~Full of Grace and Truth~
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.”
Dear Members and Friends,
Our Sanctuary is so beautiful in Advent and Christmastime. The rich blue “paraments” (altar cloths) that we use in the Advent season are my personal favorite; they really bring out the blue in the stained glass window. Blue is said to have a calming effect. It’s meant to symbolize the long years of faithful waiting for Christ to appear. Deep blue is supposed to evoke the night skies over Bethlehem, too, and it’s the color traditionally associated with Mother Mary. Apart from the paraments, our Sanctuary manages to be
beautiful without much in the way of adornment. No icons, or statues, or images in stained glass. No chandeliers, or tapestries, or gold leaf. It’s a Protestant space, a poet’s kind of room, with few visuals to distract from the beauty of the spoken word. A Muslim visiting our church once commented that he felt very at home there because it was so much like a mosque—simple, elegant, monochromatic. Of course it resembles a mosque, too, because it has no statues, or murals, or images of any kind.
And just like a mosque, several of its scant decorations are actually words. Have you ever noticed the words that adorn the ends of all the pews? There’s also a Bible verse carved into the front of the pulpit. In the decorative script of the 1960s, it reads: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth. John 1:14.” Who chose that to be the one-and-only Bible verse to decorate our sacred space? And why? If we had it to do over, we might choose Micah 6:8. Some might campaign for John 3:16. Psalm 23:1 would be worthy of consideration, too. Instead, we have a verse from John’s abstract version of the Christmas story.
And yet, there’s nothing abstract about the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us. On the contrary, a truth in the flesh might be the only kind we truly grasp. When grace and truth abide in human flesh, it’s called “incarnation.” It’s what Christmas is all about. It’s not enough to have commandments, and laws, and rituals, and sermons. It’s not enough to have lovely church buildings, and budgets, and classes, and creeds. Faith only makes a difference in this world if it comes to us in a person with a body. If grace and truth are to mean anything at all, they must be born weak and vulnerable as we are. They have to cry helplessly, as we do. They have to know what it is to laugh, and to make friends, to suffer rejection, and to die—as we do. Jesus comes in the flesh so that we can see what grace and truth look like in a human life, and so that we in turn can embody them to our world. It’s a beautiful thing, really. God comes to us in the only way we can really understand: in a human life, something we each possess, something we can truly grasp. Then God bids us use our own frail flesh as a blessing to the world.
Your hands, your vocal cords, your feet, your eyes so full of wordless speech—these are your vehicles of grace and truth. That’s why they were created. Also, in the spirit of incarnation, I hope you’ll consider coming back to church in the flesh if you’re able! There’s such warmth and meaning in being gathered together physically in our sacred space—especially at Christmastime. Happy Advent season and a very Merry Christmas to you. It’s a privilege and a blessing to be “dwelling among” each other in these times.
In Christ’s Peace,