The Holy Gospel according to John. Glory to you, O Lord.
The Word Became Flesh
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. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overtake it.
There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
He was in the world, and the world came into being through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.
The Gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.
Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of our hearts, be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our strength & our redeemer. (Psalm 19:14)
Today we’re at one of those junctures where the church calendar collides with the “secular” calendar. According to the church calendar Dec 25th is Christmas, Jesus’ birth, and to other calendars it’s Santa’s Day, and on some other calendars it’s just another Sunday.
Which is precisely why we need a reminder that Christmas isn’t just a holiday or festival but rather witnesses to a reality that permeates our whole life.
And there could be no better passage to remind us of the ongoing significance of Christmas than this passage from John. Why? Because John invites us to contemplate a non-sentimental Christmas that fills us with hope and joy the whole year.
There are a lot of connections between the beginning of Genesis and the beginning in John. In Genesis 1, the climax is the creation of humans, made in God’s image. In John 1, the climax is the arrival of another human being, the Word become “flesh.” In the Old Testament, God regularly acts by means of God’s ‘word.’ What God says, happens—in Genesis itself, and regularly thereafter. God’s Word is one thing that will last, even though people and plants wither and die; God’s Word will go out of God’s mouth and bring life, healing and hope to Israel and all of Creation. That’s part of what lies behind John’s choice of ‘Word’ here, as a way of telling us who Jesus is.
Here are a few thoughts about the extraordinary news of Christmas:
First, notice that John’s “Christmas story” deals not with angels or shepherds and seems to know nothing of a young mother or magi. John’s story is hardly about the birth of Jesus at all but instead focuses on the difference that birth makes for all of us.
There are, on the whole, just two crucial lines that deal with Jesus’ birth and what we often call the Incarnation. John 1:1 is the first: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the word was God.” The second comes at our verse 14: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” There it is: John’s Christmas story, the story of God becoming human, taking on our lot and our life that we might live and love and struggle and die with hope.
But that’s not all John offers, which brings me to the second thing. Because, as I mentioned, while John sums up the Christmas story in just two lines, he spends more time on the significance of Christmas by shifting attention from Jesus’ birth to ours. In fact, John is actually less interested in the birth of a babe at Bethlehem than he is in the birth of you and I as children of God.
Listen, again, to the verses we often skip over in our haste to get to the close of his two-verse Christmas story: He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
Did you catch that? Jesus came that we might become children of God.
Children that is, who are not dominated by the circumstances in which we find ourselves, not defined by our limitations or hurts, and whose destinies are not controlled by others. Rather, we are those individuals who know ourselves to be God’s own beloved children.
To fully appreciate the significance of what John is saying, I think we need to distinguish briefly between those things that describe us and those that define us. All too often, I believe, we allow certain elements of our life to dominate and define us. Things like our upbringing or interests, our good experiences and our bad ones, our current marital state or our sexuality, our past triumphs or tragedies. Don’t get me wrong, these things matter and are what I would call descriptively true. But all too often we allow them not just to describe parts of our life but to define us completely.
In these verses, John invites us to hold all of the ordinary things that describe us as important but insufficient, as valuable but partial, as meaningful but not definitive. What is definitive—and therefore more important than all the good or bad things we carry with us—is that God has called us God’s own children, individuals who hold infinite worth in God’s eyes, deserve love and respect, and will be used by God to care for God’s beloved world.
Can we imagine that? That Jesus came and was born, lived, died, and was raised again not simply to pay some obscure “penalty for sin” but rather to remind us and even convince us that God loves us more than anything? More than imagine that idea, can we live our lives in a way practice it?
Which brings me to the third thing I want to suggest together. If you’re into New Year’s resolutions I’d like you to invite you to begin this simple, yet profound, exercise and continue it on as long as you can.
Once every day look in the mirror and say the following: “I am God’s child, deserving of love and respect, and God will use me to change the world.”
Sounds simple, doesn’t it? But in my experience, these words are actually rather hard to say and even harder to believe. Which is why we need to do it every day of our lives. Just like another mantra I use everyday in my own journey that doesn’t define me but describes me, “Today, I will not drink alcohol.”
Because the first few times you say it, you’re likely not to believe it; that is, all those descriptive things about you—especially those that are difficult or that you don’t like—will begin to creep in and voice doubts about what you are confessing.
It will sound different for each person, of course, but many of these negative messages will likely run something like this: “You, a child of God? But what about your drinking problem? Or your failed job or marriage? What about when you disappointed your parents or children? And don’t forget about all the missteps and mistakes you’ve made. Yeah, maybe God loves you, but you don’t really deserve that love, and you’re certainly not in a position to change yourself, let alone the world.”
This is why John’s unsentimental Christmas message is so important. Because in the face of all these messages—many of which are rooted in something that is descriptively true (we have made mistakes, disappointed ourselves and others, and all the rest)—John asserts that what is definitively true about each and everyone of us is that Jesus gives each one of us the “power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.” And nothing in this world, or the next, can change that.