In 1873, a Belgian Catholic priest named Joseph Damien De Veuster began a ministry among the lepers on the Hawaiian Island of Molokai. He had been assigned to Hawaii in 1864 to normal pastoral work with the islanders. Moved by the horrendous plight of the lepers of Molokai island, he volunteered when his bishop asked if there might be any priest who would minister to the needs of the lepers.
When he arrived at the colony, he immediately began to greet each one of the lepers in hopes of building friendships. Wherever he turned, however, the lepers shunned him. It seemed as though every door was closed. He poured his life into his work, erecting a Chapel, building homes, changing dressings and burying the dead. But it was to no avail! No one responded to his ministry.
After 12 years Father Damien made the decision to leave. Dejectedly, he made his way to the docks to board a ship to take him back to Belgium. As he stood on the dock he wrung his hands nervously as he recounted his futile ministry among the lepers. As he did he looked down at his hands, he noticed some mysterious white spots and felt some numbness. Immediately he knew that he had contracted leprosy!
He returned to the leper colony and to his work. Quickly the word about his disease spread through the colony. Within a matter of hours everyone knew. Hundreds gathered outside his little house. They all understood his pain, fear, and uncertainty about the future. But what was the biggest surprise was the following Sunday, as Father Damien arrived at the Chapel, he found hundreds of worshipers gathered. By the time the service began, there were many more with standing room only and many gathered outside the Chapel.
His ministry from then on became enormously successful. The reason? He was one of them. He understood and empathized with them.
And this is the heart of the passage this morning: "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us."
Some of you here this morning need to experience the New Birth. It is not a physical birth. According to John, being born again is not something you can accomplish of your own will and desire. The new birth is entirely of God. This new birth is made possible because "the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us." Jesus Christ is the living Word. He came into the world to experience life as you do, to know the hurts and pains and temptations we all go through. He came to bring you light and life.