The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined. You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder. For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire. For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.’”
Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.
What does it mean to be human?
What does it mean to be human?
It is an interesting and complex question. Scientists don’t agree on what is human. Some say that the species Homo Sapiens is human. Some equate it with the whole genus Homo. Some have argued that humans are actually a subspecies Homo sapiens sapiens. And few scientists think that the term human applies to the entire hominin lineage.
In fact one writer in an article in Psychology today suggest that the word “human” is a folk term and not a scientific term.
For instance scientifically there is no such thing as a “weed and no way to describe one plant different from another plant by using the term “weed” There are just plants. But as a folk term “weed” means a plant where you don’t want a plant.
Likewise to him the term “human” is a folk term. One cannot actually scientifically define human, but as a folk term we use it to talk about people.
So we use the term a lot “human,” but have no real consensus on what it really means to be human.
Bill Gates, the Microsoft Founder talks about the ability of humans to pass on to the next generation, first by story, then by writing books, and now with modern technologies. And in part that is his answer to what it means to be human….
…this ability to pass on information and language and story and culture.
Others talk about humans as those who have both access to levels of consciousness and freedom of choice.
There are those who refer to our language ability, or to our tool-making ability. In fact we can make tools that make other tools.
There are those who talk about humans as the ones who can make and understand symbols.
Some evolutionists think of us as an ultra-social primate species and this interdependence and co-operation is what really marks humans as different from other primates.
Another scholar said what makes humans human is their insatiable curiosity about everything.
Sitting here tonight are lovers of Star Wars, people who speak different languages, people who can wire a house to code, or people who understand binary code. There are people who do cross stitching and people who have travelled all around the world, for no purpose except to experience other parts of the world.
Only humans would take dead gophers stuff them, dress them up as various characters, put them in dioramas and make a Gopher Hole museum, like the one east of Olds Alberta.
There are those who say that humans are all about meaning.
In fact one scholar Mircea Eliade in his 1959 book The Sacred and the Profane; The Nature of Religion suggested that instead of Homo sapiens, which basically means “wise human” we should be called Homo religious because the essence of religion is about meaning and purpose and humans are the ones who are interested in meaning and purpose.
In fact one might say to be human is to ask the question “what does it mean to be human?
There are those who equate human with making mistakes. Witness the Edmonton Oilers in many games this year. “After all, they are only human.”
And there are those who point out that often we humans act in ways that really are not human. I think it was Robert Burns the Scottish poet who penned lines that spoke of “Man’s inhumanity to man.”
The treatment of Jews by the Nazis, the treatment of slaves and women and gays and lesbians down through the centuries, the many senseless wars, ethnic cleansing…. We now think of as inhuman.
The Hebrew word for man is “adam” and it comes from the Hebrew word for “ground” or “earth” which is “adama.”
In other words we are creatures created from the earth, what we might call an “earthling.” And after we die our bodies will return to the earth.
The English word “human” is a cognate with the English word “humus” which means soil.
Again, this sense of us being interconnected with the earth.
And from the word humans and humus another word shares its ancestry and it is the word “humility.”
We are most human according to the ancients when we recognize our connection to the earth, and we move in humble relation to the earth and all living things that come from it.
One of my all-time favourite television shows was a show called Star Trek, The Next Generation.
Though I loved the original Star Trek, I think I liked the Next Generation more, possibly because I watched the original Star Trek as a child and teenager, and I watched the Next Generation as an adult and I would think about its meaning.
The original Star Trek shows were often about freedom. It was after all a sixties show. And it seemed every week Captain Kirk and possibly some crew members were captured by aliens on another planet and there was this inevitable talk of freedom.
But the Next Generation, I believe revolved around the character of Data who is a self-aware and sentient android, although does not understand emotions.
So one of the major plot lines if not the most frequent was about Data asking the question: “What does it mean to be human?”
And strangely enough often it would be Data who would try to act human and in so doing was often more human than the humans.
Recently there was a new Blade Runner movie. The original Blade Runner movie based on a novel by Philip K. Dick was about a bounty hunter trying to track down and exterminate six androids because they were not human, but strangely enough the androids seemed to show care and empathy for one another while the humans were the ones trying to exterminate them. Who was acting humanely?
What does it meant to be human? Is it biological or evolutionary? Is it how we think or act?
What is human or humane? What is inhuman?
And maybe we don’t have to completely answer that, but just thinking about it makes us human.
But I ask the question tonight for this simple reason.
Tonight we celebrate what theologians call the Incarnation. We celebrate Jesus becoming human…God entering humanity.
What does that mean? Jesus becoming human?
I guess it might depend on what you think it means to be human in the first place.
I know it is easy to get all hung up on the miracle of the virgin birth. There are those Christians who take that very literally and there are those Christians who take it metaphorically….
But don’t let that keep you from the meaning…
Jesus becoming human…
Jesus being human… Jesus as a human.
In fact Jesus hardly ever referred to himself as Messiah, or God, or Son of God, but kept calling himself “the Son of Man.” Eighty one times in the gospels he refers to himself as “Son of Man” emphasizing his humanity.
Walter Wink, the great theologian, biblical scholar and activist wrote a whole book on the idea that Jesus kept referring to himself as the “Son of Man” and according to him we could translate that today in modern idiom as “the human one” or maybe even, he writes, “The truly Human one.”
So according to Walter Wink we don’t have to know what it means to be human to understand Jesus Christ becoming human.
It is the other way round. Jesus becoming human tells us what it means to be human.
For Jesus is the true human. Jesus’ way is the way to be human.
Jesus’ truth is that God made us to be truly human and sometimes we have lost the way to be human.
Jesus’ life is truly human life.
I quote from Wink’s book: The Human Being: Jesus and the enigma of the Son of Man:
“And this is the revelation: God is HUMAN … It is the great error of humanity to believe that it is human. We are only fragmentarily human, fleetingly human, brokenly human. We see glimpses of our humanness, we can only dream of what a more human existence and political order would be like, but we have not yet arrived at true humanness. Only God is human, and we are made in God’s image and likeness — which is to say, we are capable of becoming human.”
You see, according to our faith, we are on a journey to being human, and…
…Jesus is the true human and we look at him to find out what it means to be human.
We look at the way he had love for everyone, and especially for those whom society had despised and rejected, sometimes unjustly and sometimes deservedly so.
We look at the way he treated people of different religions or faiths. We look at the way he treated women and children with respect and inclusion, in a culture that demeaned them and thought them of lesser value.
We look at the way he healed and was inclusive and challenged the social order that kept certain people rich and in power.
We look at the way he challenged us to share and to be servants of others.
We look at his teachings of non-violence, and non-judgement and not being angry, and not worrying, and being thankful.
We look at his death and how he loved us even when we humans were being inhumane to him.
We look at how from the cross he in effect said: you can kill me but I still love and forgive you.”
So tonight we look at Jesus, the truly human one.
And we ask him, we pray to him, that his humanness would inhabit us…that his humanity would live in us…
…so that we would be die to our inhumanity and be born again to way God made us to be in the first place…
Truly human. Amen.
Prayer It’s always been about the light with you,
hasn’t it, Jesus?
Magi, braving distance and desert to find you,
and bewildered shepherds, compelled by an angel’s invitation,
allowed light to be their guide,
And it is still the light that calls us to you;
the light of beauty that whispers its truth
in surprising ways and places;
the light of compassion that kneels,
and washes road-soiled, life-battered feet;
the light of joy that glows
even in the darkness of grief and suffering;
the light that seeks to shine within us,
and through us into the dark corners of our world.
It’s always been about the light with you, Jesus;
and it’s always about the light for us.
Please lead us, now and always, out of darkness
and into your marvellous light. Amen.
He is the way to be Human. The truth of humanity and his life was that of the True Human. So go in peace. May your words be a blessing to others, may your actions be full of love and grace and may there be healing in your touch. And the blessing of God Allmighty, the Father the Son and the Holy Spirit be with you and your loved ones, now and forever.