Dec. 27 2015 sermon
The “Em-bodyment” of Christ
Have you ever heard of the term “avatar”? On the internet or online computer games, avatar is a cartoonish character that represent you in the online world. There is also a Hollywood blockbuster hit movie called Avatar (Don’t bother with this one; it’s a bad, bad movie). In the movie, avatars are the characters’ alter ego that allow them to interact with the indigenous people of another planet. Average people know the term avatar from these two settings; but originally it is a Hindu concept. Yes, it comes from Hinduism.
In Hinduism, avatars are human beings who are believed to be the incarnation of one of the gods. They may display the personalities of the gods they embody and understand them better than anyone on earth. Sounds familiar? It should.
John’s gospel starts with a philosophical and metaphysical bang. “In the beginning was the Word. The Word was with God, and the Word was God”. “The Word was God” in Greek can also be translated as “The Word was godly/ or divine”. The Greek word that we translate here as “the Word” is “logos”, which is the origin of the English word “logic”. This word means much much more than just “the word”. The first meaning has to do with word, speaking, statement, proclamation, the subject, or a divine revelation. But also has the meaning of computation, reasoning. The definition for the word “logos” in my Greek-English lexicon takes about 3 pages long, with subcategories and examples; this is how complicated the word “logos” is.
This esoteric beginning of John’s gospel sets the right tone for the rest of the gospel, which is as esoteric and confusing. But the point of all this confusing and philosophical beginning is that Jesus is not a human being; well, at least not a normal one anyway. Jesus is the name of the human body; his essence is the Christ figure. So in a Hindu term, we could say that Jesus of Nazareth was the avatar of the Christ figure, which is divine like our creator God.
The universe is full of wonders, and even with all the scientific and technological advancement we have experienced, we still cannot fathom the mystery of God’s creations, and what is out there in space. We were smart enough only to figure out that our planet is only one of the many planets in the solar system, and our solar system is only a small part of our milky way galaxy, and that our galaxy is only one of the many many galaxies in the universe that we cannot see or reach. God the creator cannot be fathomed by the human intelligence. Since we are not intelligent enough to understand God, God had to come to us in a human form. The word “incarnation” means becoming flesh. Since we cannot understand God’s language, God had to speak our language; and I don’t mean English, although I know some Anglophone Christians believe that God’s language is King James English.
As the incarnation of the creator God, Jesus possessed God’s nature and understood God better than any humans that had ever lived. That is how we know that what Jesus did and taught during his lifetime was God’s will. His birth among the poor and the marginalized of the society, rebuking powerful people who oppress others, living a poor and homeless lifestyle with his followers, teaching and practicing a radically inclusive love; all this is the embodiment of God. As well as the word “incarnation” (becoming flesh), I find the word “embodiment” quite interesting. I think it’s very important that the word “embodiment” includes the word “body”. When you embody something, that something is inside your body and mind. Imagine a ghost or someone’s spirit possessing a living body. The possessed people talk like the ghost, walk like the ghost (ok, it sounded like a song lyric); they think like the ghost and behave like the ghost possessing them. I know it sounds like a horror movie, but this is what Jesus of Nazareth was; the embodiment of the creator God who thought, spoke, and acted like God.
Now that the human Jesus is no more but living with us in spirit, the embodiment of God is now embodied in us, his followers. This is of course another way of saying, “It is no longer I who live, but the Spirit lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). As Jesus thought, spoke, and acted like God, what should happen to us when the Spirit of Christ lives in us? I told you last week that God is love. If we are the embodiment of God’s spirit, we should ooze God’s love through our words and actions. Jesus preached and lived out God’s love throughout his ministry; now it is our turn to live out the teachings of Jesus through our ministry, which includes our whole life since we are disciples. Our life should be God’s ministry.
German theologian and spiritual writer Bonhoeffer said that God came to us in the form of Jesus the human, and Jesus the spirit comes to us and dwells among us in the form of the people we meet. He quotes Matthew 25:40; “What you did to the least of these, you have done to me”. This is how we disciples of Jesus embody the spirit of divine love.
This Christmas season (You DO know that Christmas is not over according to the Christian Year), as we receive God’s supreme love for humankind through Jesus the Christ who embodied God’s love, let us remember that we who chose to follow Jesus and receive God’s love have to be the embodiment of the same love. If God’s sprit lives in us as Galatians said, we have to let the Sprit live through us and be our master and guide. If the spirit of divine love is our guide, we will not be led to hatred, negligence, and mistreatment of our fellow beings; human or otherwise. We would be the manifestation of God’s love. Let us receive the divine love inside us and let it shine through our lives. Let us be the “em-bodyment” of Christ and the love of God. Let us be the “avatars” of Christ as Jesus was the “avatar” or the creator God.
Rev. Sunny Kim