Sunday, 18 December 2016

The Word Became Flesh

The first fourteen verses of John 1, so often referred to as this Gospel’s prologue, is, a great passage, at one and the same time, both so simple, and yet so profound. Essentially it is simply saying that God came to this earth to be with us – and yet that is such a profound and transforming thing.

It is interesting that the Christmas story, in the way that we know and love it, is only told in two of the Gospels. Of course, it doesn’t matter – because that is all that we need. It is also interesting that those two Gospels tell very different bits. It is just Luke who has the shepherds and the stable, and it is Luke has all the bits about Mary visiting Elizabeth and the angel Gabriel appearing to her. Alongside that, Matthew has just a little bit more about Joseph, and it is Matthew who tells us about the visitors from the East. Mark starts with Jesus being baptised by John the Baptist – and John has this beautiful passage, but it is a passage of ideas, not a passage describing events in any conventional sense.

There is just a little phrase at the beginning of verse 14, which is John’s way of stating the fact of incarnation, that God came to earth, that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. ‘The Word became flesh.’ The Word became a human being. Those few words tell the story. They might not include shepherds and donkeys and stables – and all the other things we could mention.  But they sum up the whole Christmas story.  The Word became flesh.  The Word became a human being.

Lesslie Newbigin, in his commentary on John, says this of this phrase – “In these [few] short words the central mystery which John will unfold is stated with absolute simplicity. It lies wholly beyond the power of flesh and blood  .. to pass from darkness to light, to lay hold of the life of God. But what is impossible has become a fact by a movement in the opposite direction. God himself in his creative and revealing being has become man and “pitched his tent” among us.” This is the core of the healing possibility – that God is not remote from us but, on the contrary, participates fully with us.

In a similar vein Raymond Brown says: “In the new covenant, the humanity of the Word, his flesh, becomes the supreme localization of divine presence and glory.”

That’s it! God’s participation with us, at whatever level, and in whatever way, is possible because the Word became flesh. 

And what more does it say? It says that the Word was full of grace and truth. We, who are called to follow in the way of Christ, are called to live the way that he did. We are called to model grace and truth. In the busyness of Christmas, let’s do what we can to do just that. As we live lives of grace and truth, so we will bear witness to the light that we have seen.

As the carol has it, ‘Love came down at Christmas’. The love that, as Paul puts it in 1 Corinthians 13:7 – bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

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