John’s gospel may seem like an odd place to look for the Christmas story. A simple stroll through the text exposes the absence of everything that would fill a manger scene. No Bethlehem. No shepherds. No stable. No swaddling clothes. No young couple. No mention of the holy child. Yet from a book that would make the writing of a Christmas carol difficult, a beautiful explanation of incarnation emerges – the God who enters the story.
John’s story goes back to before Bethlehem to the beginnings of it all: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.” (1:1-2 ESV). John takes us back to the beginning to introduce us to the One he refers to as “Word” or “logos” in the original Greek. This Word from the beginning is the same Baby found in a manger in the other gospels, yet in John’s gospel, He is introduced standing as the sovereign Lord over the universe. Jesus is the God who had no beginning because from His very Word came the beginning.
John describes this eternal Jesus as the Creator by whom “all things were made” and “without him was not anything made that was made” (1:3 ESV). He creates life and is also life’s very source: “in him was life, and the life was the light of men” (1:4 ESV). Jesus is the One who brings light out of the darkness and whom “the darkness has not overcome” (1:5 ESV). The Creator, the Source of life, and the Light in the darkness is Jesus. He made the world, gives the world its breath, and comes to make all the darkness fade into His great light.
In a world where our students find themselves lost in darkness, feeling like the life they have is not the life they had imagined, wondering who they are, John’s baby in a manger comes as the source of answers to all of their questions. Jesus is the great hope. Yet if the story ends here, Jesus stands as yet another divine in an eternity far away from us, far away from our brokenness, and far away from our need.
The manger moment of John’s advent comes in verse 14, where he writes of the great news of the God who is over there coming here. He writes:
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
In his paraphrase of the passage, scholar Eugene Peterson summarizes this verse: “The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, Generous inside and out, true from start to finish” (The Message).
God moves into the neighborhood. He comes into the middle of our mess. The Light steps into the darkness. The perfect One embraces brokenness. The Creator enters into the creation. God enters into the story. And in that moment in a Bethlehem manger, everything changes. The incarnation of Jesus births the beginnings of God’s divine rescue plan for His people, to which the Old Testament prophets had been pointing.
Throughout John’s gospel and the synoptic gospels, we get a front row seat to a God with flesh in this man Jesus. One who dwells among us. One who is the glory and greatness of God in a form where we could begin to wrap our small minds around it. When we look into Jesus’ eyes, we see the eyes of the sovereign Lord who created us out of an expression of His love and has come on a mission of love to rescue us.
In Jesus, we can experience truth and grace. Truth in that Jesus doesn’t back down from the depths of the darkness in the world or the darkness in the depths of us all. Grace in that Jesus came to be the perfect One in our place and through Him we can have freedom, forgiveness, and a future. These are gospel truths that we — and our students –need to hear this Christmas.
The baby in a manger was the God of the universe. He grew up to become a man on a cross who defeated deathin his resurrection. He went back to heaven and now is interceding for us and cheering us on as we seek to faithfully follow Him. We need this Jesus more than we know. The manger nor the universe could hold Him for He has chosen to passionately pursue His people by his great grace!
Merry Christmas and may we remember the God who entered the story and the moment where the entrance began – a lowly manger which held the incarnate God who came to rescue us all.