THE WORD BECAME FLESH AND DWELT AMONG US
Is 52:7-10; Heb 1:1-6; John 1:1-18
Amidst all that Christmas has come to mean for many people today, Christians and non-Christians, it is quite easy to miss the magnificence of the story of Christmas. We know the facts. We have heard about the Shepherds, the Magi, Mary and Joseph. And because we “know” the story, it is easy to miss it. We easily move on to other things. The message of Christmas is the basis of our hope; it is our source of strength; it is our reason for joy. If one were hearing the Christmas story for the very first time, one would certainly ask three important questions: Who is this man Jesus; what makes his birth so significant? What is the purpose of his coming? What difference does this make in our lives?
- WHAT IS THE BIG DEAL ABOUT JESUS?
This question about this Jesus might be may sound like a stupid one. But, in reality, it is the most basic question. Was Jesus just another man or was he someone unique? Was Jesus, as some say, A SON OF GOD or WAS HE ONE-OF-A-KIND? The prevailing notion among world religions and even those who call themselves Christians, is that Jesus was a great man. He is even the greatest man who ever lived. But he was just a man.
Some tell us that Jesus is man at his best. He is the standard. He is what we should all be striving to be. But the Bible affirms that the birth of Jesus was unique. It is different from the birth of “great men” like Mahatma Ghandi, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr., etc. His birth is not just significant because of who he turned out to be. It is significant because of what took place in Bethlehem.
At the beginning of what we may call the biography of Jesus as written by St. John, the Apostle and Evangelist, we learn that: “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; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it” (Jn 1:1-5). These words sound very lyrical and beautiful to listen to, but they do not seem tell us much because they are a bit too mystical and philosophical. In other words, they do not tell us clearly what John is talking about. It only when one gets down to verse 14 of this text: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14). John tells us that the “WORD” that he is talking about at the beginning of his book is JESUS. The “Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Let us read those words of (Vv 1-5) again, substituting “Jesus” for “Word”.
“In the beginning was JESUS, and JESUS was with God, and JESUS was God. JESUS was with God in the beginning. Through JESUS all things were made; without JESUS nothing was made that has been made. In JESUS was life, and that life was the light of men. The light of JESUS shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it” (John 1:1-5). In this respect, John is saying that Christ is preexistent; He was there when time began; Jesus was and is God! He was the agent of creation; he is the Creator; he is the source of life. Jesus is not just a “son of God” in the same sense as we are “sons of God”. In Jesus, God took human habitation. He was fully human (in that he experienced the hurts, temptations, struggles that we face). But he is also fully God. He is really and truly God in a human body.
- JESUS IS GOD IN HUMAN FORM
The idea of God becoming man may sound crazy. But there is ample evidence of the divinity of Jesus: He claimed to be God (He claimed divine authority; he claimed divine power; he even applied divine names to himself like “I Am” and “Son of Man“.) Jesus lived a life that was free from skeletons and mistakes. When it came time to arrest him (not for a crime but because he was getting too popular) they could not find anything (nothing!) valid to charge him with. He was born to a woman who had never been known a man. His birth was celebrated and announced by angels. He taught with a wisdom and authority that is unmatched by any other individual. He performed miracles that changed people, circumstances; and he even controlled the weather. He fulfilled prophecies that had been uttered hundreds of years before his birth. He transformed the lives of everyone who came in contact with him. Jesus rose from the dead (the most compelling evidence of all) after his death on trumped up charges.
Indeed, Jesus is God who has taken human form! This leads us to our second question, if he is God, then why would he bother himself with us since we are merely tiny dots in comparison to the giant universe we live in?
- WHY WOULD A MIGHTY GOD COME TO EARTH?
