Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Word Becoming Flesh Meditations on the Incarnation of the Son of God from the Unique Perspectives of the Four Evangelists

Advent Evening Prayer (Week of Advent 4)

St. John


John 1:1-14; 1 John 1:1-10; Isaiah 42:1-9

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

The iconographic image for St. John the Evangelist is an eagle. No doubt this image was selected to represent John because his Gospel seems to view the life and ministry of Jesus from a different and higher, though complimentary, perspective than do the synoptic Gospels. Indeed, some of the qualities that are unique to eagles and to other large birds of prey do seem especially appropriate in comparison to John’s Gospel. For instance, an eagle flies high above the earth and with keen vision spots its prey far below. So too, John offers a high and exalted view of Jesus’ life and ministry in that John’s Gospel is very interested in the presence and work of the Holy Spirit in and with Jesus and also demonstrates that Jesus is in full control throughout His ministry, only submitting Himself, when the time had come, to the authorities who would arrest, try, condemn, and execute Him. Also, it is said that an eagle can look directly into the sun without harm and still see clearly. So too, John presents to us a Jesus who claims to be at once in the Father, with the Father, the glory of the Father, and one with the Father. Thus, to behold Jesus is to behold the fullness of the glory of God hidden in human flesh. In these ways, John, amongst the other Gospels, opens to us a high theology and mystery of the incarnation of the Son of God, the very Word of creation made flesh and dwelling amongst us.

John’s Gospel begins in a most surprising and unique way and with words that immediately take the hearer back to the opening words of Genesis, “In the beginning….” This is absolutely intentional. John wants his hearers to make the connection between God, the creator of the universe, and the Word of God’s creation that has become flesh in the person of Jesus. “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 were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” It was that Word, the Word that was with God, the Word that was God, the Word by which all things were made, that John says “became flesh and dwelt among us.” In that one sentence, that one verse, John states what Matthew and Luke labor much more over and what Mark does not mention at all – the child conceived in Mary’s virgin womb and that was born in Bethlehem is none other than God in human flesh. In Jesus, God has visited His people to redeem them. Jesus is “Emmanuel, God with us,” and that has changed everything!

In John’s Gospel, Jesus uses the Divine Name of God given to Moses through the burning bush, “I AM WHO I AM,” seven times in reference to Himself. Each of these statements is descriptive of Jesus not merely as a guide to salvation, such as a rabbi or a prophet, but as the very means of salvation in Himself: I am the bread of life; I am the light of the world; I am the door; I am the good shepherd; I am the resurrection and the life; I am the way, the truth, and the life; I am the true vine. Jesus locates life and salvation in Himself, even saying to His disciples “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.” In the incarnation, the unapproachable God has become approachable, the invisible God has become visible, and the untouchable God has become touchable. Jesus invites all humanity to an intimate relationship and a holy communion with God.

The purpose of John’s Gospel, like Luke’s, is catechetical. John’s Gospel seems to be written to a Greek speaking Jewish Christian audience, likely in the middle of the first century prior to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. John’s Gospel is deeply spiritual, demonstrating how, through the incarnation of God, spiritual life has been resurrected – now – even as we dwell in a world that is wrecked by sin and death. In John’s Gospel, Jesus continually speaks of a fullness that is available right now through faith. Jesus offers His disciples water that they may never thirst again, food that they may never hunger again, light that they may never walk in darkness again, and life that they may never die – and these, Jesus says, are available to you now through faith in Him. It follows, then, that it is in John’s Gospel that we hear the words of Jesus, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” John explains the purpose of his Gospel plainly saying, “These [words] are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

In his Gospel, John repeatedly refers to himself as “the one whom Jesus loved.” This is not a boast, but rather an expression of John’s selflessness and humility. John knew personally the breadth and depth of God’s love in Jesus shown to him and to all humanity. John’s designation is not a boast, but rather a confession of his faith in Jesus’ love for him. In the letters that he wrote to the churches, John speaks at length about God’s love for men, even saying “God is love.” It is in John’s Gospel that Jesus defines what the love of God is like saying, “Greater love has no one than this, that he would lay down his life for his friends.” John the Evangelist and Apostle points us to the love of God incarnate, Jesus Christ, whose self-sacrifice was the fullest expression of God’s love for us. For this reason did God become flesh and dwell amongst us, that He might die for us and redeem us from sin and death.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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