“And 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”
In the name of…
Seeing is believing—that’s the expression you’ve heard before, the expression my mother used when I didn’t quite manage to clean my room, or, in the face of empty promises over half-finished homework, or, when she was hoping for something slightly too far removed from reality.
Seeing is believing. But that’s not the whole quote. The 17th century English writer Thomas Fuller penned this expression in a collection of proverbs and folk sayings, writing that “Words are but Wind; but seeing is believing”. For Fuller, words are ephemeral, in one ear and out the other, transient, a moving target. “Words are but Wind; but seeing is believing” Seeing is believing because seeing feels somehow more truthful, more evidence-based, more real.
We are surrounded by words. Words that are beautiful or moving. Words that are false, or deceptive. Words, words, words, that surround and overwhelm us as we spend our days reading emails, news, and books… listening to podcasts and music lyrics and television… our world is filled with words that we must listen to, and weigh their truth. Is it real, or is it fake news? Are these words to believe in, or words that deceive? Words are wind, but seeing is believing.
On this Christmas morning, we read this famous passage from the first chapter of John: in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. You’ve probably heard it before, or perhaps hundreds of times. And in talking about the Incarnation—the birth of Jesus Christ—John, or the person from the Johannine community who wrote the text, weighs in on an important debate in the New Testament: whether seeing is in fact believing. We see this debate happening in the famous story of Thomas from the Gospel of John, who refuses to believe in the resurrection until he can see Jesus himself. Jesus says that “blessed are those who do not see, and yet believe”. The writer of Hebrews says something similar in that famous verse, that “faith is being sure of what you hope for, and certain of what you do not see”.
Words are wind, but seeing is believing. Because regardless of the lesson of Thomas, and the writer of Hebrews, I think we humans know that seeing still matters, even though we’d like to have enough faith to believe without seeing. Seeing matters. Knowing with certainty still matters. At the end of the day, words—as important as they are—don’t hold up in comparison with seeing in real life.
And so John’s story of our salvation begins with an impossible, astounding declaration: “the Word became flesh and lived among us”. The transient, the negotiable, the promises of prophets, the word spoken into the dark at the beginning of creation: finally visible. Seeing is believing, and “we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth”. The Word became flesh, so that we could see, and believe.
This glorious contradiction then begs the question: if the Word has become flesh… if Christ has truly come among us, what do we see? What drives us to belief? Perhaps it seems like a simple question: well, we see Jesus, as human, living, dying, raised from the dead, and that’s our proof. But as a person living in the 21st century, I don’t literally see Jesus standing in front of me. It has been two millennia since Christ ascended to heaven, and I still wonder: if I can’t see Jesus in-person, what is left for me to see, so that I may believe?
This first chapter of John may seem like an odd choice for Christmas Day: there is no manager, no angels or shepherds, none of the familiarity of Christmas Eve. Instead, the lectionary assigns us this meditation on the Word becoming flesh, a reflection on the cosmic implications of the Son of God coming to earth as a human child. What is clear here is that the Word become flesh is a direct result of love. From another part of John’s gospel: “for God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him will not perish, but have eternal life”. God coming to earth, God’s glory revealed in the lowliest of mangers, was all for love.
Here, I am reminded of a famous poem by Christina Rossetti, the Victorian poet, who describes the Incarnation as an act of love. Rossetti writes that
Love came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, Love Divine,
Love was born at Christmas,
Star and Angels gave the sign.
She asks later in the piece the same kind of question we’re asking today: “But wherewith for sacred sign?”. Where is our sign? What is the glory that we see? Rossetti answers quite simply, that “Love shall be our token”. Love is our sign of the Incarnation. Jesus was born, lived, died, and rose again two millennia ago, but Love continues, to this day, to be our token, to be our evidence of this glory.
Love came down at Christmas. Friends, the truth of the matter is this: that 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. We, you and I, have seen his glory. We have seen his glory, because we have seen love.
We have seen Love every time we realize the truth that God wants to save the whole human family—you and me and the world, even when we seem completely unworthy of love.
We have seen Love in the care and goodwill of others, in the seeking and serving of Christ in all persons, in loving your neighbor as yourself.
We have seen Love at Chapel of the Cross this fall as we explore what it means for love to dwell among us—in our homes, in our worship and formation and fellowship and service.
And 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. We have seen his glory, even in the year 2020, because we have seen Love.
Love shall be our token,
Love be yours and love be mine,
Love to God and all [of us]
Love for plea and gift and sign.
We have seen Love, and so we believe—we believe in a God who loves us so deeply and desperately that God’s majesty and glory would be made known through a tiny baby: Love Incarnate. Love Divine. Love which dwells among us.
And the Word became flesh, became Love in the most unlikely of places. Love came down at Christmas. Love dwells here.