The Christmas spirit came early for me this year. Often, it is not until Christmas Eve, when in the mad dash of life in the church, I can finally take a breath. But this year was different. Perhaps it is a slower pace, or maybe the power of the Hillsong Worship Song, “What a Beautiful Name.” Or maybe it is the amount of snow we have received already in Vancouver. That never hurts.
Every Christmas I listen to Charlie Brown’s reading of Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus. Much of our time is in Luke or Matthew around this time of the year, but I have been once again in John’s account of the wonder of Advent. I have been reminded of the importance of pushing past the sentiments of the season alone. Doesn’t anyone know what Christmas is all about anymore, Charlie Brown? The questions remain the same: who is Jesus? Why did He come?
A great Christmas tradition is to go to hear either Handel’s Messiah or Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. Books have introductions or prologues, but orchestras play overtures. Overtures give a glimpse into the themes for the entire piece. Many commentators suggest that John 1:1-18 is an overture and not simply an introduction to John’s account of the coming, the life, and the work of Jesus.
Beginnings are important. Mark begins with ministry. Luke begins with the birth and the events surrounding it. Matthew begins with the story of God with His people, the Jews. But John begins at the beginning. Jesus is present at creation.
In those days, “the word” (logos) referred to the way in which people understand the world to be ordered, or how it functioned. “The word” was about how the world and everything in it made sense. Today, some might say the word is karma, or yin and yang. In those days, the Jews were clear in their understanding that “the word” was God in action. John begins his account by stating that God was in action now—in the person of Jesus Christ, the Word.
Who Jesus Is
As we listen for the grand themes of the gospel in John 1:1-18, we must first hear John’s declaration of who Jesus is. When John begins with “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God and the word was God,” he is making a clear statement. Jesus is fully divine. He is the creator. He is the one who makes sense of the world. Jesus is God in action. When we try and answer the question of “who is Jesus?” it is not sufficient to say that He was a good man. John is clearly driving home the reality that Jesus is divine. Fully divine. The creator of all things who was there at the beginning. God in action. It is in His divinity that He is able to create and recreate each of us.
But John will not allow the readers to think of Jesus as only divine. He was fully human as well. In verse 14, we get this wonderful picture from Eugene Peterson about God coming among us, and moving into our neighbourhood. Jesus is God in action—fully divine. But as God in action, He became one of us, and came to be near us, right in our neighbourhoods. John is clear that the word became flesh. Jesus was fully human as well as fully God. Advent certainly reflects His coming, but it begins with His absence, and then the expectation of His coming and the impact that He will have. It is in His humanity that He is able to teach us the way to live.
Who We Are
One more thing has caught my attention this Advent. John states at the end of this overture that “We have beheld His glory.” I use to think that this referred to the divinity of Jesus alone. But it refers as much to His humanity. John is making the incredible statement that if Jesus is God in action, and that He moved into our neighbourhoods, and if we have come into the presence of the glory of Jesus, then we reflect that glory to others around us today.
We too must move into the neighbourhood as He did. It is not possible to see Jesus, and to not begin to allow the life He lived to influence everything about the way we live. It is not enough to acknowledge his coming, but instead we must participate in that coming. That shapes everything about us.