Friday, December 23, 2011

A Christmas Meditation from John

I love the Gospel of John. I’ve been immersed in it for about 6 months now, leading my Sunday School class through a year long study of this book. It’s full of theological and practical truth, and gives us a unique look at Jesus. There’s lots of stuff in John that is not in any of the other Gospels. It’s been well worth the time spent studying it.

The book begins with what I think is a powerful passage on the promise of Christmas, well worth looking at as we come up on the big day this weekend. It’s not the traditional Christmas story. It’s not about how Jesus was born, and has nothing to do with angels or wise men. There is no manger scene, no cattle lowing, and no swaddling clothes. But we do learn something important about Christmas, about the coming of Emmanuel. What does it mean that God became a man? That’s what the first chapter of John is all about.

Notice how it begins:

“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.” – John 1:1-5

We learn essential truth about the Word in these first five verses. He was from the beginning. He was with God. He was God, from the beginning. He created everything, which means he himself was not created. He holds in his hands life, which shines like a light into the darkness, giving that life to men. As we read these verses, we ought to be able to feel the weight of what is being said here. If you were reading this for the first time, you might be thinking at this point, “Whatever this Word is, John believes it to be the most powerful, most incredible, most unbelievable, being in the entire universe.” Eternal? Creator? Life? Light? None of these are small things, and John says he’s all of them.

John talks about John the Baptist for a few verses, and how he was not the light, but only a witness to the light, before getting back to what this Word, who is light, has done. Look in what he says next:

“The true light, which gives light to 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.” – John 1:9-13

Whatever this light was, it came. The same light that made the world came into the world. Not everyone will receive him, but those who do will become children of God! What an amazing thing to imagine. They will become God’s children, not through anything they do, not by willing themselves to be better people, but through the power of the Word who was from the beginning, and was with God, and was God! The most powerful being in the universe came to shine his light into the world, and make men sons of God! He came to give them a brand new start, a brand new birth! What an amazing thing to consider!

But it gets even better! This passage is building to a crescendo. As you read this, and you consider it this Christmas, let your heart leap with the excitement of what is being said. The Word is eternal. He is creator. He is light. He is life. And he has come, to share that light with others. So the question is this: how does this happen? And John answers it in such a stunning way that it ought to stop us in our tracks. We ought to hear what John says as if we are hearing it for the first time, feel it like we could have never imagined such a thing. How has God come to accomplish this plan of his?

“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 1:14

What? Became flesh? Dwelt among us? Could this possibly be true? Could this Word, who was from the beginning, and with God and was God; who was light and life, have actually become a man? Is it possible that the most powerful being in the universe walked this earth as a human being? His plan to give humanity life, to come on this mission, involved him actually becoming one of us? He has come for us, by becoming one of us! This means that (gulp) God has been seen by someone? He’s been spotted? John is saying that he has looked into the eyes of God himself? What was it like? It was full of glory, grace and truth. Oh what good news! In verse 16, John says we have received “grace upon grace.” If you’ll be honest with yourself, and you look at the world, you will realize that the story of Christmas, the story of God coming to the earth, could very easily not be a happy story. When you see what the world is like, you can easily imagine that God would come to earth, and bring with him a sword, and judge the world. But instead, he brought with him, not just grace, but grace upon grace. This is what we need, what we really need.

Now, the implications of this are simply enormous. Frankly, enormous is not a big enough word. There is no way to possibly describe the full length and breadth and width of the implications of God becoming one of us, coming to us with glory and grace and truth . . . and grace! But John gives us a major hint as to what it means as he wraps up this opening session of his Gospel. Notice what he says next:

“No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known.” - John 1:18

Get what’s being said here about what it means that the Word became flesh, that this Jesus, the Son of God, has come down from Heaven and become one of us. From the beginning of time, until the time Jesus came, no one had ever seen God. A few people, like Moses, caught tiny little glimpses. But that was it. From the beginning of time, until Christmas, 2,000 years ago, no one had been able to truly know or understand who God actually was. But when the Word – Jesus – put on flesh, and walked around on this earth for 33 years, and lived his life and died for our sins, and rose from the grave, he made known who God was. This is the story of Christmas. We know who God is, because he came in the flesh and showed himself to us. He shined his light into this world, by becoming one of us, so that we could become like him. How does that happen? How are we transformed from what we are now, into God has planned for us? By simply looking to this Jesus, looking upon this Jesus, we are changed into what he has planned for us. Paul put it this way: “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.”  (1 Corinthians 3:18) So we look upon this Jesus, who revealed who God is to us, and we are transformed by it. We are changed by it. We see his glory, we begin to understand his truth, we are given his grace, upon grace, and we are transformed by it.

The story is the baby boy in the manger. But the truth is that God became a man. The Word became flesh. Don’t forget it this Christmas.

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