Christmas Day, 2017

“Your throne, O God, is forever and ever,” says the author of Hebrews. Yesterday morning, we sang Mary’s song, in which God pulls every tyrant from his throne. I said Mary breaks the myth of kingship. We use the symbol of king to describe God, but God isn’t literally a king. If we take “king” literally, we don’t see God. Mary’s song breaks the symbol and lets us peek around the cracks at God. It’s been a busy 24 hours. Here we are with the baby Jesus and, apparently, this king metaphor forever. That’s what we get with Jesus, the granddaddy of all Christmas presents. As with any Christmas present, and especially one you didn’t ask for but are delighted to have opened, the question is, “What does it do?” It—or, in this case, he—loves you (and everyone else), gives glory to God, and asks you to do the same.

This makes a lot of people furious. Readers of John’s gospel are sometimes struck by what appears to be the overreaction of some characters. Jesus heals someone and the Sanhedrin tries to build a criminal case against Jesus. He says, “a slave has no place in the household, but the son has a place forever,” and a mob forms to stone him to death. Seems a bit much. We may be incredulous reading these scenes. These responses, though, are typical of disbelief. When we are determined not to believe something, the more evidence we see, the angrier we get. Seeing is not, necessarily, believing.

John tells us “we have seen his glory.” Not just Jesus, but his glory. John’s gospel is full of people who see Jesus at work and don’t see his glory, don’t believe. He feeds five thousand people with five loaves and two fish, and people track him down because it’s a neat trick, and when he tells them the true bread is God’s presence among them, they get bored and leave. He does sign after sign and his brothers say, “If you’re really who you say you are, you’d do these signs on a bigger stage, like in Jerusalem.” He gives a blind man sight, and the guy’s own parents won’t admit it. Even people who accept that Jesus’ actions literally happen are not convinced. When Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead, the Sanhedrin says, “If he keeps this up, there will be trouble.” Seeing Jesus’ glory is not the same as seeing Jesus of Nazareth.

We see Jesus’ glory when Jesus is real to us. When God’s Word becomes flesh and turns our world upside down and reorients us toward God. It’s the sight of faith. As Rudolf Bultmann writes in his magisterial John commentary, “What faith sees…has never been perceived as an empirical event by any person.” In other words, things that happen in history, that can be measured scientifically—even actions performed by one Jesus of Nazareth—are not in and of themselves what faith sees. Faith sees. Bultmann goes on: “What faith sees…it sees constantly, and yet it sees it only by directing its attention towards the becoming flesh.” Faith sees God becoming, taking flesh in the things we observe. Where some see only a person, Jesus of Nazareth, we see Jesus of Nazareth who is the eternal Word made flesh. We see the Word made flesh in Jesus because the Holy Spirit confronts us with Jesus, God’s reality, and turns our world upside down so that we see God.

For Mary and Joseph, it’s the birth and the reality of the new baby that turns their world upside down and points them to God. For some it is a near death experience, or an unmerited reprieve from pain or punishment. For me, it is the Holy Spirit’s miraculous patience and resolve, her refusal to let my stubborn brain obscure God’s workings. I see the Word become flesh when hardened hearts are softened. I see the Word become flesh when parents forgive their children, and children forgive their parents. I see the Word become flesh when a mourning family commends a dying loved one to God’s care. I see the Word made flesh when we recall Jesus’ words on the night of his arrest, and we hold and smell and chew and taste and swallow the flesh and blood of the living King of the Universe.

Christ reigns. His throne is forever and ever. That throne, broken forever by his mother’s song, is here. Christ reigns in your life every time he becomes real to you. Christ reigns in your life every time he loves you through another and you know it and you know you don’t deserve it and nonetheless are beyond happy to receive it. Christ reigns in your life every time you see another receive love as you have, and you realize that if God manages that much love for everyone God is big enough to overcome whatever is troubling you today. Christ reigns in your life every time he glorifies God through another and you are reminded that ultimately no one on this earth is in charge except the one who built the place. Christ reigns in your life every time you see things—perceive events empirically, as Bultmann says—and also see God becoming flesh in them, calling you to carry God’s love into the dark and hurting places of the world. Christ reigns here today. And Christ reigns wherever you take him.