The answer this question is quite easy. The most famous verse of the Bible is John 3:16 when Jesus says, “God so loved the world that He gave His only son that whoever would believe in Him would not perish but have everlasting life.” Jesus came to earth in order to make it possible for you and me to live forever in God’s presence. In fact, in the letter that John wrote, he said virtually the same thing as Jesus himself says in the Gospel text above: “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him” (1Jn 4:9). Therefore, Jesus came to earth and live among us, human being for the following two reasons:
- a) He came to declare his Love to us. God became man so that he could communicate his love to us. Most people feel they have disappointed God, and so are not deserving of God’s love. They know they have made mistakes. But Jesus came to earth to tell us in person that God loves us in spite of all. The words of St. John reveal a lot: “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1Jn 4:10). God does not declare his love because we were deserving of it. He does it because he is loving. There are no pre-requisites to God’ love. God loves us not because of who we are, but because of who HE IS. Therefore, Christmas means God saying to us, “You mean a lot to me; you matter to me.”
- b) He came to demonstrate his love. God became man not only to declare his love, but also to prove it. In each of the verses which we have looked at earlier, St. John talks about God “giving” his Son ( 3Jn). In the 1st Letter of St. John, we read about Christ making “an atoning sacrifice” for sin. Jesus came to give evidence of his love by dying in our place. The cross and the crib go hand in hand. He was born so that he could die. God’s standards are unwavering. On the cross, Jesus paid the price for our sins. He came to set us free from the past so we could walk with him. Christmas is significant because it shows us the depth of God’s love; and it points us to the reason that we can have hope for the future.
- WHAT DIFFERENCE DOES THE COMING OF JESUS MAKE IN OUR LIVES?
If the new-born Jesus is letting us know that God loves us, and he shows that same love to us in his life, death and resurrection, it implies that he also calls onto us to take up lives worthy of that love.
- a) Christmas invites us to entrust our lives to God. You might remember the account in Acts, chapter 16. Paul was in jail and suddenly an earthquake shook the prison and the doors all opened. The guard on duty was sure that Paul had escaped and that his life was going to be taken in exchange for the escaped prisoners. When he saw that Paul and his group were still there, he was overcome by grace and became very conscious of his own sense of need. He said to Paul, “What must I do to be saved?” Paul’s response was simple and to the point: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.”
We see something very similar in that first chapter of John. In Jn 1:12, we are told, “to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” The same word is used in both places. We are told that we are to believe. But that word believe can mean different things. It is one thing to say that God became man so that we could be forgiven and live forever as his children. It is another thing to believe it. But it is still another thing to act on it. God calls us to act on it. It involves admitting our need, believing that Jesus meets that need and then trusting him with our lives. If you understand what Christmas is about then you are faced with a decision. Will you take what God offers or will you simply discuss the offer? Will you receive his forgiveness or will you just think about it? Will you respond to his love or will you put it off “for another day?” These are the questions that the coming of Jesus provokes. These are the questions of Christmas. The baby Jesus lies there with open arms, inviting us to leave the past behind and discover true life.
- b) Christmas also invites us to love one another. There is one more response that God wants from us. Apart from asking us to trust in him and bask in his love for us, he also wants us to love each other, and to love one another. St John exhorts us: “Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us” (1 John 4:11). When we receive Christ we also experience true love in our lives. When we have experienced God’s love, it is our turn to share that love with others. Christmas is a great time to do just that. This Christmas, we are encouraged you to show love to each other and to one another. We are called upon to give a hug to the person whom we know is hurting. We can invite an estranged family member or friend to Christmas dinner. We can give sacrificially to help someone else who is in greater need. We can take time to tell our children and our spouse how much they really mean to us. We may need to make it a point to express appreciation to those who serve us (at home, in the market, at the petrol station, at the beauty parlour, in the hospital, at the security post in our home, etc.) Christmas is our chance to tell others and to show others the love that Jesus has lavished on us.
Christmas reminds us that we are not alone. God notices us. He is aware of our struggles. He loves each and every one of us. Sometimes the burdens of life may seem more than we can carry, but we do not have to carry the burdens alone. Christmas reminds us that there is a reason for hope. Sometimes what happens here and now is hard and painful. The new-born Jesus directs our attention to a life beyond the horizon. He points to a life of joy after the sorrow, to comfort in the midst of pain. Therefore, Christmas is not only about gifts, parties or family gatherings. Sure, those things are part of the celebration; but they are not the reason for the celebration. The reason for the celebration is JESUS, who is God’s Love. God become man to tell us that there is a reason to celebrate, even when life is hard.
HAPPY CHRISTMAS TO YOU ALL!