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 were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made.
The Word became flesh and dwelt (ejskhnwsen, tabernacled)among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father. (John 1:1-2,14)
In many times and in many manners God spoke to our fathers of old by the prophets; but in these last days He has spoken to us by a Son, whom He appointed the heir of all things, through whom also He created the world. (Hebrews 1:1-2)
One of the surprises that hits you when you read John’s Gospel is that there is no Christmas story. No mangers and shepherds, no angels and wise men. No heavenly choirs. No doubting Joseph and his dreams. No risky flights to Egypt, no visits by dignitaries bearing gifts. John leaves that for Matthew and Luke to tell.
Matthew anchors the Christmas story deep in the soil of Israel. He paints a decidedly Jewish picture of Jesus – the son of Abraham, son of David who started out a carpenter’s son from Nazareth and turned out to be the Messiah, the lawful successor to David’s throne, the Jew who saves the world in His dying and rising.
Luke anchors the Christmas story in world history, against the background of Politics and Religion. His picture of Christ is not son of Abraham or son of David but son of Adam and son of God, born in time and place, in Bethlehem of Judea when Augustus was Caesar and Quirinius was governor of Syria and the whole Roman world was undergoing a tax census. Luke doesn’t accent the Jewishness of Jesus so much as he underscores the all-embracing humanity of Jesus. Jesus is the second Adam, the new head of humanity who embraces all in his life and death and resurrection. This is the Jesus who draws close to women, to Gentiles, to outcasts, to those the religious had no use for.
John assumes you already know the important details of the birth of Jesus. And if you don’t, you can consult Matthew and Luke. John also assumes that you know what Jesus did and what He said. And if you don’t, you can consult Matthew and Luke, or if you’re in a hurry and want the Reader’s Digest version, Mark. But simply knowing what Jesus did and said may not help you know who Jesus is. That’s John’s burden. He’s less interested in telling you what Jesus did and said than He is describing who Jesus is. John recognized that you could recite all the fact about Jesus and still not understand who Jesus is. That’s why John has no birth story, no parables, only seven select miracles, no institution of the Lord’s Supper. That’s why John has all those “I am” sayings of Jesus. They tell us who Jesus is.
When John put pen to paper, it almost sounds as though he were trying to rewrite the Bible starting with Genesis, which is actually what he was doing. He was rewriting the Torah in terms of Jesus. In fact, John borrowed a couple of images and pressed them into use. From the Jewish rabbis, he borrowed the notion that the Torah was the divine Word. The rabbis said that the Torah was in the beginning with God. And John also borrowed from the Greek gnostics of his day who were saying that the “Logos,” or divine spark, was the light and life of all. John bundled these two together – Torah and Logos – and wrapped them up in the flesh and blood humanity of Jesus with this theologically pregnant passage: The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us, full of grace and truth, and we have beheld is glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father. And with that one little sentence, John shorts the circuits of both Jew and Greek. The eternal Word, the Torah of the Jews, the Logos of the Greeks, the ordering Power and Principle of the Universe, the Second Person of the Undivided Trinity, however you wish to describe Him, became flesh, a human being born of a human mother, and dwells among us in the fullness of God’s glory. Wow!
Now it’s not as though He hadn’t been with us before He made His dwelling in our flesh. John is quite clear on that point too. Jesus is the eternal Word who was with God in the beginning, and is Himself God. Through Him all things were made. He is the light of the world, literally the first Word spoken into the darkness of creation on Day One. In Him is Life with a capital L. All living things find their life in Him. He is the Word that called living plants from the ground on Day Three, who put fish in the sea, birds in the air, critters on the ground, who made man from the mud and breathed life into him. There is nothing in all creation that doesn’t owe its existence to the Word – not you, not me, not even my cat or your dog. And so there never was a time, when the Word wasn’t among us.
The author to the Hebrews says exactly same thing. We don’t actually know who wrote the book of Hebrews, but whoever he was he thinks along the same lines as John. He begins his book by saying that God spoke His Word to our father of old in many time and in many ways. In other words, the Word through whom all things were made, popped up to show Himself at various times and in various ways. The pillar of cloud/fire, the burning bush, the rock in the wilderness, the cloud of glory that filled the tabernacle, to name a few. But now, in these last days, the end times in which we live, God has spoken His last Word, which is also the first Word, through His elect Son, the heir of all things, the Word through whom He created the world.
And so, the Word who has been with the creation since the creation, the Light and Life of all, who appeared in various times and manners, now in these last days has taken up residence in the tent of our humanity to dwell among us as one of us. That’s Christmas in a nutshell.
Let your mind absorb that for a moment. The baby lying in the manger, drooling, sucking, soiling his diapers, nursing at his mother’s breast, burping, spitting up, doing all that terribly human baby stuff is God of God, Light of light, true God of true God, the only-begotten Son of the Father by whom all things were made.
One of the carols we sung last night says it nicely:
Lo, within a stable lies
He who built the starry skies
He who, throned in height sublime,
Sits amid the cherubim.
