John 1:1-18. And the word became flesh…

The reading for Christmas day is John 1:1-18 (or John 1:1-14).  This first few lines are known as a prologue in John’s Gospel because they contain an introduction that is unrelated to the story of Jesus.   Instead, John the Evangelist offers us some theology in verses one to five:

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God.
All things came to be through him,
and without him nothing came to be.
What came to be through him was life,
and this life was the light of the human race;
the light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness has not overcome it.

The Word

John the Evangelist gives us a lesson in Christology with his first few verses.  He tells us that the Word was with God and was God. The term “word” is dabar in Hebrew, and it is a term known to the Jews of the Old Testament. The variants of dabar occur more than a thousand times in the Old Testament.  The meaning of the term dabar in the Old Testament is worthy of a doctoral dissertation. As we don’t have that much time, I’ll be very brief and present two usages that clearly refer to Jesus in the Old Testament:

The Book of Isaiah, written in the sixth or seventh century before Christ, speaks of the Word going forth from God’s mouth in Isaiah 55:11:

So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth;
It shall not return to Me void,
But it shall accomplish what I please,
And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.

In the book of the Prophet Micah, we have this very well known passage:

It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the LORD shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised up above the hills; and peoples shall flow to it,  and many nations shall come, and say: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.

John the Evangelist continues with his lesson in Christology in verses 6 through 18:

A man named John was sent from God.

He came for testimony, to testify to the light,
so that all might believe through him.
He was not the light,
but came to testify to the light.
The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
He was in the world,
and the world came to be through him,
but the world did not know him.
He came to what was his own,
but his own people did not accept him.

But to those who did accept him
he gave power to become children of God,
to those who believe in his name,
who were born not by natural generation
nor by human choice nor by a man’s decision
but of God.
And the Word became flesh
and made his dwelling among us,
and we saw his glory,
the glory as of the Father’s only Son,
full of grace and truth.
John testified to him and cried out, saying,
“This was he of whom I said,
‘The one who is coming after me ranks ahead of me
because he existed before me.'”
From his fullness we have all received,
grace in place of grace,
because while the law was given through Moses,
grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
No one has ever seen God.
The only Son, God, who is at the Father’s side,
has revealed him.

The Sacred Author tells us several things. He tells us that John the Baptist testifies to the light.  The author of the fourth Gospel tells us that John the Baptist plays the exact same role in his Gospel as John the Baptist does in the other Gospels: he is the Herald or Forerunner of the Messiah.  The Sacred Author also tells us that those who accept the light are children of God. And a child of God is neither selected nor born into that postion: a child of God is chosen by God.

And the Word Became Flesh.

Theologians refer to the conception of Jesus as the “incarnation” because, as John tells us, “the Word became flesh.”  In other words, the spirit of the Word, which existed since the beginning of time along with God the Father, took the form of a human.  The author of the fourth Gospel uses some unusual terminology in John 1:14.

Καὶ ὁ λόγος σὰρξ ἐγένετο καὶ ἐσκήνωσεν ἐν ἡμῖν, καὶ ἐθεασάμεθα τὴν δόξαν αὐτοῦ, δόξαν ὡς μονογενοῦς παρὰ πατρός, πλήρης χάριτος καὶ ἀληθείας.

Using a literal translation, which might be confusing, we would have this:

And the word became flesh, and set a tent among us, and we discerned his glory, as one-of-the-same-kind as the father, full of grace and truth.

Now, just to compare the literal with the bible translations, here is the NAB translation:

And the Word became flesh, and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth.

And here is the NIV version:

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

He Set His Tent Among Us

 The Sacred Author tells us that the Word set his tent among his people. This is an allusion to various Old Testament traditions.  Moses set a meeting tent (outside the camp of the Israelites) where Moses alone could consult with God.  Though Moses could speak to God and look at him (Ex 33:11), he could not see God’s face (Ex 33:20), as it was likely veiled by the smoke of the shekinah.    In the Book of Exodus, the Israelite’s experience of God was remote and impersonal – they could not approach the meeting tent.  We have no expectation that, one day, God will become man and freely walk among his chosen people.

In the Book of Amos (9:11), God speaks through Amos and tells us in that day, I will restore David’s fallen tent.  Amos language is very cryptic, since he speaks of the House of David, and says he will restore neither a building nor a family line, but his tent.  In Acts 15:16, the Apostle Peter invokes Amos 9:11 and tells us that it is Jesus who fulfills the prophecy of David’s tent being restored.

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