By: Scott Armstrong
“The meeting ground between God and [humanity] is the flesh of Christ.” –Saint Cyril
Christmas is almost here! As we exchange gifts, we acknowledge and give thanks for the greatest gift ever given: Jesus Christ sent to earth two millennia ago. While the first two chapters of the gospels of Matthew and Luke will be read and even enacted in plays and services this season, it is John 1 that is grabbing my attention this year.
“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (v. 14).
In Greek the word here for, well, “Word” is Logos. From that root, we get words like logic, logarithm, and the last part of words like theology – the study of God. In fact, that’s what the gospel writer seems to be going for: Jesus is what you would get if you studied God and aced the test. They look exactly alike. All the wisdom and activity and power of God have been fleshed into the Word. The very God-ness of God is manifest in the person of Jesus Christ.
The English translation of Logos isn’t perfect, but it does point us to part of the reality of the Incarnation. We think of words as groups of letters on a page or utterances spoken aloud thousands of times a day. A word is the definition of mundane and ordinary; words are wasted and overused way too often in discourse nowadays. So, to refer to Jesus as the Word seems oxymoronic. He’s the very definition of EXTRA-ordinary!
But isn’t that the point? When the Word becomes flesh, we are witnessing the extraordinary invading the ordinary. Eminence becomes imminence. Otherness becomes With-ness. The God of the heavens smashes himself into the most commonplace and unimpressive setting imaginable: Bethlehem, 4 BCE. An unwed teenage mother gives birth to a crying baby in a borrowed cave. This is the Jesus through whom God spoke the words (Word) at creation and transformed nothingness into existence? There seems to have been a mistake.
And I like the Spanish translation even more. Our Latin American brothers and sisters do not see La Palabra (The Word) when they read John 1. Logos is translated as El Verbo (The Verb) in the most popular Spanish versions of the Bible. Here’s John 1:1 and the first part of verse 14 as they might hear it in English:
“In the beginning was the Verb, and the Verb was with God, and the Verb was God…The Verb became flesh and made his dwelling among us.”
Identifying the Son of God with the spoken word of God is amazing, but we must not forget that God’s words are always active and creative. They do not just inform, but also form and transform. When we understand Jesus as The Verb, we see him as constantly acting on his Father’s behalf. All the wisdom and power of God were packaged into flesh and bones. Jesus Christ is God’s redemptive action in human form. And he is not acting from a distance, but rather from among us.
That’s good news we need to hear this season. God is always in action. And his Son, Jesus, is the very personification of our loving God’s acting on our behalf.
The Verb became flesh.