My sermon was very short this morning. I read two poems—two excerpts, actually.
After hearing the long Lucan story of the nativity on Christmas Eve—with angels and shepherds and barns and tax registrations and long journeys into night—this morning we heard John’s story of the nativity. It’s an elegant, poetic eight words. “The Word became flesh and lived among us.”
Luke’s story is an explanation. He sets out to explain how it is that Jesus of Nazareth was born in Jerusalem, how he was born of a virgin, how it fulfilled this ancient prophecy and that.
John doesn’t try to explain anything, because poets don’t explain, they just sing. (Luke, on the other hand, was a doctor—a scientist—for whom explanation was probably quite important.)
For centuries men and women have pondered and wondered why an infinite God would become finite, why a pure spirit God would become sullied in flesh, why the Almighty should take up with the likes of us, who are sure to muck everything up and break every available heart, God’s included. With eleventh-century St. Anselm we query “Cur Deus Homo?” Why did God become Human?
John’s response is to rhapsodize on the mystery of it all. “The Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth” (1:14).
Poems and songs are what move us at times of mystery and wonder, when something enormous and powerful is afoot . . . which cannot be understood or comprehended.
Madeleine L’Engle, the contemporary writer who died a few years ago, put it this way.
This is the irrational season
When love blooms bright and wild.
Had Mary been filled with reason
There’d have been no room for the Child.
Then this purple passage from the 17th century English poet, Richard Crashaw, where the paradoxes just roll up.
Welcome, all wonders in one sight!
Eternity shut in a span;
Summer in winter; day in night;
Heaven in earth, and God in man.
Great little one, whose all-embracing birth
Lifts earth to heaven, stoops heav’n to earth.