Summary: A reflection on God pitching his tent in our neighbourhood
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. If you read the ‘Message’ translation of John 1:14 it says ‘The word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighbourhood’. And another version reads ‘The word became flesh and pitched his tent among us.’ I like those two translations of that verse because they root Christmas in the midst of life, in real life, the earthly life of ordinary people.
An 8 year old girl wrote a letter to God once, it read ‘Dear God, can you write some more stories as we’ve already read the ones you have written.’
I have a lot of sympathy for that girl. Year after year we hear the same old story at Christmas, and on more than one occasion. We listen to the same old passages from the bible – from the Old Testament about the promise of the Messiah.. from Luke’s gospel about the annunciation of Mary, the journey to Bethlehem, the birth in the stable, the angels appearing to the shepherds on the hillside outside Bethlehem, the shepherds journeying to see the baby Jesus. From Matthew’s gospel we read the account of the wise men travelling from the east to visit the infant Jesus, bringing with them the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Each year we sing the same carols several times over, we repeat the sweetness of the nativity in all its ‘niceness’, we eat the same food and have the same parties. We’ve done it all before. We’ve been there, done that and even bought the t-shirt. 2000 years is a long time to keep repeating the same story.
But for Mary and Joseph, the shepherds and the wise man, and even the innkeeper, it was all very new, all very anxious, all very exciting and wonderful. How can we make the deep, wonderful, meaningful message of Christmas exciting, real, fresh, new? How can we relight the truth of Christmas? How can we break through into the commercial nature of Christmas to find the why of the celebration?
Let’s go back to the text I have chosen for today. ‘The word became flesh and pitched his tent among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory of the only Son of the Father.’
God in Jesus pitched his tent among us and through this, through the generosity we see the glory of God. Imagine it – the baby wrapped in strips of cloth, lying in a cattle trough, visited by poor and despised trappings, shows God’s glory.
In a place that had no trappings of refined, civilised living we see God’s glory. How can a baby, born in such a place, a dirty stable with animals all around, show the glory of God? What glory did the shepherds see in that stable? What glory did the wise men see when they visited the infant Jesus.
What glory did the disciples see in Jesus as he made his way to the outcast, the lost and the lonely? What glory did the people see, later, as Jesus hung in pain and agony on the cross? We are told that Jesus pitched his tent among us and we saw his glory.
How do we see the glory of God revealed when the baby is born in such poor circumstances, in such poverty, to an older man and a young woman pregnant before she got married? Surely God is not going to work like that.
To try to answer the question, and make the Christmas message real for today, we need to try to understand what we really mean by glory. When we use the word glory it seems to carry with it a sense of something other, something holy, something out of this world, something special. And in a sense that’s right.
In the Old Testament we have the Jewish idea of ‘Shechinah’. The word ‘Shechinah’ means that which dwells and is the word used for the presence of God among the people.
In the Old Testament there are a number of times when God’s glory was visible among the people. In the desert, before the giving of the manna when the people of Israel were grumbling because they were hungry and should have stayed in captivity in Egypt, the people looked towards the wilderness and saw the glory of the Lord appear in a cloud.
Before the giving of the 10 commandments we read that the glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai. When Solomon’s temple was dedicated, the priests couldn’t enter it because the glory of the Lord filled it. When Isaiah had a vision in the temple he heard the angel choir singing that the whole earth was full of God’s glory. The glory of the Lord came when God was very close.
The glory of the Lord is actually a very simple idea. The glory of the Lord is simply the presence of God. So, when John says that God came to earth and pitched his tent among us, in our neighbourhood, the people saw in him the splendour of God and at the heart of that splendour was love. When Jesus came to earth, in the ordinary people saw the wonder of God. We can see the glory of God in the ordinary, everyday things of earth, in the mundane, in the things that are involved in, in the depths of the pains of earth as well as the joys.