Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
Hail th’incarnate Deity,
Pleased as man with men to dwell,
Jesus, our Emmanuel.
In 586 BC or thereabouts, the city of Jerusalem was sacked by the Babylonian army. Many of the city’s citizens were led away in captivity to Babylon, where—uprooted from all they had known—they had to learn to live again in a strange land.
If you’ve been with us on Sunday mornings through December, then you’ve heard me talking about exile an awful lot. It’s the defining narrative of the Hebrew Scriptures. Everything, from the beginning stories in Genesis about a perfect paradise and banishment from it, to the last words of the prophets envisioning a great global gathering at God’s holy mountain, is written from the perspective of exile, from the perspective of hoping for a homecoming.
It’s a common enough literary theme, this desire to go home. We’ve all felt it.
It’s the longing for what can’t be recaptured. It’s sometimes even a nostalgia for things that haven’t been, for a past that is perfect in the way that the real past wasn’t. It’s an ache right in the center of the chest.
So I want to suggest to you, this evening, that God’s ultimate answer to the exile is Jesus.
I don’t mean that you should substitute Jesus for all the things in the past that you can’t recapture. Rather, this: God’s answer to the searing pain of loneliness, to the griefs that can’t be borne alone, to the depth at which we betray one another, to this whole world where we’re caught in cycles of pushing one another away when we wish we could be drawing together…
…God’s answer to exile is incarnation: God becomes flesh.
God’s answer to the restless desires of the human heart is to make a home among us… pleased, as human, with us to dwell.
God’s answer to the ways we exercise power against each other is to be born utterly powerless, and ask us what we make of that.
God’s answer to all our divisions, from the pettiest squabbles to global outbreaks of violence, is being born as love among us.
God’s answer to exile is incarnation: incarnate in a baby, 2000 years ago, but also incarnate in you.
God, incarnate in every. single. one of you. There’s a Christmas miracle for you.
In a few minutes, after some handbell music and a brief space of quiet worship in the manner of Friends, we’re going to start passing the light. I want to remind you, as I try to do every year, to tip the unlit candle.
It’s surprisingly counter-intuitive. For some reason, we want to hold our candles straight to receive the light, and them tip them to pass the light as though we are pouring it out. Don’t do that. Hold the lit candle straight, and tip the unlit candle.
But more importantly, as you watch your candle, don’t forget that the miracle of incarnation is as real and relevant and life-altering today as it was 2000 years ago, when the angels sang about it.
We are the Body of Christ. As we grow in Christ, Christ is incarnate in us. That’s how the exile ends, how sin is defeated, how we are brought together and how we are brought home. Christ in us, our hope of glory.
That’s Christ in you, of all places. That’s Christ in the people sitting around you, too. It’s Christ in every open heart here tonight. It’s Christ-bearers gathering at all the other Christmas Eve services in town.
Christ being born into the world, again and again, each birth as glorious as the scene to which the shepherds bore witness.
A light that passes from hand to hand, from heart to heart, and the darkness cannot overcome it. Christ has come to end our exile, to make God’s own home with us and to shatter the walls that keep us separate from one another. The exile ends with incarnation, and as Christ’s own body, we are blessed to be the flesh that carries that precious gift.
Our Handbell Ensemble is going to play a medley to lead us into our time of waiting worship. As we pray, may you know the presence of Jesus, our Emmanuel, God come to dwell with us.