The richness of the beginning of John’s Gospel is amazing really. It’s like cramming a whole universe into a rugby ball: just the right size and shape for passing to someone else but so immense inside you could be forgiven for thinking Stephen Moffatt had scripted a Tardis moment into the Christmas story.
Like the Doctor’s risky penchant for planet-hopping, it’s often unwise to go text surfing, but I was brought to a standstill by an adventure in grace and truth brought on by planning to preach from John 1. Preachers often turn to it at Christmas. The opening 18 verses have been the climax reading of services of lessons and carols for decades and the majesty of the words speak so powerfully:
1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5The 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.
The Word became flesh and lived among us. God became human. The whole character of God was wrapped up in a baby who cried, dirtied his nappy, fell over, got into trouble with his parents, lived in a community. He wasn’t “gentle Jesus, meek and mild” or any other sappy Victorian images of him. He was a real human – but he was God.
And he was God with us in every messy and wonderful part of being human in order that we could discover what it is to be loved utterly: through death on the cross and beyond death into new life and eternity.
As I wrestled with what that might mean my brain, or my heart – or the Spirit – reminded me that St Paul wrote to the Philippians (Phil 2:7) to tell them that:
Jesus, 6who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form,
Behind this lies a powerful Greek word: kenosis. The self-emptying of Jesus. God the Son was becoming fully human so that he could enter into our world, live in it and ultimately redeem it through the cross.
He did not cease to be fully God but he emptied himself – one commentator says that he made himself vulnerable to the battering by evil forces that we face. But what he could never rid himself of was God’s grace and truth.
At every turn in his public ministry, it is always grace that wins. In encounters with outsiders such as lepers, excluded women, even the dead, God’s grace and truth breaks through and reveals itself.
It’s why the hungry are fed, the sick are healed, the downtrodden are lifted up, the unjust are challenged, those who twist religion are taken to task … and why Jesus’ disciples are taught that their task is to do the same thing.