1 In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. 2 The Word was with God in the beginning. 3 Everything came into being through the Word, and without the Word nothing came into being. What came into being 4 through the Word was life, and the life was the light for all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness doesn’t extinguish the light.
6 A man named John was sent from God. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning the light, so that through him everyone would believe in the light. 8 He himself wasn’t the light, but his mission was to testify concerning the light.
9 The true light that shines on all people was coming into the world.
10 The light was in the world, and the world came into being through the light, but the world didn’t recognize the light.
11 The light came to his own people, and his own people didn’t welcome him.
12 But those who did welcome him, those who believed in his name, he authorized to become God’s children, 13 born not from blood nor from human desire or passion, but born from God.
14 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. (CEB)
The Word Became Flesh
It’s not often that I get to preach a Christmas Day sermon on a Sunday morning, and it’s not often that you get to hear one. Christmas Day falls on a Sunday in a repeating pattern of five years, six years, eleven years, and six years. The last time Christmas came on a Sunday was 2011, the next time will be 2022. So, savor this. It’ll be six years until the next one, and then eleven years after that. To put it into perspective, my eleven-year-old daughter will be seventeen the next time this happens, and twenty-eight the time after that!
At the same time, I wish Christmas came on a Sunday more often than it does. Things are different. They aren’t quite what we expect. On Christmas Day, we don’t talk about Mary, Joseph, or the baby born into the world. We don’t mention the angels, the shepherds, or anything to do with the Nativity. That’s all done on Christmas Eve. Christmas Eve tells us what happened: Jesus was born of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the heavens and earth rejoiced. On Christmas Day, we hear about why it happened. Christmas Day is about incarnation and glory. It’s about the incalculable depth and breadth of God’s love, mercy, and grace.
John the Evangelist, as our Gospel writer is known, was writing to Greek-speaking Christians who would have been steeped in basic Greek philosophical ideas simply because it was a part of Greek culture. But, many of these people with a Jewish background would also have been steeped in Hebrew religious thought. He uses both brilliantly as he recasts the creation story of Genesis, starting with the same words: “In the beginning…” The words that follow are about the Word—the λόγος—which, in Greek thought suggests the idea of reason, rational speech, oral utterance. It’s also, alongside ethos and pathos, one of the three modes of persuasion in rhetoric.
In Hebrew thought, Wisdom was personified as a woman—Lady Wisdom—the first thing God made, who worked alongside God in creating the world and everything in it (c.f. Proverbs 8:22-31). Wisdom is viewed as its own entity. We’re told that “The LORD laid the foundations of the earth with wisdom, establishing the heavens with understanding” (Proverbs 3:19, CEB). In Hebrew and in Greek, however, wisdom is a feminine word: חָכְמָה (hachma) and σοφίᾳ (sophia). John the Evangelist is essentially using the Hebrew idea of personified wisdom, but altering it to the masculine Greek word, λόγος (logos).
At the same time, John is revealing more about the Second Person of the Trinity as the word that spoke creation into being. God didn’t think creation into being. God didn’t wave a hand, stomp a foot, shake a stick or anything else. God spoke creation into being. God uttered the word, the logos, and creation blinked into existence.
It reminds me of a couple I knew at my first church in Terre Haute. Herb and Jerri were kind of like this. Herb was the man of the house, but Jerri spoke for him. Whenever Joy or I sat with them in their living room, Herb would sit there and smile while Jerri prattled on, telling stories and occasionally glancing at her husband who would offer little more than a smile and a nod to encourage Jerri to keep going.
And she did.
Herb could sit back and let Jerri do all the work of talking, but he knew exactly what she was going to say. That’s how in tune with each other they were. In a similar way, God knew what God wanted to create, and the Word did the work of causing creation to appear.
In what are probably the most profound words in the New Testament, John declares, “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” (John 1:14, CEB). That word for lived among us, ἐσκήνωσεν (eskeynosen), means pitched a tent. This was no mere visit or passing through. This was all-in. The Word wasn’t here to observe us on the sidelines. The Word of God came to live among us as one of us and participate fully in human life. Jesus was a human being and he was just as squishy as the rest of us. The Word became flesh. Through Jesus Christ, the Word, God entered our world fully in order to redeem and recreate everything that has been made and broken.
