Creating Flesh - John 1:1-14

There is more than one way to tell a story. We tell stories in different ways to stress one or another point. Matthew told us of Jesus' genealogy with its moments of shame. Luke gave us a picture of the importance of Jesus' birth couched in reflections on the upheaval of social structures Jesus would encourage. Mark skips Jesus' birth story entirely to get on with his narrative of a message he demands be repeated over and over. There is nothing wrong with different perspectives. The emphases are different and designed to steer us to varied ways of considering particular issues at hand.
The Gospel of John tells a different kind of Christmas story than the ones we are more accustomed to. John says nothing about sheep, shepherds, angelic choirs, stables, donkeys, pregnancy or marriage. John's story is much more straightforwardly theological verse. He starts off with a reference to the Genesis 1 account of creation, and then he moves to speak of God coming to earth in human flesh. While the other gospels only hint gradually at Jesus' divinity, it is John's starting point.
To begin with was the Word, and that Word was with God, and God was that Word.” John reminds us how Genesis began its account, declaring God at the beginning of the story that matters to us. John plays on the theme of how Genesis 1 portrayed God breathing life and order into existence by speaking the Word of God's will. It is to that living, making, organizing, creating aspect of God, John points our attention as he opens his narrative regarding Jesus.
Instead of introducing us to Jesus and later returning to tell us in what way Jesus was more than human, John starts off by speaking of God's active presence creating life and then creating flesh to dwell among us. He speaks of God's active, creative Word, which Genesis labeled God's Spirit or Breath. He calls us to ponder how that Word created life, the life of all things, and the illumination of all people. Just as God's Breath willed a light into existence, so John tells us that the life in this Word was light itself and contains the power to dispel darkness.
With that brief prelude, we are introduced to John the Baptist, the precursor and witness to Jesus. In this way, the author lets us in on the idea that creation was not complete in that first Genesis account. The light there created was not everything God desired it to be. There was more to that light, and John came bearing witness to the greater fulfillment of God's continuing work of creation. The real light, the true light was coming into the world, and the Baptist would point to it in witness.
This light of God, the Word which effected creation, was already in the world, but humanity had not fully embraced or understood it. Indeed, God had been living and active in this world long before the coming of Jesus. Humanity rejected God's light in so many ways, however. In response, God sent John the Baptist along, sent to call us back to the reality of God's light already in the world, but coming in a more direct manner that we might recognize God's presence more fully.
This Word was in the world, but it had not been fully embraced. Many rejected the very one who brought us into being. The very nation God had called by name, Israel, had rejected this Word. Even so, there were some who accepted God. Those who did accept were given authority to become God's children. John says this Word took on flesh, pitching his tent in our midst. We have seen his glory, he says. We have seen the revelation of the father's only son, full of grace and truth. That is what entered the world anew in Jesus, God's Word creating flesh to dwell among us.
Jesus, this Word, says John, is God in human flesh. Jesus is the human face of God. Jesus is the very human reflection of what it looks like to live according to God's will, to be the people and children of God as God has called us to become. Jesus the human representation of the fullness of God's will and character. This is more than some theological dogma, it is the very essence of the revelation of God's identity in a way we can recognize and understand it. Jesus is God in a manner in which we can draw near and relate to God directly.
John was not writing simply of a reversal of power structures and social distinctions. He was not writing about a cloud of shame surrounding events of Jesus' birth in a lowly setting. He was writing about how we are to recognize God and allow God to fashion us into the children we are to become.
Rather than walking in a darkness which can be overcome with the lighting of a spark, we are called to live according to this new light in the presence of God living and walking among us. In Christ Jesus, God created human flesh to inhabit and interact with us, the human face of God's creative identity and character.
This is John's story of Jesus. It begins with God, because Jesus is God. It begins with God's activity, because God is active in this world. It begins with light, because God is light and in Christ God comes into this world to reveal the character of his nature through the contact of human interactions.
As we progress through John's gospel, he will present us with differently themed vignettes of who Jesus is, and consequently, who and how God is. Jesus is not less than God, as John tells us. Jesus was both with God and is God. As we see Jesus interact at the marriage feast in Cana, with Nicodemus, with the woman at the well of Samaria, with a paralytic, with his disciples, and with the woman caught in adultery, we are to remember that this is the Word of God from creation who is interacting with human beings like ourselves. As we see Jesus interact with others, so we are likewise called to interact with one another.
The purpose of God coming to us in Christ Jesus was not simply about questions of eternity. In fact, John says nothing here at all about eternity other than referencing how we can become children of God due to God's will to accept us as children. It is not our doing that opens the doors to our interaction with and belonging to God. It is God's initiative on our behalf. Our part is simply to respond to what God has already done for us.
God took that first step, the initiative, not only in creating the world and humanity specifically, but in coming to us again in Jesus, the Word made flesh. In Jesus, we see God's initiative to redeem, to step forward to connect with us, and to reconcile us back into a relationship with our Creator.
That is the story John presents to us. The very God who created the universe did not abandon us to it, but created flesh of his own to come after us. God offers us connection. God offers reconciliation. God offers redemption.

It is this divine initiative in seeking us out to which John points us in this Christmas story. God has come down among us, creating flesh to live as one of us. In Jesus, this Word made flesh, we see the human face of God. In Jesus we understand better what God is like and how God desires to interact with us. Rather than a deity full of condemnation and wrath, we find in Jesus that God initiates an approach to join our lives with God and with one another. This is the meaning of grace John mentions at the close of this passage. In Jesus, we see the full character of God on display, full of grace and truth. In Jesus, we see who God really is. We find not only the story of a man of long ago, but the fleshed out identity of God. Is that the character we are creating for ourselves?

©Copyright 2017, Christopher B. Harbin 


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