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.
There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.
He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet 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 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.
John testifies concerning him. He cries out, saying, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.'” From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.—John 1:1-18
There are two biblical stories about the birth of Jesus. One is the factual story of who did what, when and where, given to us by Matthew and Luke. The other story occurs in our keynote passage.
The “other story” concerns itself with the profound significance of what happened at the intersection of time and eternity, when God in the person of Jesus came into our world to be one of us. The first 18 verses of the first chapter of the Gospel of John is powerful, majestic, and in some ways mysterious. As literature, this passage ranks among the most profoundly meaningful essays of a similar length. It is one of those biblical passages which encapsulates the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Our passage tells us that God came, in the person of Jesus, to be one of us, as the God-man. Let’s just take a moment and try to get our heads around this extraordinary claim of Scripture. The first ten words of verse 14 is a distillation of the gospel; The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.
God became a human, while obviously remaining divine, for by definition God never stops being God. He is the Word, the Eternal Son of God, the Alpha and the Omega, the Author of the gospel and the main subject of the gospel, the Lamb of God, the Prince of peace, the King of kings, Lord of lords …as verse 18 calls him, God the One and Only.
We are told God came to us in the person of Jesus, the God-man—God in the flesh. Our passage reassures us that God is at peace with his creation. So much at peace that he became one of us. He is not against us—he is for us—for he is one of us. He’s on our side. Our message is titled The Visitor. One of the great themes of Christmas is that God is for us—God’s favor rests on and with you. God has personally delivered his peace, through his presence.
The first five verses of this first chapter of the Gospel of John teach us about the Incarnation. In brief, what Christians call the Incarnation is the biblical teaching that the second divine Person of the Trinity became human without giving up his deity. God stepped out of eternity, remaining divine, voluntarily veiling that part of his divinity in order to become something he had never been—human—to become part of his creation. The Incarnation is all about the enfleshing of God, when God came to us, as God in the flesh. The Incarnation is about The Visitor, when we became a visited planet.
There are many questions about this voluntary act of love, when God became human.
• Why would God want to become a human being?
• Why would God enter into this world and live as a normal human being?
• Why wouldn’t God, who is holy and perfect, stay away from the corruption, the sin, the muck and mire and suffering and pain that being human entails?
Our passage speaks to the fact that humans, despite God’s love, rejected him;
He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.—John 1:10-11
When God came to us in the person of Jesus, we humans rejected him, we betrayed him, we abandoned him and we crucified him. We tried to extinguish God, we tried to snuff out the Light of the world.
That’s part of the story, but it’s only the first act, if you like. In the second great act of God, the glory and reality of the Resurrection, we are given absolute proof that the darkness of our world could not overcome Jesus. God could not be minimized, marginalized or overcome by human pride, envy and lust. Once again Light triumphs over darkness, the Light of the risen Lord. The people, as Isaiah prophesied, walking in darkness have seen a great light (Isaiah 9:2), the Light of Jesus Christ.
As we ponder our passage in the first chapter of the Gospel of John, as we marvel at Jesus’ birth, we realize that Christmas is not the end, it’s just the beginning. Christmas does not exist in a vacuum. Christmas is not simply about the birth of a unique, once-and-for-all baby, it’s much, much more than that. Christmas is about God visiting us. Christmas is about The Visitor.
As we worship The Visitor, we should consider every aspect of the Incarnation; God who is at home in a stable, God whose throne is a Cross, the Creator of all that we see, and all that we don’t, stooping down to wash our feet.
Consider God in the flesh who feeds us with his own body and blood. Consider The Visitor, God who is omnipotent, omnipresent, eternal, holy and perfect yet who also became flesh. As we consider The Visitor, we remember that The Visitor did not come to be one of us so that he could lord it over us and treat us as servants, but instead, he came out of eternity into our world to call us his friends (John 15:15).
The Visitor brought heaven to earth. Moses gave us the law, but The Visitor personally delivered his grace and truth (John 1:17). When the law came, it came by the mailman (or, if you like, by Fedex), but when grace and truth came, God delivered it personally.
God, in the person of Jesus, personally delivered grace and truth, so that you may know that God’s law has no power of condemnation over you. God’s law, delivered through Moses, cannot accuse you, because it was God in that manger.
Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ (verse 17). He didn’t come breathing fire. He didn’t come filled with threats and condemnation. He didn’t come so that we could receive lurid, detailed explanations of the eternal torture that surely awaits us if we don’t start obeying the law. He didn’t come to reveal an angry and vindictive God.
Jesus came as a breath of fresh air. He came, not to start another religion, but to begin a revolution that would eventually put religion out of business. He came to bring us into a personal relationship with God.
