So, just to get it out of the way, I didn’t get what I wanted for Christmas. No, not an ipad or World Peace. Anyone who knows me well knows that what I really wanted for Christmas was a brand new back since mine is wrecked. The disk between my L5 and S1 vertebrae is severely degenerated which means at the age of 41 can’t stand for more than 20 minutes without being in pain. I mention this because in our Gospel reading for today we hear that In the beginning was the Word and The Word was with God and the Word was God And the Word became flesh and lived among us. In short: God decided to have …of all things…a human body.
We Christians have along history of finding this idea disturbing. There was an early Christian heresy called Docetism and I’m not totally convinced that I myself would not have been a docetist given the opportunity. You see, they were so certain that spirit and flesh could not exist as One that they convinced themselves that Jesus didn’t really have a human body…it just seemed that he had a body. Docetists claimed that Jesus only appeared to be a physical being. And I get the impulse behind docetism because really, no self-respecting God would become a human when being human means being irretrievably fragile. What can it mean that God slipped into the vulnerability of skin and was made flesh? Seems a lousy idea in a way, given the very sloppy and broken reality of our physical lives as humans. Our bodies bruise and decay and sag insistently toward the earth so why in the world would God not spare God’s self the indignity of having things like sweat glands and the hiccups?
And besides, having a body is an emotionally complicated thing for us, so why wouldn’t we want a “spirituality” which transcends our broken physical reality. But when we are tempted to think that spirituality equals transcending the physical world of things and bodies we might remember that in Jesus we see that a physical life is a spiritual life…
John’s gospel bears witness to a sensual God. Jesus washed human feet, smelled perfume, and tasted abundant wine. He used spit and dirt to heal a blind man, his gut churned when he looked upon the hungry crowds. Salty tears ran down his face. He smelled the stink of death on Lazarus his friend. Jesus’ very own flesh tore when he was beaten and crucified and when he rose from the dead he told Thomas to touch his wounded side, which was not perfected, but bore the scars of having lived. Then, as one of his final acts on Earth he ate grilled fish on a beach. These experiences of the body are not things to be Spiritually transcended …they are perhaps the very things in which we find Christ.
The Psalmist reminds us that God knit us together in our mother’s womb and that we are fearfully and wonderfully made. Of course I see at least 2 barriers to really really believing this. Firstly there is the fact that as a middle aged woman my body seems to be deteriorating right before my eyes. How wonderfully and fearfully made is a body which ages, or grows fat, or develops cancer or no longer produces insulin? The other barrier to believing our bodies are fearfully and wonderfully made is that we are literally bombarded by messages otherwise from every billboard we see or commercial we hear. Convincing you that a) your body is bad and b) your body can be “perfect” if you buy a certain product…and let there be no mistake, this is a billion dollar industry.
Yet I wonder if maybe in the incarnation God has done nothing less than baptized all human flesh. Baptized it, not made it into our version of perfect. Perfection as we picture it and as it relates to human bodies is impossible. And perhaps the striving for an impossible perfection is a profound distraction from the way in which we are children born of God. Because as we know, the perfect is the enemy of the good.
And even God, when finished creating the physical world including the human form called it good. not perfect mind you, but good. so as we on this 2nd day of the year make our resolutions about losing weight or gaining muscle or lowering cholesterol which are all perfectly fine, let us remember that we are born of God and made Children of God and have no business calling what God pronounced good anything but good. Because if the Word became flesh and lived among us ~ then despite our botoxic quest for the illusion of perfection, God's creation is good.
So this week I invite you to take notice every time you see or hear a message about body improvement. Every pill, or exercise machine, or special gym membership, or tanning bed… every liposuction clinic and celebrity endorsed diet plan. All of it. Notice the obsession our culture has with stretching and tanning and increasing and decreasing our flesh into submission to some sort of bizarre ideal. Then in contrast, notice every time this week that you see or hear this: And the Word became flesh and lived among us, in this we have seen God’s glory, full of grace and truth…you have received the power to be Children of God. Through the fullness of God’s Word made flesh you have received grace upon grace.
That is a different message entirely. In other words, our youth-obsessed body-improvement culture in which we find ourselves tells us that we can avoid any appearance of our own mortality through the right combination of elective surgery and Pilates and in the end this is nothing but a simple fear of death itself. But what God tells us in the birth, life, death and resurrection of Christ is that we need not fear our mortality in the first place because it simply is not the final word. Death has no sting when it cannot separate us from the love of God in Christ. So we need not fear it. nor deny it.
So Jesus came and in his almost disturbingly physical existence showed us what God looks like, not in some ethereal alternate spiritual plane but right here in the midst of our physical, embodied earthy reality. Jesus said here’s what being born of God looks like… it looks like not worrying about what we're to eat or drink; like loving the bodies of other people who, like us, will die; like touching human flesh as if it's holy instead of worrying that it's unclean, like breaking bread and drinking wine with all the wrong people.
This Christianity stuff is not a religion of disembodied spirituality at all. This is a religion of Word made flesh, of God revealed in the vulnerability of newborn flesh in a cradle and in heartbreak of broken flesh on a cross. So if God saw fit to wear our native garb should we not bless and care for our own flesh? Should we not have concern for any violation or starvation or trafficking of any human bodies as that which God took on to be with us?
As we enter the New Year full of optimism and resolution let us remember that there is a reality beyond our individual self-improvement. The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, and we were given grace upon grace to become children of God and perhaps in doing so we are now flesh become Word. Word for a hurt and broken and beautiful word. You as Christ’s body are no longer about the fear or the denial of death but about life and life abundant. You as Christ’s body are becoming flesh made Word, being made into God’s loving intention for the world God created. In the name of Jesus, amen