He had seen the future, and he didn’t like it one bit. So he set out to change it. By changing himself. See, Ebeneezer Scrooge knew that he had made bad choices in life. He had been so driven to succeed that he had driven away anyone who cared about him. He loved money more than people so he had turned his back on anyone in need. He did not actively hurt them, not physically, anyway. Words were his weapon of choice. Words and indifference. Scrooge did the most damage to others simply by choosing not to see them. But, one Christmas, his eyes were opened. He saw clearly all that he had been missing. All the joy. And all the opportunities.
Scrooge had the power to make a lot of people happy. He had the means to make them happy. He had opportunities to make them happy. He had LOTS of opportunities to make a difference, but, for most of his life, Scrooge had failed to take advantage of any of them. Unless something changed, and changed quickly, all that money that Scrooge had accumulated would simply be wasted. It did not bring him joy, and it did not help anyone.
Not until love was born in Scrooge. Love was just a word. A notion. An idea. And one that Scrooge scoffed at, to be honest. Until it was born in him that Christmas. But once love WAS born in Scrooge, he donated a huge sum of money to charity, bought a prize turkey for the Cratchit family’s Christmas dinner, gave his clerk a raise and pledged to help the struggling family. When love was born in Scrooge, he helped Tiny Tim get the medical care that would save his life. In fact, the reborn Scrooge spent so much time with the Cratchits that he became like a second father to the frail child. That Christmas, love took on flesh in Scrooge.
That’s what Christmas is all about: Word taking on flesh.
The first chapter of John’s gospel tells us that the Word of God became flesh when Jesus was born. The Word had always been there. With God. The Word was there when everything came into being. In fact, everything came into being THROUGH the Word. Without the Word, nothing would have ever existed. Not one tree. Not one snowflake. Not one shooting star. All things came into being through the Word. All things and all people.
One day, God said, “Let us make humankind in our image.” So we were created in the image of the Word. And God led humanity through the Word.
Over the years, God had a lot of good words for the people. Words like victory, love, faithfulness, joy, gratitude, righteousness, equity, peace and justice. But, when you’re living by faith in a God you cannot see, it can be easy to doubt. To get discouraged. Or give up hope.
So the Word took on flesh. At Christmas, the Almighty God, the One who created all things and rules all things, the Lord God Almighty came into our world as a helpless child. God came to us as one of us. The Word took on flesh in Jesus. So we could finally see for ourselves what God is really like.
The Gospels are full of stories of the Word made flesh. In Jesus, we can see the Word at work in the world. We don’t have to figure out what it means to love. Jesus shows us when he heals a man who had been sick for 38 years. We don’t have to figure out what it means to forgive. Jesus shows us when he does not condemn a woman caught in adultery. We don’t have to figure out what it means to serve. Jesus shows us when he washes the feet of his followers. The Word took on flesh.
There are a lot of good words in us. And God calls us to let those good words take on flesh. It’s not enough to say, “You can trust me.” God calls us to embody trust. To be trustworthy.[i] It’s not enough to say, “Peace be with you.” God calls us to embody peace. To be peacemakers. It’s not enough to say, “I am a Christian.” God calls us to embody Christ. To be Christ-like. That’s what it means for the Word to take on flesh in us.
And amazing things happen when the Word takes on flesh. When the Word takes on flesh in us, it becomes real for those around us.
Early this spring, a desperate situation turned deadly when Philippine security forces fired on a peaceful demonstration of 5,000 farmers who were asking for rice.[ii] The hungry people got bullets from the government, but were offered compassion and shelter by Bishop Ciriaco Francisco and other members of the Spottswood Methodist Mission Center. The bishop’s decision to offer sanctuary to the starving families put him in danger, and he was threatened with arrest. But he was adamant. “…it is a sin to deny them food,” he said.
The protesters were blocking Quezon Boulevard, a major road that runs in front of the Spottswood mission center, which is the home of the bishop’s office. When the violence broke out, protesters poured into the center, and the compound was surrounded by police. The violence left three dead and 18 severely injured. Close to a 100 people were wounded, and scores were missing. The center sheltered thousands of women, men and children for three days.
The province of Cotabato, where the farmers live, was under a “state of calamity” due to El Nino phenomenon, a weather condition that destroyed crops. The farmers were starving and were asking for 15,000 sacks of rice.
“The farmers gathered for three days in front of the National Food Authority warehouse hoping the governor would listen to their cries,” Bishop Francisco said. “But her heart was callous and she did not listen.”
However, the farmers finally received rice from non-government organizations, private individuals and religious groups. They got help because words like “compassion” and “justice” took on flesh in Bishop Francisco. The Word took on flesh, and countless lives have been forever changed.
That’s what happens when the Word takes on flesh. Lives are changed. Life changes. And we move ever closer to the future God envisioned for us so many years ago. A future of endless peace when the Son of God is seated on the throne, and his authority grows all the time.
It's simple, really. The future changes when we change. God has given us so many good words, words like peace, justice, righteousness, salvation, comfort, redemption, power, life, light, healing, wholeness, joy. What good words are within you just waiting, waiting to take on flesh?[iii]
O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray; cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell; O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel![iv]
[ii] The story of Bishop Francisco is told by Kathy Gilbert in “Philippines bishop honored for sheltering poor.” Published December 15, 2016 on the United Methodist Church website at www.umc.org/news-and-media/philippine-bishop-honored-for-sheltering-poor. Downloaded December 24, 2016.
[iv] Phillips Brooks. “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” The United Methodist Hymnal. Nashville: The United Methodist Publishing House, 1989. 230.