Jesus came with the incredible message that God really likes you and me. He wants you and me to be his friends.
Who is this Jesus? Who is The Visitor?
It was the Creator in that cradle. The first few verses of our passage in John 1 tell us that the universe has not always existed. This passage tells us that the universe we know and which now exists did not come into existence as a result of some meaningless progression of life forms, whose earliest life form was some kind of cosmic blob that somehow just turned up in space some gazillion years ago.
No, the Creator, the one who became Jesus (Colossians 1:15-16), the incarnate God who stepped into time and space created it all. He rolled up his divine sleeves, designed both the visible and the invisible, and then flipped the switch.
The first verse of John 1 calls him the Word—the Greek word used is Logos. Logos refers to the rational principle of order behind the universe—the English word “logic” comes from the Greek word logos.
John is making a distinction between the one God and the first and second divine Persons of the Godhead—God the Father and God the Son. God the Son, as the Logos, is the intelligence behind all that is. He is the “brains” behind the creation.
When we simply look up at the stars, or when we marvel at the complexity of a leaf that falls from a tree and when we gaze through a microscope or a telescope, we are left with one inexplicable conclusion—everything we see and observe works together, in symmetry and harmony. Everything has been designed. Everything fits together. There are food chains, there are dependencies, there are inter-related issues, more than we can imagine. And they all work together in harmony. What—indeed—Who is behind everything we see and everything we don’t see?
It wasn’t Darwin in that cradle, it was the Creator—the Creator who came to be one of us.
The birth of God in the flesh required no human father. He was born of a virgin. He is God from the Father alone and was man from his mother Mary. That miracle has been expressed this way—”God of God, light of light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father.”
What love—what grace—what generosity!
Sometimes at Christmas, because Christmas helps us focus on God’s greatest gift to us, and perhaps equally so, because Christmas happens at the end of our tax year, we give gifts to God that are over and beyond what we normally do.
Being human, being so focused on what we do, being subjected to the spiritual gravitational pull of our human nature, having our default set to the baser lusts of pride and arrogance, we might think as we give God a gift, “Well, I have had a great year. Look at all my accomplishments. I have achieved my financial goals. I have earned some respect on my job and through my volunteer work in the community. I think I’ll do something nice for God for Christmas.”
I hope you see how shallow such thinking is. While it’s great to give to God, anytime, and all the time, we also must be reminded that God’s generosity toward us can never be repaid. Let your hearts overflow with generosity, by all means give to God, but never forget he has given us the greatest gift.
We can never repay God. We can never earn our way into his good graces. His gift is without strings—his generosity to us is from everlasting, out of eternity, matchless and supreme, with no human dimensions or measurements.
Christmas commemorates the time when we became a visited planet. When The Visitor came to be among us he came with peace and divine favor. Christmas sends us the message that God is at peace with his creation.
God is for you. God’s favor rests on you. God is on your side. God is your friend. You can hang out with him. You can talk with him. He will listen to you. He cares for you. He knows you and calls you by name. And, in spite of knowing you for who you are and what you have done, of all things, God still loves you!
The Visitor knew exactly what kind of reception he, the Light, would receive from a world of darkness. He came anyway! The significance of Jesus’ birth is far more than just a sweet and captivating Sunday school story.
The significance of Jesus’ birth is that the Creator of the universe did not declare himself immune from the human dilemma. He made us the way we are, and out of his overflowing love determined that he would become one of us, to know by human experience what it means to be human. He came to know human pain, suffering and death. He came to join us in our misery and our heartache.
He didn’t sit in a heavenly recliner, with angels peeling grapes for him, feeding him milk chocolate, content to watch earthly history unfold on his big screen television. He came into our world at the intersection of time and eternity.
No religion teaches that their god(s) became flesh, coming down to live in our slums and ghettos, experiencing poverty and pain. Authentic Christianity alone teaches, in accord with our keynote passage (see verse 14), that God became flesh and made his dwelling among us.
Jesus was born for a reason. He was born that we might be free in him. He was born that we might be rescued, redeemed and reconciled. He was born that we might have a personal and intimate relationship with God. He was born that we might be spiritually reborn. He was born to die, born to be resurrected and born that he might live his risen life in you and me.
He was born so that we might be given the true bread from heaven, bread that will enable us to live forever. He was born that he might be the living water, water that once we drink of it will cause us to never thirst again. The birth of Jesus invites us to pause at the intersection of time and eternity.
Christmas is a time when we remember that God is at home in a stable. God is at home in the lowest of the low places where any human might live, be born or sink to. God stooped down to come and serve us. That’s why The Visitor came.