The beginning of John’s Gospel does not offer the ‘traditional’ Christmas narrative that we have become accustomed to hearing at this time of year. However, this does not mean that the incarnation is missing from John’s prologue. In fact, it is quite the opposite. John is keen to ensure that his readers understand that God has now appeared in flesh. John does this by offering us Christmas in a sentence:
The Word became flesh and dwelt among us – John 1:14
The Word, as made clear earlier in John 1, is God; the second person of the Godhead. In other words, the Word is Jesus. Flesh speaks of humanity. This is not that God abandoned deity for humanity. It is much more miraculous than that. While remaining fully God, Jesus also became fully human. All of this did not take place in some vacuum either. Jesus dwelt among us, or more literally ‘set up home’.
The implications of this are vast, numerous and really quite spectacular. Therefore we cannot deal with all of them here. But in this short meditation let me draw our attention to three implications to Christmas in a sentence.
1. A Great Sacrifice
Jesus endured a great sacrifice long before he hung on the cross. As we read at the beginning of John 1, Jesus was God, was with God and was with God in the beginning. Jesus eternally existed in perfect relationship within the Godhead. Yet, out of love for his people and through the incarnation, he sacrificed the air of heaven to breathe the dust of earth. This is a great sacrifice because on this earth Jesus then experienced all of the limitations we as humans experience. Limited to one place at one time, he grew hungry, thirsty and tired, he even felt pain, and so on and so forth.
2. A Great Encouragement
The great sacrifice of leaving heaven to walk on this earth then brings a great encouragement to us as his people. The book of Hebrews states this quite explicitly (4:15). Because Jesus walked on earth, as we walk on earth, he is now able to empathise and sympathise with us in every way. We do not and cannot experience anything on earth that Jesus does not know about, firsthand. Jesus has experienced life just as we do.
3. A Great Salvation
All of this culminates in our salvation. The incarnation is for our salvation. However, Jesus will not deal with sin only in the future when he offers himself on the cross as the propitiation for our sin. The reason Jesus took on flesh was so that he could live a life of obedience that we never could. In the great exchange transacted on the cross Jesus then gave us that perfect obedience. And even though Jesus experienced life as we do on earth he experienced it in victory because of his obedience to God. Jesus, while tried and tempted in every way, he was sinless. This is indeed a great salvation.
The chorus of the song below (a song I hope will become a classic Christmas carol) captures all of these thoughts:
He Who is mighty has done a great thing
Taken on flesh, conquered death’s sting
Shattered the darkness and lifted our shame
Holy is His name
In fact the whole song captures these thoughts. Enjoy: