The Third Day of Advent
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 into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it…
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.
John 1:1-5, 14
First readers of John’s Gospel would likely have been perplexed, if not troubled, when they read “the Word became flesh…”. It would be one thing to say that the Word became human, or the Word took on a body, but it is altogether different to say “the Word became flesh”. John chooses a blunt form of expression in saying that God became flesh. The word “flesh” in the Bible does not simply refer to our skin, bones, and body, but to the totality of whom we are in our fallen minds, spirits and bodies. “Flesh, biblically speaking, is a loaded word. When the Bible speaks of humanity in darkness, in rebellion and corruption and perversion, it uses the word flesh.” (C. Baxter Kruger, The Great Dance: The Christian Vision Revisited)
In using the word “flesh” (Greek: sarx) John is saying that Jesus not only took on our humanity, but He took on our broken, disordered, Adamic existence. “The Logos entered our condition thus alienated from God.” (Eduard Bohl, Dogmatik) But it could not have been otherwise! And that’s because Jesus’ mission was to come down, all the way down into our corruption in order to lift us up into the very life and glory of God. The Son of God put on what He was not, without losing what He is.
This good news that God became flesh was considered so critical to the Gospel that the apostle John later writes: “… those who do not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh; any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist!” (2 John 7). Our high view of Jesus as the Son of God sometimes means forgetting that He really was a full human being. We often think of Jesus as disconnected from whom we are. We find it hard to imagine that Jesus “in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).
For the first Christians the acid test of faithfulness to the Gospel was the acknowledgement that Jesus was really God in the flesh (1 John 4:1-3). There was no shrinking away from His full humanity. Jesus suffered (Hebrews 5:8); He was tempted (Hebrews 2:18); He wept (John 11:35), thirsted (John 4:7), and hungered (Matthew 4:2). He offered up prayers with loud cries and tears (Hebrews 5:7).
The Greek philosopher Aristotle defined God as “the unmoved Mover”, a Deity unmoved by suffering (theos apathes). The Greeks thought of their gods as remote from the world and unmoved, uncaring of humanity’s struggles and heartaches. In marked contrast is God as revealed to us in Jesus Christ:
I remind the hurting that we know that God loves us for he did not remain aloof in heaven. God does not look at our pain from a distance and send us ‘well wishes’. No, God the Father sent his Son to take on our human flesh, saturate himself in our struggles, and bear our pain. God the Son entered our fallen, tragic world and experienced all our suffering while bearing our sin and shame…He took our nature, lived our life, endured our temptations, experienced our sorrows, felt our hurts, bore our sins and died our death. (John Stott, The Contemporary Christian)
That God really did become flesh means that we can sing assuredly the old spiritual: “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen/Nobody knows my sorrow/Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen/Nobody knows but Jesus.” Ah yes, nobody knows but Jesus! Glory! Hallelujah! Amen!
- Sometimes people who have difficulty accepting Jesus’ humanity, have difficulty accepting their own humanity. Why do you think that might be?
- What might you find troubling in knowing that Jesus is fully human? What might you find comforting?
EMBODIED PRAYER: STANDING
The most common prayer position in the Old and New Testaments was standing with eyes open looking upward, and raising arms with open hands. It is a prayer position practiced by the Lord Jesus (Luke 9:28-32; John 17:1). Ancient Jews called this position the Amidah (“standing prayer”); early Christians knew it as the Orans (“praying”) position. This standing prayer is seen on wall drawings in the catacombs in Rome, and is the posture recommended by early Christian theologians and Church Fathers.
Just as we stand to express respect and awe in our culture, so we stand to embody our respect and wonder at God’s majesty and greatness. We raise open hands towards Him ready to receive, and open our eyes towards Him as the source of all life and goodness.
Today and every day of this first week of Advent, pray the Lord’s Prayer:
- Open hands raised towards heaven
- Open eyes looking expectantly to God