Having considered in previous installments of this series why and how Christ came into the world, we now turn our attention to exactly what came into the world on Christmas day, and we turn finally to John’s Gospel. In John 1, we have an account not of the birth of a baby, or the fulfillment of Old Testament messianic prophecy, but of the coming of none other than God himself, and what it meant, and what it means, and how we should to regard it.
This is how John’s Gospel begins, John 1:1-5: 1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was with God in the beginning. 3Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4In him was life, and that life was the light of men. 5The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.
Now if we’re to understand John’s meaning, we’ve got to understand what he means by the “Word.” This is something that’s unique to John, and it was his attempt to develop a concept that would be equally moving to both Greeks and Jews.
By the time of John’s writing the church was no longer just a small Jewish sect. It was primarily a Greek church, because there were infinitely more Greek than Jewish Christians at the time. The Greeks had no concept of a long awaited Messiah, so John had to find a way to reach them and yet reach out to Jewish Christians at the same time. And with a blend of Jewish scripture and Greek philosophy he developed this idea of the Word.
This idea of the Word of God would not have been foreign to Jewish believers, because by the time of Jesus the Law and the Prophets had been translated into Aramaic for people to read and study. These translations were called Targums, and something very interesting came out of them.
But there were references in the original Hebrew to God being actually present at times, such as in Exodus 19:17 there’s a reference to Moses bringing the Israelites out of their camp to meet God. The translators of the Targums couldn’t conceive of God being present like this. So every time they encountered it they changed it from, like in this instance, Moses bringing the Israelites out to meet God, to Moses bringing the Israelites out to meet the Word of God. And this subtle change occurred in numerous places in the Targums.
Now on the Greek side of the coin, John needed look no further than the Ephesian philosopher Heraclitus, who around 560 BC had come up with the idea that there was a power at work in the universe that kept everything in order, and that power which controlled things was the Logos, which meant the Word, or the reason of God. The Logos was nothing less than the mind of God controlling the world and everything in it. And this concept of the Logos was still a popular idea among the Greeks at the time of John’s writing.
The Greeks would have regarded sarcs as being the very antithesis of Logos. Paul uses this same word in Romans 6 when he describes his “wretched man.” The word sarcs embodied everything weak and human and corruptible. And yet, there it is in John’s own words. The Word became flesh. God himself stooped down to us so that we could understand him and know him for our very own. The meaning of Christmas doesn’t get much clearer than that.
But John didn’t leave his Jewish readers out, either. When he says that the Word dwelt among us, the Greek root for dwelt is skenoo, which means to pitch a tent. Paul uses this same language in 2 Corinthians 5 when he refers to our bodies as earthly tents. So John is saying that the Word of God pitched his tent among us.
The Jewish mind would have been immediately drawn back to the Wilderness and the Tabernacle containing the Ark of the Covenant, the sign and seal of God’s power and promise to his people. And again, the meaning of Christmas doesn’t get much clearer than this: like the Ark of the old covenant, the Word tabernacled with us and became the very embodiment of God’s new covenant, the sign and seal of God’s power and promise to us – to you and me.
And you have got to decide for yourself in light of that truth: how will you keep Christmas this year? How will you regard the Christ? How will you share him with others? What will you teach your children about this day?
Please, whatever you do, remember that behind the wondrous spectacle of shepherds and angels and wise men there was something infinitely important happening which those shepherds, angels and wise men were pointing us to, something that has changed human history forever, something that Hollywood and the shopping malls simply can not and will not ever comprehend.
And it’s up to people like you and me to reclaim it, hold fast to it, think about it, and share it. Because Christmas is about so much more than friends, family and fun. It’s when we celebrate the incarnate Son himself coming down from heaven just as he was promised to us; coming for us and for our salvation in a way that none of us could have ever dreamed or imagined.