The eternal Word has fingers and toes and a nose and two eyes and hair. Just like us, but without the interference of sin, without our inborn blindness to the Light of light, without our deafness to God’s Word, without our self-centeredness. He’s like us as God intended for us to be. He re-creates our humanity in God’s image. In Him is life, our life. We are in Him – conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin. In yesterday’s sermon, I noted that in His conception we are re-conceived in Him. And in His birth, we are re-born in Him. Humanity is re-born, and boy do we ever need it. You see, we’re not simply celebrating the birth of Jesus at Christmas. We’re celebrating our own re-birth, the re-birth of humanity in Jesus.
Mary could hardly contain these things in her heart. Shepherds were hard pressed to understand it. Theologians have struggled with it, councils have argued over it, churches have fought and divided over it. You yourself may be filled with doubt. How can this be? How can God be man and not cease to be God? How can man be God and not cease to be man? How can the infinite Word become finite flesh? How can the fullness of God dwell bodily in Jesus?
John would remind us that you don’t have to understand a person in order to relate to him. I don’t always understand my wife, and she certainly doesn’t always understand me. And she’s usually hard-pressed to explain me or make sense out of all the paradoxical quirks that make up how God wired me. But that lack of comprehension doesn’t mean we can’t relate to each other as husband and wife. In fact, the mystery is what makes it fun. You never know what to expect.
You don’t need to explain how the Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us, any more than you need to explain how water can be a Baptism of the Holy Spirit or bread can be the Body of Christ or wine His Blood. You need only take the Word at His Word and enjoy the company. The darkness need not understand the light to receive it; it only needs to be darkness. And the darkness can’t keep out the light or overcome it. Light always fills the emptiness of the darkness, as it did on Day One.
The dead don’t need to understand the life in order to receive it; they need only be dead. Life always fills the emptiness of death. We who sit in the darkness, in the shadow of death, need only trust that the Light that gives light to all people shines on us in the Person named Jesus. Our unbelief doesn’t keep Jesus from being our Light and our Life and our Salvation. He is that whether we believe it or not. Just as He is the Word that creates us and holds us together, whether we believe it or not. Our unbelief gets in the way of our enjoying His Light and Life, recognizing it, resting in it. And it certainly makes the ride of death and resurrection a miserable thing while we kick and scream in the back seat.
The Mystery of the universe has shown us His face and told us His Name. The One whom the physicists probe for, and mathematicians calculate, the One whom the mystics seek by the searching, the Secret to the universe, the Light that enlightens all men, the Life that gives life to all – you know who He is. You may not fully understand Him, but you know who He is. Jesus. Mary’s kid. God’s Son in the flesh.
That’s why angels sing and shepherds worship and Mary ponders, even though she knows the facts about her Son better than anyone. And there is plenty here to ponder, even for those of us who know the facts. God and man are reconciled, brought together in the eternal Son. God tabernacles with man, pitches His tent in our humanity. “Veiled in flesh, the God-head see / Hail! Incarnate Deity / Pleased as man with men to dwell. Jesus, our Emmanuel.”
OK, so I’ve been a bit lofty today. John will do that to you. For closers, let me put these things in a slightly different way. We often talk about how it would be nice to start over again, to make things come out right. I remember a TV show that ran for a couple of years back in the late sixties, I believe it was called Time Tunnel. The premise of the show was this guy who got sucked into a time machine and kept getting transported to various times and places at key moments in history. And so our hero would find himself at the Alamo, say. Or on the deck of the Titanic. And he’d be fully aware of what disaster was about to happen. But the odd thing about this goofed up time tunnel was that just as he was about to intervene and change the course of history. Zap! He was transported to another time and place, stay tuned for next week’s episode.
We have this funny notion of God sometimes, as Someone on the outside who will come down the chute to intervene provided we convince Him that the cause is worthwhile. “Grandma’s a good person, so won’t you please help her.” And when things don’t go our way, when the earthquake flattens our city, or the cancer isn’t destroyed by radiation and chemo, or the bullet hits an innocent child, or the car driven by the drunk swerves into your lane, we tend to ask, “Where was God in all this?”
And the answer from God in the Word made Flesh tabernacling among us is this: “I’m right here with you. I always have been, I always will be. I’ve been with you since the beginning, since Day One. And in the fullness of time, I showed my face to show you, and gave you my Name, that you may know that I’m right here in and among the good, the bad, and even the ugly. I am a cluster of fetal cells in a mother’s womb. A helpless infant. A twelve year old answering his teacher’s questions. A dying man on a cross. A dead man in the tomb. A man risen from the dead and reigning at the right hand of God.” Jesus is all of those things – our entire humanity. Your whole life is found in Him. And all the deaths and disasters and betrayals and sins that soil our lives and pollute our world, all our genocides and holocausts and bullets and bombs, find their peace and purpose and reconciliation in Jesus.
The Word became Flesh. How wonderful it is to be human today! How honored we are, that the Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us! His birth and life, His suffering and death, His burial and resurrection, His body and blood. He’s all yours; and you are all His.
In the name of Jesus,