And the Word Became Flesh . . .
And the Word became flesh and established his tabernacle among us . . . (John 1:14a)
In one telling of the story, we hear of a young woman, hardly more than a girl, who is pregnant and has become a social pariah, as the ancient societal double-standard has always made women who appear to have had sex before marriage. Who would even buy the story that some “Holy Spirit,” not even a part of anyone’s religion or philosophical system at the time of this happening, had “overshadowed” her and somehow gotten her into this late stage of pregnancy?
Joseph “manned up” to the challenge of being with these “damaged goods,” taking responsibility for someone else’s baby. This story is not unique to Mary, but seems to have been the story told about her at the time that she and Joseph we starting to make a life together.
In another telling, one that values Mary in her human totality, Mary is empowered and resolved to accept the path in life that God has given her, and sings with a blazing prophecy of the path that she will physically clear for the Messiah of God. This Messiah is the true light that is coming into the world, who will upend the way things have always been, where the rich are filled and filled and filled, and those who are poor in worldly goods have even what little they have taken away. This has been the way of the world from time immemorial, and continues to this very day in many parts of the world, including in our own halls of power.
The incarnation is a miracle: as God takes on human flesh, the divine “descends” literally and metaphorically into the mess of human existence. This goes against other visions of the divine seen as elevated high above our human plane, never sullied by the messes that we humans get ourselves into, or live in, or create for others.
The question as to whether Mary was a virgin, whether she was “pure” in this very narrow and somewhat dubious way, entirely misses the point of the miracle of God taking on flesh. The miracle of the incarnation is that it entirely changes the meaning of human flesh. It makes holy that which had been profane, for all time. That God would enter into very human flesh makes even our own flesh holy.
The incarnation also cuts through the human value judgments of flesh being either “pure” and “soiled.” Human flesh degrades and dies. That is simply our nature. Human society has put value judgments on flesh in countless ways: on its age, its color or shade, its gender, its economic value, its sexual orientation or sexual experience, its having been violated by people who devalue the flesh of others through violence and exploitation.
In all of these ways, through all of these value judgments, through all of the laws and unspoken mores that devalues or criminalizes or exploits human flesh, human societies over a wide span of time and space have told us that our flesh does not matter except in so far as how other people value it.
But our flesh does matter to God, apart from all of the value-laden judgments that humans would put on it, despite how we would attack the bodies of others with words, or hands, or fists, or laws, or guns, or bombs. Because God has made all flesh holy.
Sit for a moment and look at your skin and try out this simple prayer: “God, thank you for giving me my body, and for making my very human flesh holy through Jesus. Help me to see others as you have made them. Lead us all into new ways of blessing each other. For you have made all of your children holy through the One who has brought the light into the world, Jesus, in whose name I pray. Amen.”
As we look forward to a new year at Trinity, my prayer for you and for our entire community here at Trinity and beyond is that we might find new ways to bless each other both with our presence where it is most helpful and needed, and in the opening of our hearts to those whose flesh has not been valued, who have been ground down by the incessant messages that their flesh does not “measure up” somehow to society’s expectations, or who have been told in words or deeds that their lives do not truly matter.
In valuing the very human flesh of others, we value the flesh that God has taken on, the flesh of Jesus. And in that, we extend the miracle of the lives that God has given us all and sustains us in from day to day.
May God bless you every day!