Mt. McKinley in Alaska, originally known as Denali, "the Great One." .... "Lead me to the rock that is higher than I; for you are my refuge..." (Ps. 61:2-3)

       "Who do you say that I am?" Jesus asked.  Simon Peter answered, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."  And Jesus answered, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! ... You are Peter (petros), and on this rock (petra) I will build my church..."  Jesus then began to speak of the rough road ahead. And Peter took him aside and rebuked him... "Get behind me, Satan!" Jesus replied. "You are a stumbling block..."
                                                (Matthew 16:13-23)

May these words of this Peter be like a rock,
not a stumbling block!

"What’s a ‘pair of ducks’?"

Message preached December 30, 2012
Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren
Glen Arm, Maryland USA

based upon  John 1:1-18

Order of Worship

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             There’s a package under our Christmas tree which we still need to open. No, it’s not the latest Halo 4 video game. Nor is it the best cordless drill on the market. However, it is a mighty force, though it may not appear powerful. This parcel does not contain the best deal on dress boots from DSW, a diamond necklace from Jared’s, or Chanel perfume from Nordstrom. Its beauty is far beyond these things, though a first glance might indicate otherwise. It is not a book, in hardback or digital form. Nor is it a laptop able to connect you with the wonders of the world-wide web. Even so, this box is filled with the deepest wisdom known to humanity. It remains, nevertheless, hardly noticed amid the piles of crumpled wrapping paper.

              When we open this tiny bundle, we see that all it contains is a word: “Incarnation.” Just a word. What is so powerful about this word? How is it beautiful? Why so wise? It’s just a word.

              Incarnation. Literally, it means “in flesh,” as in “Word made flesh.” That is, “in human form,” just like you or me.

              Incarnation. Behind this word is a teaching which some have called the most central doctrine of our faith. To put it simply: the Incarnation is about Jesus, whom we believe was both fully God and fully a human being when he was born and placed in that manger so long ago.

              “Aha!,” you might say, “we’ve already unwrapped that gift. See, it’s sitting there up on the shelf, along with the other figures in our nativity set. We even have a tiny light above it that makes it shine in the dark, to remind us that this is the Son of God.”

              Of course, the manger set comes down at the same time the tree does, and is boxed away until next December. In similar fashion, the gift of the Incarnation lasts about as long, in many homes, as a battery operated toy.  All too soon it is forgotten. 

              And yet, it is a, if not the central teaching of the Christian faith. Powerful, beautiful, wise, and a paradox.... Paradox... A young child heard enough of a sermon one day to ask his father afterward, “What’s a ‘Pair of Ducks’?” “I’m not sure,” the Dad replied, “all I know is that the preacher talks about them whenever he’s flying higher than the rest of us.”

              Paradox... In his book, God Was in Christ, Scottish theologian D.M. Baillie called the Incarnation “the supreme paradox” (p. 106). He wrote, “the mystery of the Incarnation is the climax of all Christian paradoxes. They all point to it, and indeed they are all revealed by it” (p. 110). 

              Paradox. Webster’s dictionary defines a “Paradox” as “a statement that is seemingly contradictory or opposed to common sense and yet is perhaps true.” According to this definition, to say that Jesus was fully God and fully human is a paradox. When you think about it, it just doesn’t make much sense. Even so, we believe it is true.

              “God sent his only son,” that favorite scripture verse from John’s gospel begins. But words are inadequate when describing the Incarnation. Jesus Christ is not to God what my two sons are to me. Tyler and Mitchell look a bit like me, they carry a genetic code derived, in part, from my family tree, some of their behavior has been learned from my own, though they or I may not want to admit it at times. But my sons are their own persons, and as time has gone by they have grown separate from me. They are not replicas of Peter Haynes.

              To say that Jesus is God’s son is different from saying that Tyler and Mitchell are my sons. The meaning is much deeper. The apostle Paul once wrote “in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell(Colossians 1:19). That’s more than genetics or learned behavior. Somehow, someway, all that God was, is, and will be is contained in Christ Jesus. He is God. When we look at that manger, we are seeing God in human form. It doesn’t quite make sense, but it’s true. It’s a paradox.

              John’s gospel begins with a long, run‑on sentence that also doesn’t quite make sense, but it’s one of the most profound statements about Christ found in the Bible. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God...” “With” implies “side by side.” “Was” suggests “same as.” The two don’t seem to fit together, and yet, strangely, they do. God and this Word that became flesh and lived among us are both “side by side” and “the same.” It doesn’t quite make sense, but it’s true. It’s a paradox.

              That’s only part of the paradox of the Incarnation, however. Jesus was/is fully God. He was also fully a man, a human being. The book of Hebrews speaks of how God in Jesus “became like (us) in every respect(2:17), knowing the “weakness” of our existence, experiencing “in every respect” the same “testing” that we do daily, without giving in to it (4:15, 2:18). The apostle Paul wrote that Christ Jesus, “though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in human likeness(Philippians 2:6‑7). Jesus Christ was fully a human being. This also is a paradox, it doesn’t seem to make much sense, and yet it’s true.

              Put together these two inexplicable mysteries of the Incarnation, that this newborn baby was fully God, and that he also was fully human, and you’ve got the Supreme paradox of our Christian faith. This combined statement of faith is what sets us apart from every other religion on this earth. Every heresy within the church down through the ages has sought to emphasize one side of this paradox over the other. But they fit together ‑ beyond common sense and ordinary reason.

              Paradox. What is a “Pair of Ducks?” When we reach the end of our ability to understand, we look up and fly with the wings of faith over life’s strange and new terrain. To grow in faith is to accept its paradoxes, and trust that what does not make sense in the realm of God, can be true.

              Consider the paradox of Grace. This doctrine suggests that all the good within us, everything we manage to do right, flows from God, not from our own innate goodness or right‑ness. This Grace is amazing, we sing, in how it happens through our relationship with God in Christ. We admit that once we were blind to the best of what God calls us to be, lost in our inability to live up to God’s commandments. But God’s grace finds us, or we discover him (whichever), and God gives us the ability to live rightly.

              This grace is a paradox, for it asserts that we are most free as human personalities when we are most dependent on God, on how he lives and acts in us. Through God’s Grace, we are both free and dependent. Those two don’t seem to fit together, and yet they do. Pardon the play on words, but like the flight of these “pair of ducks,” freedom and reliance on the wind of God, we become graceful when we travel on the wings of faith ‑ faith in Jesus Christ, who was and is fully God, and fully human.

              Paradox. When we pull apart the word Paradox, we find the same root as is found in the word Doxology. In the New Testament, the Greek word “Doxa” means “Glory.” A Doxology is a word (a “logy”) of Praise reflecting God’s Glory. We cannot fully comprehend this Glory, for it is a paradox. We can, however, respond to it with thankful hearts, and continue to tell the story long after the Christmas tree and all its trimmings, and all our holiday decorations have been packed away.

(a variation of this was published in Messenger magazine, December 1996, vol 145, no. 11, p. 18)

online resources for this scripture text

For commentaries consulted, see Ephesians.

©1996, 2005, 2012 Peter L. Haynes
(you are welcome to borrow and, where / as appropriate, note the source - myself or those from whom I have knowingly borrowed.)

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