Narrative Lectionary Reflection
December 24, 2017
When we think of the Christmas story in the Bible, we tend to think of the story presented in Luke 2. This is the text that Linus memorizes in the Charlie Brown Christmas Story. It’s the story of Mary, Joseph and the Shepherds.
But there is another Christmas story out there. But there is no Mary, no Joseph, no shepherd, no choir of angels. Instead we hear about abstract things like the word, “logos.” It’s a cosmic story that allows you to see the birth of Jesus in a more expanded way. The first 18 verses of John is a prologue that sets up the rest of the book and also sets up the why of Jesus’ coming to earth. Today, we look at the opening chapters of the book of John.
Engaging the Text
The Word became flesh
and made his home among us.
We have seen his glory,
glory like that of a father’s only son,
full of grace and truth.
The birth story found in Luke is one that is grounded in time and space. Look at the first passage in Luke 2:
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 All went to their own towns to be registered.
Luke places Jesus is a specific context; we know that Augustus is the emperor of the Roman Empire. We know that Quirinius is the governor of Syria. We also know that a census is being taken and Joseph has to go to Bethlehem to be counted.
Now look at the first passages in the book of John:
In the beginning was the Word
and the Word was with God
and the Word was God.
We know that something is beginning, but we don’t know when this is happening. John starts the gospel outside of time and space. This is a reminder of the nature of God; someone that transcends space and time.
When we hear that phrase, “In the beginning,” the writer is intentionally recalling those first few words in Genesis. The writer then goes to say that this Word or logos was present at the creation. The writer is trying to get the point across that what is going to happen in the following pages is as big as the creation.
One way to look at this chapter is to see it as if you are looking at something through a telescope. You can see something at one viewpoint and if you magnify it you will see more things that weren’t seen before. That’s what is happening here: we start with the cosmic and then we move closer to the created order in verses 3-5.
About the word “Word.” In greek the word is translated as logos. Logos was a word and concept that people in the first century found familiar. This logos was present with God at the creation and shares the very life of God. The Logos and God are very close to each other even though they are two personalities.
Verse 5 shows us that the Logos is not just an abstract thought, but also gives life. A word, a thought can actually give light and life to humanity.
Starting at verse 6, we focus not on Jesus, but his cousin, John. While they are different, they are also the same. The greek verb egeneto (was made) is used to talk about both John and Jesus. But while they both talk about God’s mission to bring salvation, verse 8 tells us that John the Baptist only bears witness to the light while Jesus is the Light. In essence, John the Baptist is the lamp- only Jesus is the Light. This reminds us how the other gospels present John before Jesus which is how they demonstrate that John the Baptist is the witness to the Light and not the light himself.
The third part of today’s text deals with the identity of Jesus. Verse one is where we first see the word, logos. In verse 14, the meaning of logos changes. In chapter 1, logos is beyond time and space, in verse 14 logos becomes time-bound and enters the life of a human. This is where we are introduced to a whole new concept, the very reason we celebrate Christmas: the Incarnation.
The Incarnation is at the very heart of the gospel of John. John shows how God choses to express Godself through a human being. What was once eternal and outside of time is now about life and death.
When the word “flesh” is used (the greek word is sarx) in relation to Jesus, it saying something about what Jesus is doing. Jesus becoming enfleshed means that the logos chooses to become weak, frail and vulnerable. The good news of the incarnation is that the God that was inaccessible, now has come to live with a fallen humanity.
Starting with verse 14, John concludes his text in a song praising Jesus. We learn the why of the Incarnation: to make God known. We also learn that the Son and Father have a relationship, a sense of intimacy. (Father is not relating to God’s gender, but to the relationship between Jesus and God.)
Luke and John look at the coming of Jesus in different ways. Luke talks about Mary and Joseph, a pregnancy, a census that the Romans wanted, and having to give birth to baby in smelly stable. Everything here is somewhat mundane, everyday. Yes, there is that whole angel thing with the shepherd, but even the shepherds were so plain. Luke’s story is about people, places and things. It’s concrete. John on the other hand, is a whole different animal. Where things are finite and ordinary in Luke, John tends to deal with the infinite. “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God,” says John 1:1. There is no Mary, no Joseph, no shepherds, no angels. Instead we have talk about the Word or Logos, about being rejected by people, about the Word being around since the beginning of time. In the midst of all this, verse 14 talks about the Word, the cosmic, the infinite taking on flesh and living among humanity.
Think about that for a moment. The infinite got involved with the finite. Here’s what John 1:14 says according to the Message translation of the Bible:
The Word became flesh and blood,
and moved into the neighborhood.
We saw the glory with our own eyes,
the one-of-a-kind glory,
like Father, like Son,
Generous inside and out,
true from start to finish.
-John 1:14 (Message version)
This is what Christmas is about. God, the infinite, the all powerful and all knowing, became a helpless baby. God loved creation so much God decided to become one of us, to accept the limits of being human. God became Immanuel, God with us, by becoming one of us. God moved into the neighborhood.
As we get together with family and friends during the holidays, remember this: Christmas is about God getting involved in the life of the world for its salvation. God is about moving into our hearts and joining us in the good and the bad. Charles Wesley expressed this in his carol “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing.” The third verse explains this wonderfully:
Hail the heav’n-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Son of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings
Ris’n with healing in His wings
Mild He lays His glory by
Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth
Born to give them second birth
Hark! The herald angels sing
“Glory to the newborn King!”
God has moved in. Merry Christmas.
Dennis Sanders is the Pastor at First Christian Church of St. Paul in Mahtomedi, Minnesota. He’s written for various outlets including Christian Century and the Federalist.