Saturday, 7 February 2015

Sherlock and the Watchmaker - the Word Become Flesh

Warning - spoiler alert.

 The pictures below show the set-up of the house in Camden that doubles, in the new Sherlock, as being 221B Baker Street. Burton  kindly snapped them for us on his way home from counting beans in his day job. And it would appear that the Christmas Special will feature some kind of flashback to Victorian times. Given that this was yesterday, I expect that this afternoon, Holmes and Watson were running up and down outside, getting into taxis, shouting "The game is afoot!" and trying to find some Baker Street Irregulars, while running through fake fog. Or something.

Setting up "Speedy's Cafe" to be "Speedwell's Tea rooms"
A large fronded plant and assorted Victoriana

Now, though, it will be dark, and there will be no more filming outside Baker St. And by Monday,all the paraphernalia will be removed.  Baker Street will once again be North Gower Street, a pleasantish backwater off Euston Road. Speedy's caff will be selling bacon street sandwiches again. And Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman will be elsewhere - either to play the same characters in a studio somewhere or else at home, being the posh, expectant father and the dutiful father-of-two respectively.

And it's tempting to read the Gospel in the same way. The son of God arrives on this fallen earth. He wanders around the place, giving good examples and inspiring teaching. He dies. He rises. He goes away. And nothing has changed.

That way of thinking separates earth and heaven - puts up a vast gap between God and creation. On earth, ant-like creatures that bumble around, falling over, walking into walls, fighting each other and dropping down dead. Meanwhile God sits, like a banker in a Southwark penthouse, looking down on the woe and poverty below. The Watchmaker who wound it all up or - if you prefer in this electronic era - put the hearing-aid battery in - and wanders off to do something else.

But the preface to John's Gospel, as you re-read it - however mystical, poetic - tells a different story. The Word is the creative principle - the one everything is made through. And the Word's closeness to that creations is breathed through the piece as much as the Spirit breathes life into Creation. All things are made through the Word - an intimacy with the world that is so much more than the relationship between a creation and the creator who stands back to admire the creation.  Not one corner of this immense universe was not made through the Word. The life that belongs to the Word, is the light of the ones that are made in God's image. This is a relationship as close as can be imagined, between God and the world. Its dependence on God is complete.

But God could imagine it being closer.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. Not "was veiled in flesh", though I don't suppose Wesley was in a particularly heretical mood when he wrote it. He was probably just enjoying the poetry. Stronger than "veiled in". "Became." The one the world was made through, became made of the world itself. He made the stars. And now he is himself made from stardust. His body and blood formed, in the womb of a frail woman of the earth. The stuff of the earth was already special - all of is was made through him. But now he bears its imprint on him. The Word is made from the dust of the earth. The one whose name God breathed into the void of space, breathes the warm air of the Judean hillsides.

Now the thing about being made of the stuff of the earth is, it makes you like the earth. Which is to say, finite and temporary. And if you're made of human flesh and blood, it means you respond like human flesh and blood. If you're worked too hard, you get tired. If somebody lashes your back, you bleed. If somebody drives nails into your wrists, they go through. And if they attach you to a cross and leave you in the sun, you die.

The Word was made flesh and made his dwelling among us. And that made us so uncomfortable, so scared. It challenged the powers that be - brought real power into the world. The power beside which all the power of tyrants, dictators and puppet rulers pales.

When the princes of the earth had done their best, and the Lord had been born again, from the womb of the earth, he returned to where he came. But in his return it wasn't that everything was like it had been before.

I don't think it was so much that the world had changed, from having the Word living in it, walking on it. It was more like, God changed.

The source of life had tasted death. The one whose hands hold the universe, had been nailed through the hands. The changless one had known change. There is a new and unexpected thing in heaven - a human being sitting on the throne.

He is still wounded.

The scars in his hands, on his feet, on his back, they're still there. The changing, deathly world we live in has left its mark on God. He became like us - he knew what it is like to be us. And he still shares our pains and our grief and the depths to which we can feel we have sunk. The pains of every wounded childm every murdered 

But he is alive, and reigns forever.

It's a bloody awful world, sometimes. But I do believe it is good, because it was made through the Word. You hear some Christians talk like this world is passing away, but I don't believe it's being scrapped. After all, the King of Kings, ruling in heaven, is made of the stuff that you, and I, and the world, are made of. There's a promise of a beautiful future - for the heaven, for the earth, for all of us. It's not about destruction - it's about resurrection. It's not about God giving up on this world - how could God give up on the world? God loves it so much he gave his Son. It's about God lifting us up, picking us up, wiping every tear from our eyes.

Jesus didn't play a part - he wasn't pretending to be a human being.  He wasn't a 1st Century Benedict Cumberbatch, acting his part in grotty London before going back to his posh life. He is the ultimate method actor - or the ultimate bad actor. Like Ricky Gervais in the Office, he's only playing himself, He wasn't toying with mortality. The watchmaker became a living sundial - the one whose own shadow tells you that the time is now. He was part of the mechanics - the pendulum that makes the tick regular, that will one day make the clock run true.

"What do you mean, Jesus is like me?"

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

And in the middle, and the end, and all through the End, the Word has become flesh, and makes his dwelling with us. Because he is like us.


  1. I was surprised by the spoiler alert: I am sure I read about the incarnation somewhere before this.


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