Sunday

01 January 2017

“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.” (v. 14)

Psalm: Psalm 147


Background

John's Gospel appears to make little reference to Christmas. It certainly lacks the wise men and the nervous shepherds. It is, however, essentially to be understood as a Christmas story for its focus is on God's glory made real in flesh and blood. John's Christmas account may be more in tune with Charles Wesley's 'Let earth and heaven combine' (link) than 'In the bleak midwinter' (link) but it is still about incarnation. It is the Gospel in which God's glory is wrapped in clay, and how that glory keeps shining through!

The Gospel, the letters of John and the Revelation of John are believed to have come out of the community of believers in Ephesus. This is not everyone's view, but I find it helpful and credible. This community arose early in the story of the Church. Paul visited them preaching in the synagogue, where the Christians still met, and later in the lecture rooms of Tyrannus (Acts 19:9). Some have argued that the text of John was all written down much later than the other Gospels. They argue this because it appears more consciously 'theological' and less of an eye-witness account. However, such a view is less commonly supported now. Interestingly the earliest example of any New Testament text is from John's Gospel and is on display in John Ryland's Library in Manchester. Given the contribution of Paul with his lectures and his capacity to wrap Gospel words in the language of those with whom he speaks (Acts 17:23), it is quite reasonable to suppose these opening sentences of the Gospel are also very early in the Church's history. Alongside all the wonderful mystery of the more traditional Christmas narrative these words were also being spoken: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" (v. 1).

John seeks more than our intellectual understanding of God's glory hidden and revealed in Christ. He invites our wonder and our faith.

Let earth and heaven combine,
angels and all agree,
to praise in songs divine
the incarnate Deity,
our God contracted to a span,
incomprehensibly made Man.

He laid his glory by,
he wrapped him in our clay;
unmarked by human eye,
the latent Godhead lay;
infant of days he here became,
and bore the mild Immanuel's name.


To Ponder

  • Where do you see the mystery of the incarnation wrapped up in modern words and ideas?
  • In the Methodist Church today is Covenant Sunday, where we celebrate all that God has done for us, and affirm that we give our lives and choices to God. Where do you see the promise of God in the Covenant made real in the world?


Bible notes author: The Revd Dr Mark Wakelin

 

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