Do we recognize the profundity of this gift? Do we recognize the measure of mercy and grace which God has thrust upon us? It’s so much more than sentimentality and sappy movies on the Hallmark Chanel (though, I’ve told you before I’m a sucker for a good sappy love story). God came down from heaven to be one of us, to live with us, to share life with us in all its tragedies and happiness, joys and heartbreaks, depression and euphoria, fulfillment and devastation. God even shared in our death so that we could share in God’s life. And Jesus, along the way, as he walked among us and beside us as a human being, taught us something about glory.
Glory is a difficult thing for us to understand. We have our own definitions and ideas of what glory is. So often, it means making it big. It means wealth or fame or power or authority. It means winning. I’m sure that, when Duke and Carolina tip off on February 9, the sports commentators will talk about the glory of the two programs, and how the winner will be crowned with glory, and how winning glory is the goal of the game.
John’s understanding of glory is different. Jesus turned water into wine at a wedding in Cana (c.f. John 2:1-12). He did it because his mother asked him to. He did it because it would make people happy, and save embarrassment for the hosts who hadn’t planned for enough wine and were likely relatives. Yet, this act of turning water into wine also revealed his glory. But what does that mean? At first glance, we tend to think it has to do with achieving something extraordinary. But God turns water into wine every year, as C.S. Lewis notes in his book, Miracles:
“Every year, as part of the Natural order, God makes wine. He does so by creating a vegetable organism that can turn water, soil and sunlight into a juice which will, under proper conditions, become wine. Thus, in a certain sense, He constantly turns water into wine, for wine, like all drinks, is but water modified. Once, and in one year only, God, now incarnate, short circuits the process: makes wine in a moment: uses earthenware jars instead of vegetable fibres to hold the water. But uses them to do what He is always doing. The miracle consists in the short cut; but the event to which it leads is the usual one” (Lewis, Miracles, in The Signature Classics, 422-23).
A broken grape will turn the juice inside into wine because yeast occurs naturally on the skin of the grape. This is how God designed it. So, in turning water into wine for the pleasure of his mother and the wedding guests, Jesus did the thing his Father is always doing: making wine from water so people can be joyous and happy.
When Jesus is told that Lazarus is sick, he says twice that it has to do with God’s glory (John 11:4, 40). He knows Lazarus has died, and goes to raise him from the dead. In healing Lazarus, he does what his Father often does: provide healing from illness, and he was present with Mary and Martha in their grief and despair. It’s what God does.
In every one of his words and actions, Jesus taught us about glory. He taught us the difference between false and true glory when he said things like, “Those who speak on their own seek glory for themselves. Those who seek the glory of him who sent me are people of truth; there’s no falsehood in them” (John 7:18, CEB).
When Mary anointed Jesus’ feet with nard and wiped them dry with her hair, that kind of gift from one to another is glory (c.f. John 12:3). In the very next chapter (John 13), Jesus wraps a towel around his waist and washes his disciples’ feet. He does the thing his Father has always done: clean up broken and dirty people. That is the image of glory: showing love for—and service to—others. Jesus prays for us in John 17, saying, “I’ve given them the glory that you gave me so that they can be one just as we are one” (John 17:22, CEB). The thing is, the glory Jesus has given us is, in one sense, the example of his life.
Right before he was betrayed by Judas, Jesus fed his disciples with bread and wine: including Judas! He only did what his Father has always done—he fed people: good and bad alike. That’s because God’s love extends to the righteous and the unrighteous, as does God’s care and providence. I mean, isn’t it just like God to feed an enemy while, at the same time, opposing the evil they speak and do? That’s our example. That’s our call.
The Word became flesh to show us glory, and we have seen that glory in the life of Christ from birth to death: a life spent in love and service to the world, especially to those who are broken sinners, deemed worthless and rejected by the rest of the world. We, too, can be lights shining in the darkness who cast light, not upon ourselves, but upon the God who loves us, provides for us, redeems us, and saves us. We glorify God when we follow Jesus Christ. That is why the Word became flesh and made his home among us. That is why Jesus showed us the way of God’s glory, which is full of grace, and truth. The Word was, and remains, a light shining in the darkness that the darkness cannot overcome. This is the gift of Christmas. The very Word that spoke creation into existence has come in the flesh to create us anew and transform our lives into the glory of God.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen!