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  • Writer's pictureRev. Gerald (Jerry) Reiter, Emeritus

The Word Became Flesh

Christmas Day

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 all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

The true light that gives light to everyone 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 did receive 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 Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

(John testified concerning him. He cried out, saying, “This is the one I spoke about when I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’”) Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.

John 1:1-18

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning… (and) the Word became flesh, and lived for a while among us.”

“The Word.” When John speaks of “the Word,” he’s speaking of something far beyond the meaning it generally has for us. He’s a Hebrew speaking to his own people, and for them, the Word had unique power. For these people there was a special quality, a living reality, about words, so they were used sparingly. There were only 10 thousand words in Hebrew speech, and only 200 thousand words in the Greek language. The Semitic root for “word,” dabar, also meant “thing,” “affair,” “event,” or “action.” A word spoken was a happening! Once it had been uttered, it couldn’t be torn from the event that it evoked. So, when Isaac had blessed Jacob and then later discovered that Jacob had cleverly stolen his twin brother Esau’s birthright, he couldn’t recall his words of blessing, even though Esau begged his father to do so. The words had gone forth and the blessing stood. (Gen. 27:32-38)

But when God spoke, that was something else!! That was a creative, awesome moment! So all creation was called into existence by the word of the Lord. “God said, ‘Let there be light! And there was light.’” (Gen. 1:3) And at the climax of the creation event, God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness… so God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” (Gen. 1:26,27) And so the scripture celebrates over and over again the power of God’s creative word.

Like when He spoke through Isaiah, saying, “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: it will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:10,11)

It was this Word that had called Abraham to leave his familiar, safe surroundings for the insecurity of a far country to become the father of a mighty people. Generations later this same Word broke the shackles of Egyptian slavery and set Israel free to enter into their promised land and destiny. And throughout their history, the Word came again and again through the prophets: “Thus saith the Lord” – calling a wandering, adulterous people back to their God.

So, when John wrote, “In the beginning was the Word,” he called forth a whole lot of memories from his Hebrew readers, and used words that they would understand.

But John was also reaching out beyond his Hebrew countrymen to a vast Gentile audience dominated by Greek thought. William Barclay has pointed out that by A.D. 60 “There must have been a hundred thousand Greeks in the church for every Jew who was a Christian.” And for this audience, the Word – for them, Logos - was charged with a unique meaning.

As far back as 560 B.C., Heraclitus had asked if there was anything permanent and lasting in the flux of constant change that was all about. His answer was that the Logos, the Reason of God, controlled and guided this stream of change. Then later the Stoics held that Logos was the “Mind of God,” the eternal principle of order in the universe.

If John had begun his Gospel by declaring that the Messiah had come, it would have meant little or nothing to the Greeks. It was the Logos that became the point of contact, and opened the door for a hearing of the Gospel. So, in using “the Word,” the Logos, John was speaking to both the Jewish and the Greek worlds – two very different cultures. The Greeks were sophisticated, inquisitive, and philosophic; the Jews were righteous, traditional, and worked hard at being faithful to the Law. Only by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit could John share the Gospel with these two cultures at the same time, using the simple concept of “the Word,” that carried such deep meaning for both of them.

John understood the Roman-occupied, and Greek-speaking world around him. And he tried hard to help his audience understand the ways of the Jewish people so they could understand the Gospel more clearly (which is also what I’m trying to do with you). For example, in telling of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well, he adds, “for Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.” (John 4:9) And so he helps his Greek readers understand how radical Jesus had been in reaching out to this needy woman – and, of course, helps us to understand too! All through his Gospel, John gives helpful insights – not trying to force his readers to a new view, but leading them to discover who Jesus was. Like the invitation Jesus gave to His first disciples: “Come and see.” How could the “Logos” and “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” be one and the same? The invitation to understand that, appealed to the Greek mind.

Those of us who want to be witnesses of God’s Good News can learn a lot from John. If we want to lead people to salvation in Christ, we need to meet them where they are and talk their language. I don’t mean use their vocabulary! I mean, if they’re hurting, you can tell them that God loves them and wants to help them or comfort them. If they’re arrogant and think they’re doing just fine on their own, thank you – we can tell them that God came to be one of us because we aren’t just fine without Him – even though it may appear that way at the moment. We don’t need to use big “churchy” words – and we don’t need to insult their intelligence either. Paul put it this way to the Corinthians: “To the Jews I became like a jew, to win the Jews… To those not having the Law I became like one not having the Law… To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the Gospel.” (I Cor. 9:20-23)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning… (and) the Word became flesh and lived for a while among us.

The Word that was, the Word that was with God, the Word that was God – that Word has become flesh! John doesn’t say He became a man or even body, but “flesh” – a crude word for sophisticated Greeks who thought the body was worth little. The living God made His great move of love by coming to us in the flesh! That little baby human being in the manger in Bethlehem – that’s God! In the flesh!

But in becoming flesh, the Word did not cease to be God. He is divine – yet He became flesh. That means He became a real human being. He truly became one of us. He was born like us. He developed from infancy through childhood and youth to adult life just as we do. He ate and drank, slept and sweated, got tired and felt pain, suffered, died, and was buried – just like all other human beings.

And if His body was human, so were His emotions. He experienced love and anger, indignation and compassion, sorrow and joy. And He was tempted to sin just as we are – only without sinning!

And yet the man Jesus is also God. Not a man with divine qualities. Not God appearing in human disguise. But God the eternal Son – or Word – or Logos – who became flesh. Jesus Christ is God, and Jesus Christ is man!

This is the meaning of Christmas. John puts it in a whole different way than Matthew and Luke do, with the story of angels and shepherds, virgin birth and manger. And yet they’re all saying the same thing. God has come to dwell among His people.

The ultimate issue in relation to Jesus Christ, of course, is not one of semantics (the meaning of words) but of homage (the attitude of our hearts); not whether we can recite an orthodox statement regarding the person of Jesus – but whether our knee has bowed before His majesty! For nobody can call himself a Christian who does not worship Jesus. To worship Him, if He is not God, would be idolatry. To not worship Him, if He is God, is to abandon the faith!

You want to make a worthwhile New Year’s resolution? Resolve to be faithful in your worship of your Lord and Savior, the Creator who became a creature, the Word who is God and became flesh to live with us – and die for us.

Can you think of a better resolution? I can’t!


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