Chapter & Verse: John 1: 1-14
There are some passages that never fail to give me goosebumps, however many times I hear them read, and none succeeds more than hearing the prologue to John’s gospel in a candle-lit church at Christmas. John evokes the awesome power, mystery and terrifying beauty of creation with his opening: “In the beginning”. Here is God summoning all matter into being as the divine voice shatters the cosmological silence and sings matter into existence: “Let there be!”
This is the beginning of John’s story of Jesus – his Christmas story. It goes like this:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. .. All things came into being through him, and without him, nothing has come into being… 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.”
This is John’s testimony: “Do you want to see Grace and Truth in the flesh? Do you want to discover Light and Love on legs? Then come and see Jesus!”
John’s Christmas story is that in Jesus, the God who has created all that is becomes embodied in human flesh. That is what the term “Incarnation” means: God em-bodied in a human being. John’s Jesus is literally “heaven on earth”.
And why does God take on human flesh and become “one of us” in Jesus? John’s answer comes to us out of the darkness of Nicodemus’ night-visit to Jesus in a blaze of life-giving Light: “God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only son, so that whoever believes in him might not perish, but have eternal life! God did not send the son into the world to condemn the world, but in order to save the world through him.”
Christmas is the greatest love story ever told: God coming to earth in order to save the world. If you’re Greek Orthodox, that is all that is needed for salvation. Everything unfolds from the truth contained in the Incarnation. Yes, Easter and the cross are important, but it is Christmas – the Incarnation – that is indispensable for the salvation of the world. It all stems from the fact that God takes flesh in Jesus out of love and as an act of solidarity with the world. Christmas says that God elects to save, rather than judge, the world. Christmas says that God will not abandon creation or despair of it. Christmas says that creation’s destiny is to be with God, not destroyed by God.
So why has so much Christian believing and preaching suggested that God sent Jesus, not to save the world but to rescue Christians from the world in some sort of large-scale “beam me up!” operation? Where and when did the Christian story of salvation become “pie in the sky when you die”, rather than the transformation of this world into the Kingdom of God?
Whenever that happened, it had deadly consequences. It allowed Christians to preach a God who was so offended by creation and human beings that he (and such a God had to be a “he”) couldn’t wait to nuke everything into oblivion. On this view, Jesus’ mission of salvation was to be like Abraham – to persuade a reluctant God to take it easy on at least a few of the humans – rescue them from the cosmic conflagration. At the same time, it allowed one of George W Bush’s energy spokespersons to say, as a policy statement: “We don’t have to worry about global warming because Jesus is coming back soon!”
John tells a different story – of God entering into our deepest darkness to bring a light that even the crucifixion could not extinguish. It begins as the Word takes flesh and comes to live among us.
Christmas is the great invitation to come to Jesus and to discover the life of God in all its abundance. Here is Grace and Truth “in the flesh”. Literally. For us.
This article was published in the combined December 2012/January 2013 edition of Reform.