“God is a missionary God in this culture and in every culture” (Stetzer 27).
What did it mean for the Word to become flesh and dwell among men? And, how should that impact the Church of God – the Body of Christ – today?
First, we should consider who the Word was. Of course, we understand that “the Word” in John 1 refers to Jesus Christ. But who was the Word?
“In the beginning was the Word…” (John 1:1, English Standard Version). You and I do not exist before we were conceived in the wombs of our mothers. But Christ did exist before baby Jesus was born of the virgin Mary.
“…and the Word was with God…” (John 1:1, ESV). This clause teaches us that the Word and God (the Father) were distinct persons. This passage of Scripture does not talk about the Holy Spirit, and yet this clause does suggest that Christ is the second person of the Godhead.
“And the Word was God” (John 1:1, ESV). This clause is extremely important in relation to the previous one. Without this clause, John could be understood to be saying that the Christ was another god alongside God the Father. Instead, he clarifies that the Word (Christ) is God.
“He was in the beginning with God” (John 1:2, ESV). The personality of Christ is pointed to in this verse. The Word is not an “it”; the Word is a “he”.
“All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made” (John 1:3, ESV). For the one who might suggest that the Word was inferior to the Father, John quickly clarifies that the Word was the Creator of the world.
“In him was life, and the life was the light of men” (John 1:4, ESV). An important parallel to this scripture is Colossians 1:15-17. Verse seventeen, in particular, suggests that without the sustaining power of Christ, this world would disintegrate.
With this understanding of who the Word was and is, that familiar Christmas passage, “And the Word became flesh and dwelth among us…” (John 1:14, ESV), becomes astounding.
Consider… the Word is almighty God, the Creator and Sustainer of this world and yet he was willing to become flesh. He was not flesh, human, at one time. We often regard the flesh as carnal, evil, despite the fact that Adam was created in the likeness of God. Since Christ, holy God, was willing to become flesh, we learn that the physical flesh is not evil in and of itself.
Yet we learn more about Christ’s love for us. Despite the connotations of the “flesh”, Christ loved us so much that he became flesh, emptying himself of his heavenly glory, Philippians 2:5-8. Even though becoming flesh might denigrate him in the eyes of some, Christ did so in order that he might dwell among us.
Some Gnostics, a false cult with which the early Church contended, taught that a divine or semi-divine being united with the man Jesus during John’s baptism and then left him before he died on the Cross (Arendzen). Christian teaching emphasizes the fact that the Word became flesh. Period. Now, it is true that the resurrected Jesus has a spiritual body with which he can appear and disappear at will, as well as go through locked doors. However, Jesus Christ’s spiritual body still appears to a “human” body, bearing nail prints in the hands and feet, as well as the gash in his side caused by the soldier’s spear. The point is that Jesus did not put on human flesh like a winter coat to brave this harsh world for a brief moment before going back to Heaven and tossing the coat aside as useless.
But what is the point?
The Incarnation of Jesus should illustrate for the Church of God what we, as the Body of Christ, should be doing in the world today. The Bridge Illustration is a familiar witnessing tool. It depicts man and God separated by a great chasm created by sin. The Cross serves as the bridge for us to reach God. Mark Mittleberg expands this illustration to depict the cultural chasms (e.g. language, traditions, music, clothing styles, etc) between believer and unbeliever which often need to be crossed as well that this person can be reached for Christ (48-58).
The Christmas story is simply the story of how Christ took the initiative to cross cultural gap between heaven and earth and became flesh. Will we, as the Body of Christ today, also take the initiative to cross cultural gaps that needlessly come in the way of the person who wants to know God?
What are the cultural gaps over which we need to build bridges to those around us?
Arendzen, John. “Gnosticism.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 6. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1909. 23 Dec. 2008 <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/06592a.htm>.
Mittleberg, Mark. Building a Contagious Church. Grand Rapids: ZondervanPublishingHouse, 2000.
Stetzer, Ed. Planting Missional Churches. Nashville: Broadman and Holman Publishers, 2006.