One of Us (12/27/2009)

Because He himself has suffered and been tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted. 

Hebrews 2:18                                       


            I left the church because it no longer seemed relevant to my problems.

                         I had already been saved

                                    And I was looking for some help in living in this world

                                                Before it was time to go to heaven.


            In college my fragile faith bit the dust.

                        Working at a truck line loading freight crushed the vision of Camelot.


            These fragments from a young man's autobiography indicate what many of us feel at different times.  In the midst of the everyday struggles of life, we can sense an absence of God.  We can wonder what does Jesus have to do with my regular routine.   We can question what does a figure from the first century have to do with my struggles today.  What can the divine Christ who is fully God know about real life?


            Today on the Sunday following  Christmas I would have you focus on these words from the Nicene Creed which states For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven, was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became truly human.  These words remind us that Jesus was one of us.


            One of the best selling novels of this decade was called The Da Vinci Code.  In this entertaining book the author contends that the early church conspired to cover up the humanity of Jesus.  He says that the church made up the myth of Jesus being fully God and ignored his humanity.


            This argument is anachronistic.  While, for many, our modern mentality may make it difficult for us to conceive how Jesus could be divine, in the early centuries following Jesus ‘resurrection many people found it hard to believe that Jesus had been truly human. The church had to continually fight to maintain that Jesus was a human person who existed in an earthly body.  Men and women attracted to the Christian faith wanted to turn Jesus into a purely spiritual being.  There were many groups who denied Jesus really had a body.


            We see this tension in our Gospel reading for today.  In the prologue of his Gospel, John writes about the eternal word of God who has been present since before creation.  The prologue culminates in the words and the word became flesh and dwelt among us.


            The words and the word became flesh remind us that the creed tells us that he was born of the Virgin Mary.  Jesus lived a fully normal human existence. It was to a young, impoverished Jewish peasant girl named Mary that Christ was born.   He came into the world as we all do, to the accompaniment of cries of physical pain and inward spiritual ecstasy.  As William Blake put it:


            My mother groaned, my father wept.

            Into the dangerous world I leapt.


            Jesus was born in a stable or outbuilding, a cave maybe, since no other more suitable accommodation was available or within the means of Mary and Joseph.  He began life as a part of a humble human family. 


            We believe that Jesus lived a full human life.  The Bible teaches us that Jesus experienced life in all its many faceted dimensions.  Jesus was not some kind of superman who walked above the difficulties of life with the bullets bouncing off his body.  Jesus did not just play act a human life. 


            There are times I think we picture Jesus as being part human and part divine.  This is the invasion of the body snatchers view of Jesus. In this image God takes over a human body. In this picture Jesus is made up of two parts.  He would have a human portion that consists of a natural body.  But the rest of Jesus, his personality, will, and mind is divine.  In this view Jesus is sort of like a pumpkin.  The inside are hollowed out and filled with the light of God's presence.  Jesus then is half man and half God.


            One of the great paradoxes of our faith is our proclamation that Jesus was both fully human and fully divine.  Just as we can never fully comprehend the truth that God is three persons in one nature in the Trinity, so we cannot fully grasp that in the one person Jesus there are two natures. 


            We teach that Jesus was fully human.

                          He had a human body.

                                    He had a human will.

                                                He had a human mind.

                                                            He had human emotions.

                                                                        He experienced human temptations.


            Jesus lived a full human life.


            This difficult teaching is not just some abstract teaching, which interests theologians.  The full humanity of Christ reminds us that God understands our lives.  Jesus knows our experience and thus can stand with us in every experience of our lives.


            The writer of Hebrews tells us:      


Because He himself has suffered and been tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted.                                           


            Because Jesus has experienced every aspect of life, he can understand us. 


            If you are a child in school working hard to learn how to read and write-- if you are worried about an upcoming test- Jesus understands for he spent hours in his local village studying under the Rabbi learning to read the Torah.


            You may be a teenager who is struggling to find your identity independent of your parents.  You may be going through a time where one minute you love your parents and the next minute you are furious with them.  Jesus understands for he too staked out his independence from Mary and Joseph on a trip to Jerusalem when he was a teenager.  He understands the turmoil of your emotions.


            Each one of us faces temptations day in and day out.  We all are faced with situations in life when we feel drawn to do something that we know is wrong, whether cheating on a test, taking something which is not ours, telling a lie about an enemy, fudging on our income tax or something else.  We have experienced how powerful the temptation to violate our principles can be.


            Jesus understands.  In the wilderness he underwent temptation to follow a different path in order to gain material success and public acclaim. 


            Jesus understands and will stand with us in our temptation.


            In our lives we undergo many experiences of loss.  Each one of us at some time loses a loved one to death.  We may lose our grandparents, parents, spouse, children or friends.  We face the trial of living our days without someone whom we love.  We know the empty space in our hearts.  Mourning is a profoundly difficult human experience.


            Jesus experienced loss.  We know that somewhere between the age of twelve and thirty, Joseph died.  The Father who gave support and guidance and stability to Jesus' young life was taken from him.  Jesus knew the wound to his heart of mourning one whom he loved.


            When we mourn, Jesus stands with us for he understands our pain.


            It is not only the difficult aspects of life that Jesus shares with us.  He knew the joys of life as well.  Jesus would have worked long hours in his Father's carpenter shop.   After a long day of physical toil, Jesus would have had that wonderful sense of peace when putting up his feet and relaxing after a nice meal. 


            Jesus would have known the sense of accomplishment after completing a project in the shop.   


            Jesus was no prude who stood off from the joys of life.  Remember how Jesus went to the wedding feast at Cana.  A celebration, which he made sure, did not end prematurely when he contributed to the refreshments. 


            When we experience joy and happiness at a party or with family and friends, Jesus celebrates with us.


            When we struggle with moral dilemmas in life, Jesus stands with us.  Each one of us has competing demands upon our time and energy.  We can be torn between our commitments to parents, spouses, children, jobs, and friends.


            Jesus knows this struggle.  We can only guess at what happened during the middle years of Jesus' life.   He began to feel God's call upon his life, yet Joseph has died and Jesus had responsibility for his family.  He had to look out for Mary and others in the family. His earthly work seemed to have been delayed until others were old enough to take responsibility.


            When we struggle with our commitments, Jesus understands.


            When we question the will of God, when we wonder why has this happened to me, when we are unsure of God's love for us, Jesus knows what we feel.  Remember Jesus’ experience in the Garden.  It became clear to him that following God's will would mean his own death.  Jesus was fully human; he did not want to die.  In the Garden he wrestled with God' s purpose in his life. He could not fully understand why, why did he have to die. On the cross Jesus goes further and wonders why God seems to have forsaken him.


            When we struggle with the meaning of our lives, when we question God, Jesus is with us.


            Finally when we face our death, we are not alone.  Jesus met his death on the cross.  He has walked that road before us.  Jesus knew the fear, pain and questions of facing the final journey of life.  He has been there.  He will be with us as we make that final journey ourselves.


            I believe that Jesus is fully human and fully God


            We love a God who understands us.

                        We trust a God who knows the good and bad of the human condition.

                                     Jesus has shared our life and promises to be with each one of us

                                                 as we journey through life.


Because He himself has suffered and been tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted.