my faith.

Our practice of baptism and Lord’s Supper

should not be rationalistic and introspective.

We should notice textures and tastes.

When I take bread I don’t normally consume,

I am exercising grace in a way that involves my body.

To get up out of our comfortable and secure bench

and stand together

and look one another in the eye

as we take the elements

is to remember experientially that Christ

sacrificed his body for the forgiveness of our sin.

And in all this we are challenged

to stop being consumers,

and instead let Jesus shape us

by his presence in others,

putting flesh on our faith.


The Word became flesh.

In this Grand Story of God

it is the Lord himself who finally and fully

brings salvation to earth by becoming one of us.

He died in the body;

he rose again in the body.

Our salvation and hope is in

the sacrifice and raising of his body.

To write the story of our lives fully

is to find our story in Christ’s life.

And we find he is the author and finisher

of our faith.