The Word Became Flesh
Isaiah 52:7-10 John 1:1-14
"In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was formless and void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while the breath of God swept over the face of the waters. Then God spoke... 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 came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being... And God said, `Let there be light; and there was light.' What has come into being in The Word is life, and the life was the light of all people... And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness... The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it."
Read in harmony, the creation story of Genesis and the ancient hymn of praise that stands as the prologue to John's Gospel takes us back to the very root of our existence, the very foundation of our universe. Not a bad place to stand as we consider once again the immensity and significance of a tiny babe whose birth and life and death changed our lives forever.
We find no manger here, no shepherds, and not even a mention of Mary and Joseph, but the story is told! It's told in images that take us back to the foundations of the world where we stand in mid air looking out across eternity. It's told in a few simple words, yet in words that are amazing!
As early as 60 years after the church was formed, there were 100,000 Greek Christians in the church for every Jewish born Christian. The story of John's Gospel is told to a church of Christians in Ephesus who had heard no stories of an expected Messiah or the Root of Jesse and or the lineage of David or the appearance of the Son of God. The words of the prophet Isaiah had never been heard by this crowd.
The earlier gospel stories which were rooted in Old Testament prophesies made no sense to these followers of Jesus. They had heard the words Jesus spoke, witnessed the healing he brought, experienced the sacrifice in his death and the victory in his resurrection, but how would they come to understand his birth, his coming into the world?
Here is the first revelation that came to John, or to a genius among his students, who perhaps penned the apostle's miraculous message to the Greek church. Here is a new revelation of who Christ was and is—a new explanation that would finally bring the Christmas story to life for this community of believers.
Was it an angel that brought to John the concept of logos, the Word? Surely God had a hand in the adoption of this unique idea that had special meaning to both Jew and Greek followers.
For the Jews, words had an independent existence; they had power, they did things. God's word created the world out of a void. God's word spoke from burning bushes and in a still small voice.
For the Greeks the Word of God, the logos, was the principle of order which controlled a universe which was in a constant state of change. Without the logos, the world would fly into chaos. The Word was the primary law of nature; an explanation of every question "why?" The Word led to understanding. Understanding led to right actions and right actions, in turn, led to virtue and piety. All was made possible by the Word.
The Word was not created by God, but existed in relationship with God; the word was at God's side, in God's very heart. And "The Word was God." These 4 words have caused more theological debate than any other words in our scriptures, I would hazard to guess. Heresies have been declared and doctrinal confessions written to try to define the divinity and humanity of this tiny babe. Some believe that a very important definite article is left out in the original Greek in this phrase because John is trying to describe the Word rather than equate it with God. What John states here is that the Word was God-ly, the Word was divine; the Word was of the same nature as God. This the community could understand.
What came into being in this Word was life and this life was the light of all people; the first light which dawned out of the void as the world took form; light which illuminated the darkness bringing sight and insight and understanding; light which exposed evil and the darkness in which it tried to hide; light which lit up the pathway ahead and guided stumbling feet; light which revealed the precious coin that had been lost. The community understood and treasured the gift of life and light.
Finally John reveals a truth that would come as world-shattering news. To the Greeks, the human body was evil. As William Barclay puts it, "the body was a prison house in which the soul was shackled, a tomb in which the spirit was confined." The flesh denoted human nature in all its weakness and liability to sin.
To the Jews, humanity existed at a great distance from the divine God they called Yahweh. The Jews hesitated to even speak of Yahweh as having anything in common with humanity or of acting in any way like a human being. For generations that followed the words "sin" and "the flesh" have been so often been associated with each other, that the idea of associating the divine spirit with flesh was unthinkable.
The world shattering news of John's Gospel was that the Word became flesh. The divine, creative, empowered Word took on all of our weak human nature. The Word that was God pitched his tent with our tents.
There is nothing quite as human, quite as full of real flesh and blood as a birth. In a wonderful Christmas story told by Ted Loder in his book Tracks in the Straw, Thwig, the thistle eating donkey that had carried Mary to Bethlehem, tells of what he saw in the stable that night and describes this earthy scene.
If only the Word would have stayed a word, then we could have stayed in control. We can control words, speaking them only when necessary, hearing only what we want to hear, defining away any uncomfortable aspects of meaning, rewriting and rephrasing our own doctrinal statements and theological assertions. But no.... God had other plans....
As another writer puts it, "Since the beginning, God has paced the corridors of heaven, burning with the hope that we would see the world as God sees it. God made gardens. We did not get it. God sent floods. We did not get it. God sent prophets. We did not get it. God sent laws. We did not get it. Finally, finally, God sent flesh, God's own flesh,... Surely God thought that now, now we would get it."
God sent the Word of God to walk on earthly soil. He came to his own people; a people who had had the benefit of being prepared for his coming by generations of prophets who came before them, and yet his own people did not recognize or accept him. When he comes again, to his own people in the church, we will recognize God's Word made flesh?
In a real flesh and blood human birth, God's Word has been revealed. Maybe now we can begin to see the world as God sees it. Maybe now we can understand a love we can touch, so full of grace and truth. Maybe now we can even become a particle of that light that brings life.
Barbara J. Campbell Salem, Oregon
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