Week of March 11: The Word became flesh
By Rev. Doreen Smalls
Lesson Scripture: John 1:1-14
John’s Gospel is unlike the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. It does not begin with an account of Jesus’ birth or genealogy. Instead, John tells us immediately who Jesus is. He tells us about the glory of Jesus’ character, the nature of his life and his desire to share that life with us.
John’s Gospel echoes the same phrase that opens the book of Genesis: “In the beginning.” He identified his testimony with the story of creation. He connected the Word (Jesus Christ) with the God of the Old Testament. In the first verse, John makes a theological claim to the identity of Christ.
The Gospel states, “In the beginning was the Word” (John 1:1). The term “Word” was used by Jewish and Greek theologians and philosophers in various ways. In Greek philosophy, the Word was the principle of reason that governed the world. In Hebrew, it was another expression for God. John made it clear that the Word was Jesus Christ.
The Jewish community also had various thoughts about Jesus, the coming Messiah. One popular misinterpretation was that Jesus would be a great military leader who would deliver them from the oppression of the Roman government. In the Old Testament, they were often rescued from their adversaries by great men and women who were sent by God.
Unlike biblical heroes and heroines, Christ was not only sent by God but he was God. He was both fully human and fully divine. His existence did not begin with his earthly birth – it began before time itself. John confirms that before Christ came to save the world he created the world.
The Incarnate Word
In this text, John also affirms Christ’s humanity as the Incarnate Word. The word incarnation comes from two Latin words meaning “in the flesh.” He declares that, “the Word became flesh and lived among us” (John 1:14). God took on human flesh to reveal himself to humanity. Christ is the perfect expression of God in human form.
Some theologians in the early church questioned the Incarnation. They believed that Christ was indeed God but not really human, that he only seemed human. They argued that God would not take on a physical body and that Christ’s body was only an illusion. This school of thought is known as Docetism. And there are those who fully embrace Christ’s humanity but not his divinity. They celebrate him as a great leader and teacher, but not as God.
Our Gospel lesson makes it explicit that Christ is both God and human, fully human and fully divine. Our Nicene Creed testifies to our faith of God’s dual nature: “We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ … true God from true God” and yet “for us and for our salvation he came down from heaven, was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became truly human.”
The hymn, “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” also reminds us Christ’s nature. “Veiled in flesh the God-head see; hail the incarnate Deity, pleased with us in flesh to dwell, Jesus, our Emmanuel…” In Christ, we see the glory of God. When was the last time you saw the glory of God in your life, your church or your community?
The Neighboring Word
John asserts that not only did the Word become flesh but the Word also “dwelled among us” (John 1:14). Our God is not a distant deity who disconnects from humanity. Instead, God loves us so much that He entered his creation and lived among us. When we rebelled against God, God, in the person of Jesus, came to save us because we could not save ourselves.
He came not only save us but to show us what true love looks like. Through the Living Word, we experience and witness perfect love. Christ modeled a life characterized by love. He ate with the sinners and made contact with the lepers. He reached out to the marginalized and disenfranchised members of society. He treated children with respect and regarded women as partners in ministry. He was unlike anyone else in his day. He was scorned, mocked and eventually crucified, but he still displayed love. He is the example of perfect love; he is the Incarnate Word.
And that same love continues today. The One who was born in Bethlehem and lived in Nazareth wants to live in our hearts, homes and communities today. Do you feel the Word is very near or very far away from you? If you feel the Word is near to you, what are you doing to draw him even closer? If you feel the Word is far away from you, what are you doing to invite him in?
Rev. Doreen Smalls is an associate director at the Office of Connectional Ministries. Contact her at email@example.com.