In what is often referred to as the Prologue to John’s gospel (chapter 1), we read what is considered one of the most beautiful pieces of prose ever written. It is poetic, descriptive, and highly theological. John writes about the Word: the creative and dynamic agent bringing about all creation. In the beginning was this creative, powerful, living Word, which brought about order in the universe and then in the minds of men and women.
John states a startling concept unheard of in the first century: the Word, the power, the dynamic, the energy, the reason that orders and controls the world “has become flesh and dwells among us.” This Word has come to the earth in human form like one of us.
And now from the sublime to the ridiculous. John’s Prologue reminds me of Joan Osborne’s hit song several years ago, “What if God was one of us?” She goes on, “Just a slob like one of us? Just a stranger on the bus—trying to make his way home?”
The Good News for Joan and for all of us is that God did become one of us. God, who was so distant, is now near as your next breath.
John is saying that if you want to see what this creating Word, this dynamic power, this powerful reason looks like, or how it is displayed or incarnated in form and flesh—look at Jesus of Nazareth. In him was life, and the life was the light of all people.
Prior to the coming of Jesus, some acknowledged that they had seen God. This was at best a partial, rather general revelation of God. Of course, we think of Moses and the burning bush. The writer of Psalm 8 saw knowledge of God in nature, as many of us do when we take a walk in nature.
For Israel, knowledge of God came through their history with God. God was seen in their obedience. But in Christ, God became clothed in human flesh. People can now see God with their eyes. God has put on skin. God has become approachable, personal, one who has rolled up his sleeves and put God’s self into the midst of us and become human like us.
The Word, Logos, Creative Energy, Light of the World, Source of all Goodness and Love—has become one of us. Now a human being shows us the splendor of divine nature in terms of a personal character and social action, and finds us where we live. In other words, in a sense, in Jesus Christ, God is “down to earth.”
Often the most memorable people, the most useful and helpful people, are what we call down-to-earth people. An example we remember from our childhood in school is Abraham Lincoln, who was known for his leadership in uniting a divided nation. What the people loved about Lincoln was his down-to-earth nature. He identified with all people, not just the upper class. He was approachable.
Carl Sandburg, in his biography of Lincoln, tells how on certain days each month the people were invited to the White House to bring their concerns to the President. The people came because they were convinced that their president cared about them. (Imagine a president being able to do that today.)
Desmond Tutu is a brilliant Anglican bishop in South Africa, who could have withdrawn to the ivy towers of academia and even there gain fame and respect, which he did anyway. But the world respects and remembers Desmond Tutu because of his willingness to be a down-to-earth bishop who stood with blacks in Soweto until apartheid was finally overcome.
Albert Schweitzer was upper class. He had earned doctorates in philosophy and medicine, as well as being an authority on Bach and a master at the organ. However, the world appreciated him, not for his intellectual or artistic capacity, but for his down-to-earth servant-hood to the people of Africa.
The world’s most memorable people are not only talented, but also down-to-earth and approachable. In Christ, God is approachable. By the Incarnation God came to the earth in the person of Jesus and became accessible to all.
The text about the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us contains a basic truth that we seem to stumble over. It’s somewhat of a mystery, because we find difficult accepting the fact that God is so down-to-earth, that God should come to us on such human and ordinary terms. We are astonished at God’s availability, and perhaps have trouble accepting it.
Maybe we even prefer to keep God “up there” somewhere. Because when we allow God total access to us, the piercing light of God’s brilliance and truth might be too bright for us. We can much more easily hide out in a little darkness, but that is where we short-change ourselves. That is where we starve the spiritual nature of Jesus’ greatness and creational power that gives us new, regenerative, healing life.
Before his retirement, Pastor David H. C. Read of Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church in the City preached a sermon in which he told the story of a grandmother in his church who wanted her grandson to attend Sunday School. One Sunday she arranged to pick him up and bring him along to Sunday School. On the way home she was anxious to hear what he had to say about his Sunday School experience, so she asked him, “How did things go this morning?”
He thought for a moment and then he said to her, “Grandma, what’s so great about Jesus?” Hearing this, Reade thought: that’s what Christmas is all about—telling our children and our grandchildren what is so great about Jesus.
Norman Cousins, in telling about his visit with Albert Schweitzer, described the regular after-dinner ritual in the African jungle hospital at Lambarene. Cousins said the great doctor would announce a hymn to be sung and then sit down at an old upright piano to play. Cousins said that the piano was at least 100 years old. The keyboard was badly stained. One or more strings were missing on a dozen keys. The jungle heat and moisture made its tuning almost impossible.
This great interpreter of Bach’s organ music sat down to play this dilapidated old instrument. To Cousin’s amazement the old instrument seemed to lose its poverty in Schweitzer’s hands. Its capacity to yield music was being fully realized. For whatever reason, Schweitzer’s presence at the piano seemed to make it right.
What is so great about Jesus? He takes human character, regardless of how broken or dilapidated, as long as it is sensitive and open to his touch and to his light, and he brings out the best in it. That’s what is so great about Jesus. He can heal our broken lives and relationships. He can bring harmony out of disharmony. He can repair the damaged human instrument. He restores its strength, its resilience, and its capacity to yield noble and joyous music.
By means of the incarnation, God becomes flesh and comes into the midst of life. Jesus knew life as we know it. He was raised in a family, and as the elder son was eventually responsible for caring for his widowed mother. He knew what it was for one’s friends to turn against him, to be falsely accused, and to suffer rejection and finally a cruel death.
Jesus knew life as we know life. Therefore, in the midst of our anguish, pain, and disappointment, we can cry out and say, “Lord, you know how it is!”
Yes, the Word of God became flesh in Jesus Christ. This fact is driven home to us as we take the bread and the cup at the Lord’s Table. In this mystery of Holy Communion, the love of Christ seeks to become living flesh within us. In John 1:14 are subtle tones of a sacramental theology that gives meaning to this Gospel of the Incarnation.
The English poet John Betman wrote about it:
No love that in a family dwells,
No caroling in frosty air,
Nor all the steeple-shaking bells,
Can with this simple Truth compare.
That God was Man in Palestine
And lives today in bread and wine.
Friends, when this world appears out of control—natural disasters, ever present wars, assassinations, corrupt governments, hopes dashed, children abused or abducted, women raped and murdered, mass shootings almost every week in this country, relationships spoiled, your most earnest efforts rejected, the economy bottoms out, you lose your job, you lose your health, you can’t keep up, the environment is raped, and the poor and starving are neglected…
…when disappointment and despair grip your heart, when people you love let you down and circumstances appear overwhelming, when you’ve really screwed up and don’t know how, or are afraid to make it right, remember this: “The Word of God has become flesh and lives among us full of grace and truth.”
And nothing, nothing, nothing can separate us from God’s love, mercy, healing, comfort, strength, wisdom, and total acceptance.
When you come to the communion rail this morning, place anything that stands between you and abundant life in Jesus the Living Word of God—place it at the foot of the cross, and leave it there. Then receive God Incarnate in the Body and Blood of Christ afresh and anew and be whole, to the Glory of God and to your own great Joy. Amen.
*Adapted from GOD’S DOWNWARD MOBILITY, John A. Stroman, CSS Publishing Company, 1996.