The traditional Christmas accounts are found in Matthew’s and Luke’s Gospels. The Gospel of John takes a more cosmic approach, but he speaks about Christmas, too. His first words clearly take us back to the very beginning, in fact, even before the beginning:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made… (vv. 1-3a)
John goes on to speak of Jesus as “the light” that comes into the world (vv. 4, 9-10). The God who first said, “Let there be light” is the true light that comes into the world as a tiny baby at Christmas. And then John says this in verse 14:
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
God became one of us and, literally, “tabernacled” among us—set up his tent in our midst. Bible scholars point out that this is a direct allusion to the tabernacle (and later temple) in the Old Covenant. That tent represented God’s presence in the midst of his people. Jesus is Immanuel—God with us. Everything that the tabernacle/temple symbolized is realized in the baby in a manger. In Jesus, God is quite literally among us.
But I love the way Eugene Peterson paraphrases this verse:
The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes… (The Message)
Jesus moved into the neighborhood. Why? For what purpose? If you’ve ever bought a home or moved your family to a new place, you do the research. How good are the schools? What’s the crime rate like? Are there good amenities and parks and culture? Will the commute to work be convenient? Perhaps there are other factors on your list of what you look for in a place to live. But think about it. Jesus left heaven to come to a fallen, broken world. He left the ideal home, the best neighborhood. To move into a place full of spiritual rebels, corrupted by sin. A place of physical, political, and spiritual danger. Literally a spiritual warzone. Why? To live among us. So that we would see his glory, experience his grace and truth, and know that he came from the Father (v. 14). So that “all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (v. 12). Jesus moved into our neighborhood, not because it was a great place to live—it was very much a “step down” from his previous residence. But he did it for us… to be with us. He did it because he was on a rescue mission to save us and bring us into his family.
We call this act of becoming a human the “incarnation.” When Jesus calls his disciples to follow him, he calls them to imitate him: to be “incarnational” as we join him in his mission. Having been saved by Jesus by grace through faith and adopted into his family, we join him in the family business of living “on mission.” He calls us to go to the least and the lost. And that always involves inconvenience. It rarely is comfortable. But it is the heart of God to go to those who are estranged, rebellious, spiritually dead, broken, and in need, and lay down his life so that they can find life in him. As you think about Christmas this year, as one of his disciples, how might you celebrate his incarnation—his coming for you—by going to someone in his name? Who might you share the joy of Christmas with who needs to experience it this year so that they, too, might see his glory, full of grace and truth?
Steve Sage is our Pastor of Discipleship