And the Word Became Flesh…Full of Grace
And the Word Became Flesh…Full of Grace
by Dr. Noriel C. Capulong, Senior Pastor, Silliman Church
Delivered during the 9:00 AM Worship Service, December 11, 2016
Bible Passages: Genesis 1:27; 4:1-8, 14-15; John 1:10-11, 14
The third week of Advent happens also to be the week when the Philippines and other members of the United Nations commemorate Human Rights Week. Yesterday, Dec. 10 was Human Rights Day, the day in 1948, when the Universal Declaration on Human Rights was ratified and signed by various nations including the Philippines. Yes, in this part of the season of Advent, we also mark the observance of Human Rights. But what connection or relevance does human rights have with the season of Advent?
Advent, actually announces the coming of the Lord as an ordinary human being. That is, when the word became flesh and dwelt among us. God is coming to join the ranks of the ordinary human, to experience what it means to be human, to bear witness to what it means, according to Gen. 1, for humans to bear the image of God, to witness to the potential beauty and glory of humanity, reflecting the very image of the creator God. And so Jesus came to experience for himself the joys of living, as well as its pains, the struggles and longings of the ordinary human being.
At the same time, God came to us to experience for himself the pain of being betrayed and his rights violated in the most cruel, unjust and inhuman manner. What could be a most unimaginable cruelty to a fellow human was experienced also by the Son of God. God knows what it means to be unjustly accused and persecuted by the powers that be. God knows what it means to be tortured, mocked, put on trial that leads to certain death by crucifixion.
And what could be more painful for Jesus is that the cruel violations of his rights came from his own people, from his fellow Jews, and the pain of betrayal and abandonment came from his own trusted closest friends. As our text in John testifies, “…he was in the world… yet the world knew him not”. The world actually did not just know him. The world actually rejected him when they killed him on the cross. In effect, the world rejected God and his kingship as proclaimed by Jesus.
The story of Cain and Abel in Genesis 4 actually presents to us a picture of how this rejection of God by His children takes place. The people do reject God not because they are inherently wicked or demonic in all their schemes, not because they want to separate or express their independence or autonomy from God. In fact, as shown in the action of Cain, in killing his own brother Abel, Cain zealously wanted to be the one favored by God. He wanted his offering of the fruits of the ground, the products of his own farming toil to be acceptable to God. He wanted to be close to God.
But God does not act according to our own desires and wishes. God acts according to his own divine will. And God chose the offering of Abel, the firstlings from his own flock being a shepherd. God simply considered the offering of Abel as the one more acceptable to him. And that’s it. Cain was so upset and mad, not at God but at his younger brother and so he promptly killed him./ Abel did not do anything criminally wrong. He did not commit any grievous crime. He was only innocently offering to God what he believes was the best offering he could offer.
But Cain would not and cannot tolerate any competitor in winning the favor of God. He only wanted to be the one chosen and favored by God, no one else. In like manner, Jesus was also rejected, condemned and killed by those who believed that by doing so, they will remain close to God and that they will remain as the guardians of the people’s faith. They believe that as guardians of the faith they have the spiritual and moral ascendancy in condemning Jesus. But in so doing, they have rejected the only beloved son of God whom they accused of being a pretender to that title.
Just like Cain, the motive for killing is God, the desire to be close to God and be justified by God. With this, they begin to believe that they now possess moral and spiritual superiority over others and would begin to deal with them no longer as a brother or sister, as fellow bearer of God’s image, but as enemies of God, and therefore their own enemies too. They then feel they have the moral and spiritual right to reject, condemn and even do away with them.
Just like Cain, we have an image of God who would always be on our side, who would do things according to our preferences, our desires, our plans and expectations. We want a God who can be domesticated even if we claim that we do things in the name of God. How many families, brothers and sisters would engage in bitter conflict and even kill each other because of this motive along with the usual economic vested interests? How many killings have taken place, how many wars have been fought and still being fought, how many massacres have been carried out in the name of God and his righteousness? How many are those who believe they are God’s warriors and are willing to shed blood in the name of the God they worship?
