God's Word Made Visible
|In the Beginning - Mike Chapman|
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. 15 (John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’”) 16 From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.
I have long been fascinated by the Prologue to John. I’ve posted a portion of the prologue for our reflection as we move toward the coming of Christmas, and with it the celebration of the incarnation. I realize that the idea that God might take on human flesh and dwell (tabernacle) with us sounds odd, at least to the modern mind. It is true that in the ancient world the idea that gods took human shape was commonplace. In Jewish circles the mediators involved angels (immortal, but not divine beings), but Yahweh wasn’t expected to take human form. But here we are, with the idea that God might dwell amongst us in the person of Jesus, a child born (according to the Gospels) in Bethlehem.
I often turn to Karl Barth for guidance when it comes to the question of the incarnation. His idea that we find the Word of God present in the Christ is well known (I’ve written of Barth’s three-fold word of God as part of a reflection on the authority of Scripture). In the Church Dogmatics he writes of the Word become flesh:
That the Word was made “flesh” means first and generally that he became man, true and real man, participating in the same human essence and existence, the same human nature and form, the same historicity that we have. God’s revelation to us takes place in such a way that everything ascribable to man, his creaturely existence as an individually unique unity of body and soul in the time between birth and death, can now be predicated of God’s eternal Son as well. According to the witness of the Evangelists and apostles everything from the fact that it concerns the true man Jesus Christ as a man like ourselves. [Church Dogmatics, 1.2:147.]
The Word of God, the revelation of God, is encountered first and foremost in the person of Jesus, who is in every way like us in terms of his humanity. For John, this is important because appears that he is responding to persons who deny Jesus’ physicality. So, it’s not new, this idea that divinity and humanity don’t go together.
Today, it seems as if we prefer a Jesus in the flesh, but many wish to discard the “miracle” of the incarnation. But Barth isn’t among them, and neither am I. Therefore, he can write a few pages later:
Thus the reality of Jesus Christ is that God Himself in person is actively present in the flesh. God Himself in person is the Subject of a real human being and acting. And just because God is the Subject of it, this being and acting are real. They are a genuinely and truly human being and acting. Jesus Christ is not a demigod. He is not an angel. Nor is he an ideal man. He is a man as we are, equal to us in the state and condition into which our disobedience has brought us. And in being what we are He is God’s Word. Thus as one of us, yet the one of us who is Himself God’s Word in person, He represents God to us and He represents us to God. In this way he is God’s revelation to us and our reconciliation with God. [CD 1.2:151].
So, as we approach Christmas we’re confronted with the message that God is present in this child, revealing to us the truth that is God. Yes, Christ is the Word of God in the flesh. Thus, he is the light of God, shining into our lives. He does this as a human being, in all its facets. Thus, as Barth reminds us he is neither a demigod nor an angel!
In closing I share the words of a Christmas carol written by Iola and Dave Brubeck, which reflect this message of Christmas.
God’s love made visible! Incomprehensible! Christ is invincible! His love shall reign! From love so bountiful, blessings uncountable make death surmountable! His love shall reign! [Chalice Hymnal, p 171].
Picture Attribution: Chapman, Mike. In the beginning..., from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=55815 [retrieved December 21, 2016]. Original source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/36229644@N06/4663154243.