Not Just a Token (Christmas Day 2022)

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Earlier this year, NFTs were a hot item in the financial markets.  The anacronym “NFT” stands for “Non-Fungible Token”, and it’s essentially just a tiny bit of encrypted computer coding which gives the buyer access to something.  That “something” can be a video, a musical recording or even, more recently, Donald Trump digital superhero trading cards!  In February of this year, something known as the “blue bandana” sold for almost $24 million!

Still, the NFT is not the art work, the music or the video.  It’s just the digital lock that lets you uniquely access the thing if you’ve paid for the NFT.  And so, like other forms of cryptocurrency, there’s been a lot of discussion around the value of these things.  Indeed, since it’s just a piece of computer coding, is it really even a thing?  An NFT is not actually even a physical “token.”  You can’t touch it, you can’t really see it, and you can’t put it in your pocket.

Of course, there are lots of things that are very real in our lives that we can’t see or touch or put in our pockets.  Some of those things are digital as well!  After all, the apps on your phone are very real, and if they don’t work, it can present a very real problem for you! But other things that we can’t see or touch or put in our pockets are real, too.  Love is a real thing in our lives.  Ideas are powerful, and can be unique and valuable as well.

And yet, what gives something value – what makes it not just a token – is that it makes a difference and has an effect in our actual, physical world.  Love for our neighbors is a great thing to have.  But its value is found when we actually do things with it – when we buy gifts for kids in need or food for families with food insecurity.  Ideas can be powerful and exciting.  But their value is found when ideas become actions, when they’re the impetus behind the development of new medicines or new inventions that make peoples’ lives better.  Even electronic apps on our phones have value when they allow us to share our experiences with others and find our way around unfamiliar places.

Sometimes, though, people imagine God as something like an NFT – an intangible entity that can’t really be seen, or touched or put in your pocket.  And indeed, God is always described and experienced in the Bible as bigger and more mysterious than anything small enough to be stuck in our pockets.  But that also means that people have often restricted their ideas of God to that which isn’t present in their real, physical, day to day lives.  God is Spirit.  God is in heaven.  God is the Word of life.

Indeed, John’s Gospel begins with the Word.  In the beginning was the Word, writes John.  And through the Word all things were created, so the Word was, like an NFT, attached to all things.  But for God, that wasn’t enough.

And so the Word became flesh.  God became a part of our real, physical human existence. God, who cannot be seen, could now be seen in and through Jesus.  God, who could not be touched, could now be touched and could touch others, in and through Jesus.  God, who could not be contained even by the heavens, could now be experienced and physically located in and through God’s self-containment in Jesus.

God does this not because the Word (in and of itself) isn’t real or doesn’t have value, meaning or purpose.  But God does this because it’s really easy for us not to see and experience the value of God in our lives when we imagine God to be only a token.  And we do that whenever we imagine that God is somewhere up in heaven, but not right here with us.  We do that whenever we imagine God to be a feeling in our hearts that’s disconnected from the life of the world around us.  We do that whenever we imagine God to be simply an anthropomorphic projection of our own social or political hopes and dreams.

But in Jesus, the Word has become flesh and dwelt among us.  God’s Word is more than an idea.  God’s Word is more than a feeling.  God’s Word is enfleshed.

“The Word became flesh” means God is more than a mere “token.”  And for us, that means more than simply reading this Gospel text and marveling at how God took on flesh in Jesus, and confessing that Jesus really is the visible and tangible expression of God.

Instead, “the Word became flesh and lived among us” means that:

  • God is inseparable from what we sometimes call “the real world” – in taking on flesh in Jesus, God makes it clear that if we start to get caught up in religion helping us escape from reality, we’ve got it backwards, at least as far as God is concerned!  God is intent on coming into our real, everyday lives.  And even and especially when our lives are hard, that’s precisely where God is intent on meeting us…
  • We should continue to look for the ways that Jesus continues to take on flesh in the world around us.  The “incarnation” is not simply a once and done that God did in the human person of Jesus 2000 year ago.  Instead, it’s a continuing action of Jesus, in which he reaches out to touch us.  It happens when Jesus touches our real, physical lives through other people; it happens in the water of baptism and through the bread and the wine of communion…
  • Jesus calls us to get in on the actions of God!  That is, Jesus also wants to be “incarnate” through us.  The call to be disciples isn’t a call to think pious thoughts or have warm feelings in our hearts.  Jesus calls us to be his physical representatives in the life of the world around us, so that others can experience the true value of God’s presence, and perhaps realize that God is not just a token…

Truthfully, even though I have an undergraduate degree in Computer Science, I don’t know if an NFT should be considered a real thing! And I certainly am NOT offering any financial advice.

But I do know that God is more than a token.  And I do know that God’s value is found not just in the essence of God himself, but in the ways that God makes that value a living reality in our lives. 

Christmas is really the reminder that in Jesus, the Word has become flesh – not just a token.  And that’s both a promise and a calling.  It’s the promise that through Jesus, God is always at work in our real, physical everyday lives.  And it’s the calling to get in on the act, and open ourselves to being agents through whom God can show others that he’s not just a “token.”