There are three things here, first, we need to really reflect deeply on the nature and quality of our relationship with God. Second, we have to reexamine the nature of our relationships with our fellow human beings, or our brothers and sisters, fellow bearers of God’s image. Third, is our understanding of the grace of God.
First, we can see here the relationship that Cain had with his God. Initially, we can see that the first murder recorded in the whole Bible, was the murder of one’s brother, all because of the desire to be close to and be justified by God.
But God acts not according to anyone’s desires and expectations and politics, but only according to his freedom which may even appear arbitrary at times. But this is the God, the God of freedom who demands our full and unconditional loyalty and obedience beyond anything else. God is God and we are only his creatures. We can only bow down in submission and acceptance of his divine will in full trust and loyalty.
Secondly, on the matter of our relationship with our brothers and sisters, we see the vertical dimension of our faith, our relationship with God, demanding to be expressed in a horizontal plane through our relationship with our fellow human beings, fellow bearers of God’s image. Here we see the Lord, asking Cain the most ethically pointed question in the story: “Where is Abel your brother?” The murderer of his own brother even had the gall to deny knowledge of his whereabouts. “I do not know! Am I my brother’s keeper?” To think that he is lying right before God!
But this is the most resonant statement you can hear from this story. Do we have to care for others? Do we need to be concerned about those who suffer and are being victimized? Do we need to care if thousands are already being killed in the so-called drug related extra judicial killings? With the continuing rise in the number of victims some of us may say “who cares?”
The question to Cain is a rhetorical question with an obvious answer. Are we our brother’s keepers? The obvious answer is yes, because we are part of just one family, the human family bearing the divine image under the parenthood of one creator God. In fact, our relationship with God becomes measured, not in terms of the offerings we offer to God, not in terms of the rituals we go through to worship God, but mainly in terms of how we relate and respond to the needs of each other and to the voices of suffering of many others. This has been validated by our Lord Jesus Christ in his life and ministry to the common people of his time and in his teaching about who will actually be able to enter his kingdom on the day of judgment in his parable of the sheep and the goats (cf. Matt. 25:31-46)
Yes, instead of focusing on the self especially in this coming Christmas season, we begin focusing on others, on our brothers and sisters, on those who are suffering and are being victimized in this world. It is time to offer ourselves to the service of those for whom Jesus offered his own life, the downcast and the victimized of this world. This is the word becoming flesh through us.
Finally, in the end God found Cain guilty of murder. And he was punished with a curse, from being a farmer-tiller of the soil, he becomes a wandering fugitive. A life changing sentence! The farmer-agriculturist now becomes a nomad wandering all over the face of the earth. Cain however, found the sentence too heavy to face and bear. He expressed the fear before God that in the course of his wanderings as a fugitive, he could easily become a target of hostile and even murderous intent of peoples along the way.
The Lord however responded with words of assurance: “Not so! If anyone slays Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him seven fold.” And then the Lord placed a mark, obviously, a mark of protection, on Cain to serve as a sign, a notice to all who will see that this man is under the protection and care of God. Therefore, “hands off! Nobody should ever dare touch or harm this guy.
This is where we can discern what could be one of the earliest gospel stories in the Bible, the good news, that God’s grace is so encompassing that even the unrepentant murderer of his own brother becomes embraced within the circle of God’s care and protection. Even the condemned sinners, no matter how devious and demonic their sins may have been, remain an object of God’s redeeming love. God is a God who cares for all, both the saints and the sinners, the Abels and the Cains of this world.
Truly, in spite of the murder, conflict, hatred and jealousy and false religiosity all around us, there remains a reason in this season to be joyful, thankful and hopeful because our God remains as a God of grace and a God of glory for all his children and for all seasons. Amen.