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"God with skin on"

This is what I preached Sunday at my home church, Emanuel Lutheran Church, West Warwick, RI.

It was wonderful to see everyone and it still felt like home. The text was John 1:10-18.

We arrived here in RI this past Thursday after spending a week and a half in Rochester, NY with our daughter and granddaughter. Our granddaughter, Grace, was so excited about Christmas and the various celebrations she would be participating in. Her excitement was contagious. We had a wonderful, worshipful, and relaxing Christmas together

Now much of the excitement of Christmas is over. For some people it was over as they picked up the wrapping paper from opened gifts and threw it out. For others, vacations are finished. Today is the second Sunday after Christmas, but the kids will be back to school tomorrow and others will be back to work. The bell ringers for the Salvation Army are gone and the special efforts to help the poor may not be lifted up as much as they were throughout Christmas.

Truth be told, most of us may feel a little spent, a little tired, a little depleted by this time. However much we may (or may not!) enjoy the holiday season, the whirlwind of parties, extra shopping, extra cooking, etc. can leave one feeling a bit tired. Following the New Year’s weekend and the parties that may have kept us up well past our normal bedtime, a few of us may be tempted to prop our eyes open with toothpicks when we go to work tomorrow. Scott Hoezee

So, now everything is over for another year or is it? Is Christmas over? The church calendar says it is still Christmas until Epiphany when we celebrate the coming of the wise men to Jesus, but in some respects, shouldn’t Christmas be a part of our lives every day?

What happened at that first Christmas? We all know the story. God wanted to communicate God’s love to us in a way we would understand, so God took on human form in the nature of baby Jesus and became one of us. Angels proclaimed the great news to the shepherds. Shepherds proclaimed the news to the townspeople of Bethlehem. Shouldn’t we be proclaiming the same news to the people of West Warwick and RI today?

Telling the world that God became human is an easy concept, right? After reading today’s gospel, you might not think so. “No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father's heart, who has made him known” is how John describes what happened at that first Christmas when God became human.

Who did Jesus come to to make the Father known? John throws a series of opposites at us. First, He came to the world, but the world did not know him. He came to his own, his own people, but they did not receive him. John this time does not say that his own did not know him, as was the case with the world, but that they did not receive him. It was not an issue of mere recognition, but of acceptance and welcome.

How does Jesus make God known? He came as one of us, among us. Author, Anne Robertson tells a story of a little boy:

…who was terrified when his mother would turn out the lights in his room and leave him for the night. Afraid of the dark and of being by himself he cried out for his mother to stay. Being a woman of faith, she reassured her son that God would be with him through the night. “But Mama,” he cried, “I need God with skin on!”

We need “God with skin on.” That is who Jesus came to be for those in the first century…God with skin on. That is God’s way of saying God wants to have a relationship with us. Anne Robertson continues, “The chasm between God and us is wide, and God was not content that only some people could manage to cross it. God built a bridge on Christmas.” That bridge is Jesus Christ.

It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father's heart, who has made him known.We still need “God with skin on.” That’s where the church, the community of faith, we as God’s people come in. Incarnation, what happened at Christmas is more than when Jesus came as a baby. God comes to us through each other and through the sacraments. God comes to us today in bread and wine. God is made known to others through us as we let the Holy Spirit work through us, as we live incarnational lives of faith.

A lot of good “God with skin” stuff has been happening at Emanuel. Besides the annual coat drive, there has been the backpack project the Parish Life Shepherds have coordinated, as well as the food pantry. There have been improvements to our facilities, which make this a more welcoming, accessible place. All of this is part of making the Father known, of being “God with skin on.”

This mission of Jesus is picked up in the last verse of our text: "No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father's heart, who has made him known … [who] "interprets" the Father for us). We do not know what this year will bring.

There may be big changes ahead for our families. The economic times remain uncertain: those without jobs can’t be sure they will find work, those with jobs can’t be sure they will keep them. Such things can increase stress, make us uptight. (Scott Hoezee)

This is when we need a God with skin on. This is when we as a faith community become the eyes and ears and mouth and hands and feet of God. This is when we need to put into practice the words of the hymn, “Go Tell it On the Mountain that Jesus Christ is Born!”

Later in our service, we will confess together in the words of the Creed that we believe in Christ’s coming to us, being born of the Virgin Mary, of his suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension. Concerning this, Luther wrote, “…the entire Gospel which we preach is based on this, that we properly understand this article as that upon which our salvation and all our happiness rest…”

We have started a new year. We don’t know what it will bring. For those people who are looking for signs that God is with us, for a God with skin on, all they have to do is look at the people here in these pews and they will see the eyes and ears and mouth and hands and feet of God.

Let us pray:

O God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

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