John 1:1-14 is one of my favourite passages in scripture.
I partly I love this passage because I am a writer, and words are my thing, so the idea of the word becoming flesh makes sense to me on a level I can’t quite articulate – but I love it more because it was this passage preached when I was sixteen that showed me that in the depths of what felt like my deepest darkness – I was not alone and never would be.
And isn’t that a message we all need to hear in our darkness? That we aren’t alone?
It’s what my little boy needs, when he wakes in the night – disorientated and tangled in his duvet – he calls out to us not necessarily because he can’t fix his duvet on his own (he probably could) but because he needs to know he isn’t alone.
And aren’t we the same?
We are living in what feels like dark times; we see it every time we turn on the news, check on the referral or our bank balance, every horror we see unfolding before us. We need the truth of the incarnation – of the word becoming flesh now more than ever – and for me, whilst I know our hope is in the resurrection and recreation of all things – my comfort in the here and now is in the incarnation of Jesus Christ.
The incarnation is the truth that we are not alone because Jesus came to join humanity’s sorrow and pain. Incarnation is a word that means ‘taking on flesh’; it means that God took on human flesh in the person of Jesus.
It is a mind bending paradox – that our creator became clothed in humanity – and more so, is that it’s how God chose to save the world, not with might and majesty, but with the vulnerability of a baby, then the death of a man on a criminal’s cross.
And this passage in John’s gospel tells us the story of how Jesus saved the world through the paradox of his divine humanity.
It’s because he joined us.
These first words of John’s gospel echo the very first words in scripture – “In the beginning” – when God spoke creation into being and now he’s telling us that Jesus was there in the beginning, too – that he was in the words of creation before he was in the womb of Mary. Jesus was there when the world was nothing but formless and darkness – and he would be the light that could never be extinguished by the darkness.
This means that Jesus was more than the baby in the stable and the man weeping over his city – he was, and is God. Jesus joined humanity -but he never left God.
And that is good news.
It is good news for us in our weeping, in our longing, in our confusion and our emptiness – and it’s still good news in our joy and our celebration.
Because in Jesus humanity and divinity are not two sides of himself that can be separated – but they are two realities knit together until we cannot distinguish one thread from another.
Philippians 2 tells us more about what God enfleshed looks like; and The Message translation puts it like this:
“He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.”
The original text of this is set out like a hymn, there is a rhythm to it that I think we are meant to repeat and remember in the same way we might remember the words of “All things Bright and Beautiful” from school, because the truth of the incarnation is the truth of Christianity.
The truth of it is that Jesus did not stop being God, stop being divine, but he chose to set aside his majesty to join us in the mess and mire of human life. Like a parent getting on the floor to play with their child and setting aside their sensibility and boredom of playing the same game twenty times, Jesus came down to us, not just so that we would never be able to accuse God of not knowing what it’s like to live in this broken and beautiful world, but so that it could one day be remade.
It’s this truth that changed my life when I was sixteen. Sitting in bed on a psychiatric unit with the noise, the pain, the confusion of it all I took out my iPod touch and searched for something to block out the terror that surrounded me and I listened to a sermon given a few weeks before to our church after a much loved member of our congregation had died, unexpectedly and tragically. It was the Christmas story, but unlike I’d ever heard it before – because this wasn’t about the shepherds or the angels or even the wise men, it wasn’t;’t even really about the baby in the manger – but it was about what Jesus had done in leaving heaven to come to earth.
I don’t think I’ve ever listened to a sermon more than I have listened to that one – because I understood for the first time that Jesus was the Word and the light in the darkness – and that meant that darkness really could never have the final world – in the world or in my own life.
And it was a risk, for Jesus. To become human, God incarnate was a risk, because as author Scott Erickson writes
“Incarnation is the process of becoming seen. To be seen is to allow yourself to be known. To be known is to risk being loved…or not.”
Jesus took that risk and He made himself known.
That’s what this next part of the passage is about. “He came to that which was his own, but his own did not recognise Him”.
Being seen, being known, being recognised are needs set into the human heart from the very beginning. We’re made to recognise the voice of our mother when we move from the womb to her arms, we give out a cry so that even though we can’t speak we can make sure they are near.
Jesus came so that God could be seen; his risked rejection, the separation from His Father, he risked getting up close to creation in a way no other gods of this world ever have dared to.
He moved into the neighbourhood.
I love this phrase in verse 14; ‘The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.’ The Message translation says that he “moved into the neighbourhood”, but the original text uses words that basically say God pitched his tent among us.
Now, I’ve only been camping once, but when you camp – you see the best and worst of people, don’t you? You see them at their morning breath and rain drenched worst and (apparently, although my one experience of camping I personally did not experience this) the best of their triumphant exhilarated self.
The incarnation was not just that Jesus came to earth to observe it, to nosily see for himself was this humanity thing was all about – but to be plunged head first into the reality of humanity – to make the Father known to us.
“The incarnation is the intervention that saves the world. When everything is on fire, my greatest comfort is the assurance that the world will be saved. God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world but to save the world. Yes, the world will be saved by the intervention of God.”Brian Zahnd
This is the truth of the incarnation. But why? What was the point? Why go to all this effort and agony?
The answer is love.
He loves us.
And not the love that we’ll see on Valentine’s Cards everywhere this week, fluffy and sentimental (not that I’m averse to valentines cards and flowers if my husband is listening) – but the love of St Valentine who was executed because of his love for Jesus. It’s the invitation buried in these verses that we get to be called children of God.
It is perhaps what I’ve learned this past year, which has been tricky for a number of reasons.
That the love God has for us, the love that sent one who was there when the foundations of the earth were laid down to live our messy and muddled humanity, is one worth the risk of being wrong about.
The divine becoming human was Jesus making his home with us – and inviting us to make our home in him as wait we for the world to be made new.
It is the greatest love, unfathomable and unshaking even as as we ourselves try to fathom the mysteries of God coming to earth in frailty and fear.
It is the love that set a hope and dream in the heart of my broken sixteen year old heart, that runs towards the prodigals and welcomes those we sometimes wish it wouldn’t, it’s a love that welcomes even us, the one who we see the worst in.
And that is my prayer this evening, perhaps that you see the beauty in the paradox of Jesus’ divine humanity, perhaps, in the words of KJ Ramsey, paradox is the only table strong enough to hold this truth – of the Word becoming flesh. If we didn’t have paradox there would be no incarnation.
And love is the power of this paradox. Love is the power that saw God become man; coming to us in our darkness and death to point us to life and light.
We only allow those who love us to get to know who we really are; and Jesus offers that to each of us, here and now, that we are loved and known, yes – but also that we may love and know God through him.
And I want to draw to a close with a blessing this evening for each one of us:
May those who who fear being known may be lavished with the love that drives out fear.
May those who fear to love may be emboldened by the risk of the incarnation God took for us.
May those who feel this faith is a burden too heavy to bear, be refreshed by the one who bears our burdens.
And may each of us be filled with the courage to risk the paradox of the God who is divinely human, to welcome him to make his dwelling in us and rest ourselves in him.
Leave a Reply