Hey, friends! Greetings from Presque Isle State Park on Lake Erie, one of the Great Lakes. Whenever we can, we want to give you a refreshing setting from which to engage your heart and mind with the Lord.
I hope you had a deeply meaningful Christmas! For this final Sunday of Advent, the season surrounding Christmas that’s intended to bring us back to the heart of what Christmas is all about, let’s revisit the most heavenly of the Christmas narratives in the gospels, and that is John chapter one. Drawing from Darrell Johnson’s study on John chapter one, let’s lift our sights to who really lay in that manger in Bethlehem. The new year can wait. For this week, let’s take one final gaze at who came to us on Christmas.
His birth story is told in narrative form by an ex-tax collector named Matthew and by a physician named Luke. But it’s then cast in poetic form by the fisherman named John. It goes like this:
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 any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.
The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.'”) And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.
Have you ever wondered, did the people who played a part in the original story understood what was really happening when Jesus first came on the scene? Did the angels who announced the birth begin to grasp what was beginning that night? Did the shepherds who ran to the stable in response to the angels’ announcement realize that their worship of this child would be something countless millions would join in for the balance of history? Did Mary have any inkling of what on earth was happening that night?
So here’s what really happened. The One who made the world entered the world in person. The One who created the world became a creature, a human being. God became a Man. That is the good news worth grabbing every Tweet and post and breaking news flash. That is the arresting news that ought to be sweeping around the globe this week. Every person on this planet ought to hear this news again and again: the unseen, holy, living God has become one of us. A human. A child.
Jaw-dropping revelation! We can believe that there is a living God. That the living God created the universe out of nothing I cannot prove, that we can handle. That the living God did all kinds of miraculous acts the Bible details, like parting the Red Sea, we can handle. We can wrap our heads around such acts. But this—what the living God did on Christmas? That when Caesar Augustus was the emperor of Rome and a certain Quirinius was governor of Syria, the living God fully entered our experience—starting as a baby? Have you ever heard anything so amazing? The Creator became a creature. God became a man. Jaw-dropping.
The baby in Bethlehem was, as Dorothy Sayers puts it, “the God by whom all things were made.”
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God …. All things were made through him …. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” The Word moved into the neighborhood and took up residence among us. Stunning.
The word for word that John uses is the Greek word logos. And logos comes into the English language in words like logic and logical. One is logical who lives by logic. One is logical who lives by the logos.
Why does John the fisherman begin the story this way? Why begin the story about Jesus calling Jesus the logos? Why not use the term son? John will make much of the term son in the rest of his Gospel, so why not use that in the opening poem? In the beginning was the Son, and the Son was with God, and the Son was God. All things came into being by the Son, and the Son became flesh and dwelt among us. Why not begin that way?
Or why not begin with other terms that people were calling Jesus, like Son of Man, Messiah, Lamb, or Lord? In the beginning was the Lord, and the Lord was with God, and the Lord was God. All things came into being by the Lord, and the Lord became flesh and dwelt among us.
Why not say it that way? Because John wants to reach as wide an audience as possible. Because God wants to reach as many people as possible. The word logos does that. logos rings chords deep within every culture of John’s day. John ends up intimating a whole lot more than anyone was ever saying about this logos. But this commonly known term enables him to meet people on common ground.
For the Greeks of John’s day, logos was a much used word. Logos meant a lot of things to a lot of people. John takes all of those ideas to a whole new level with this logos, Jesus.
John begins on this mind-boggling note to make sure that we read the rest of the story correctly. He wants us to realize that Mary’s Child, the Man from Galilee, who walks with, eats with, and plays with real flesh and blood humans is none other than the Maker of the Universe. The Man who weeps so deeply at the grave of his friend Lazarus, is none other than the source of life. The Man who gets so tired and thirsty he has to ask a Samaritan woman for a drink of water is the One who in the beginning made the first hydrogen and oxygen atoms and determined that two hydrogen and one oxygen make water. Nothing in all human literature, nothing in all the myths that we use to make sense of human experience, can compare with the true Christmas story.
Get this: When Caesar Augustus thought he ruled the world, the One who spoke all the galaxies and their stars into whirling space lay speechless in a cattle trough. When Quirinius was the governor of Syria, the Starmaker himself entrusted himself to a teenager girl. When Herod the Great was strutting his power across the scene, God the logos needed a mother to feed him and change his diapers. Unbelievable.
The term that the theologians use for this grand miracle is incarnation. It means “in fleshness.” Christmas is celebrating the enfleshment of the Creator. And this is the sign: “You will find a baby lying in a manger.” Forgive me for saying it again, but unbelievable. Many people have tried to express the wonder. St. Augustine of the third century tried: “He it is by whom all things are made, who was made one of all things. The Maker of the sun made under the sun. Author of the heavens and the earth sprung under the heavens out of the earth, utterly wise in his wisdom, a babe without utterance.”
Charles Wesley of the eighteenth century tried:
“Veiled in flesh the godhead see; Hail the incarnate Deity, Pleased as man with us to dwell, Jesus our Emmanuel.”
CS Lewis of the twentieth century tried in his Chronicles of Narnia:
“In our world, too, a stable once had something in it bigger than the whole world.” C.S. Lewis
Musicians Keith Getty and Stuart Townend of Ireland have tried: “Hands that set each star in place shape the earth in darkness, cling now to a mother’s breast, vulnerable and helpless.”
The poet Luci Shaw has tried. She has Mary say:
“Quiet he lies
whose vigor hurled a universe.
He sleeps whose eyelids have never closed before ….
Older than eternity, now he
is new. Now native to earth as I am, nailed
to my poor planet, caught
that I might be free, blind in my womb
to know my darkness ended,
brought to this birth for me to be new-born,
and for him to see me mended
I must see him torn.” – Luci Shaw
The implications of all of this are huge—staggering. Let me name a few. If the real story be told, then we humans have been granted unbelievable dignity. God did not become an angel. God did not become an eagle or a deer or a whale. God became a human being, forever dignifying our flesh and blood. God so loves us that God became us—us.
If the real story be told, we discover the unbelievable depth of the love of God. God so loved us that God changed—he altered the mode of his own being. Before Christmas the living God was pure spirit, all persons of the Trinity were all spirit. In Bethlehem one of the three, the second Person of the Trinity, changed his mode of being, taking upon himself our humanity, changing the relationships within God. God became what God was not. God the logos changed the form of his existence forever that we might be free—so that we might become fully human. This is the unbelievable depth of the love of God.
If the real story be told, we have unbelievable comfort in our suffering. Christmas expresses the unbelievable empathy of God. Most human beings believe that God can sympathize with our pain but wonder if God can empathize with our pain. The Word became flesh. God became humanity in pain. God became humanity in grief. What does Christmas declare? It’s God who hangs on a tree. It’s God who experiences firsthand human violence and injustice. Indeed, no one knows human suffering more than the humanized God.
If the real story be told, we have unbelievable hope for the future. We have unbelievable certainty that we shall be made whole. For in the stable on Christmas Eve, God forever wedded himself to our humanity. God forever tied up God’s future with our future. The future of humanity is as secure as the future of God. The enfleshment of God is the guarantee that one day all flesh will be redeemed. Jesus would later say, “Because I live you shall live also.”
If the real story be told, the unbelievable claims of Jesus have unbelievable believability. Shall I say that again? The unbelievable claims of Jesus have unbelievable believability. If Jesus, Mary’s son, is in fact the living God in our humanity, then it is quite logical, quite rational, for Jesus to say things no one has ever said. Of course he can say, “I’m the bread of life.” Of course he can say, “I’m the light of the world.” Of course he can say, “I’m the way, the truth, and the life.”
This is the true Christmas story that ought to be shared all around the world this week, and each week, until He who was laid in the manger returns to complete the saving mission for which he came. Would you pray with me?
Our Father in heaven, as Advent comes to a conclusion, we pray this is just a new beginning. Fill us, we pray, with the mind of Christ as we consider Christ, the stunning truth of who came to us on Christmas. Enlarge our vision of you, we pray, until you right-size the myriad lesser things that limit our vision.
I ask for each one, that you will grant spiritual wisdom and insight so that we might grow in our knowledge of God. I pray that our hearts will be flooded with light so that we can understand the confident hope you have given to those whom you call—your holy people who are your rich and glorious inheritance. I also pray that you will empower us to understand the incredible greatness of your power for us who believe you.
I pray that from your glorious, unlimited resources you will empower us with inner strength through your Spirit, and that Christ will make his home in our hearts as we trust in him. May our roots grow down deep into your love and keep us strong. And may we have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep your love is. May we experience the love of Christ, though it’s too great to understand fully. May we be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from you.
And now all glory to you, God, who are able, through your mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. May glory be to you in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen.
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