Today we celebrate the most important event of human history—the advent of our Lord, the birth of Jesus Christ. It is this event that is both the centerpiece and turning point of God’s redemptive drama.
But people are born all the time. What makes this birth so special? The uniqueness of the birth of Christ stems from who is born and why.
Who is Jesus?
The church possesses four Gospels that record the life of Christ. Of these four, only Matthew and Luke are concerned about the actual birth of Christ. The Gospel of Mark is unconcerned about this birth and simply begins with Christ’s baptism. The Gospel of John does not record the birth either, not because John finds the birth unimportant, but because John has “bigger fish to fry.” John is interested in clearly revealing the immense significance of Christ’s birth by taking us to “a time before time”—to eternity past.
John begins his Gospel with the words: “In the beginning…” In doing so, he directly alludes to the opening words of the Hebrew Bible: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). By beginning his Gospel in this manner, John is retelling the creation story. But his retelling fills in many gaps in the first account. In John’s creation story, God is not simply presented as an isolated sovereign individual wielding ultimate power in creation through his spoken word piercing the formlessness and void of primordial matter. In John’s creation story, God Word is personal and it pierces the darkness of a creation in rebellion to its Creator.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God” (John 1:1-2). Before time began and before a single thing was created, John reveals a relationship of love and delight at the heart of reality—indeed, a relationship that is reality itself! In eternity past, the Word (Jesus) and God (the Father) participated in a shared life of love, joy, and communion. Jesus was in a “face-to-face” relationship with the Father, while at the same time (mystery of mysteries!) Jesus fully shared in the deity of the Father. This relationship of mutual life and love—this eternal giving, receiving, and sharing of self—is the Dance of Eternity. This Dance is the eternal movement of Father to Son, Son to Father, and Son and Father to Spirit. This fullness of life, love, joy, and communion was complete, needing nothing or no one to fill any deficiency.
It is from the fullness of this Dance that God created: “All things came into being by Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being” (John 1:3). John fills in the gaps of Genesis by revealing that the Dance is the source of creation. It is not sovereign, impersonal, individual, and isolated power that is the source of all things. Rather, it is personal, relational, giving, and sharing love that is the source of all things. And this love which is the source of all things is also the goal and end of all things, for God made us to share in God’s life, love, and communion. Let’s make certain we understand this: God did not create us in order to love, but out of the abounding fullness of love between Father, Son, and Spirit, God created us to share in this love. In short, God created us to share in the Eternal Dance of Father, Son, and Spirit.
Sadly, we have broken relationship with God, turning to our own way through our sin. It is this “darkness” that is the new “formlessness and void” out of which God recreates all things: “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend/overpower it” (John 1:4-5). This time the “darkness” opposes God rather than simply submitting to his sovereign will, for the “darkness” is a moral darkness. And yet, the tenacious God of Holy Writ shines anyway in the most unusual way—in the form of a tiny, dependent, fragile infant!
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14a). This is the height of grace. Even though we turned from God, God never turned from us. Instead, God has gone to the greatest extent—sunk to the lowest level, if you will—in order to draw us back into his embrace. God the Son did what we could never do by taking upon himself our nature (we could never take on God’s nature!). He became flesh! John had other words at his disposal he could have used: “human” (anthropos) and “man” (aner). Instead John used the grittiest, grimiest, earthiest word possible—“flesh.” God the Son completely identified with us in our “fleshiness”—our weakness and frailty—by uniting himself permanently with humanity through the incarnation (the “enfleshment” of God).
God has drawn as close as possible in Christ. The Creator becomes the creature, the Infinite finite, and the Sovereign dependent on a young mother’s care. In doing this, God has completely identified with the human situation.
Now that we know who it is whose birth we celebrate on Christmas, it is vital to know why the God-man appeared in the first place.
Why the God-man?
There are at least three reasons why the Word became flesh and dwelt among us:
1. To reveal God’s heart to us. Jesus Christ uniquely and fully reveals God’s heart toward us: “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). When we see Jesus, we see the Father. We can apply the cliché “like Father, like Son” to Jesus, for he fully reveals the Father: “No man has seen God at any time; the only begotten God, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has explained him” (John 1:18). In Christ, God has a human face. In Christ, God can be touched, seen, and heard (see 1 John 1:1-3).
Because Christ uniquely and fully reveals the Father, Christ is the preeminent revelation of God, surpassing all prior revelations: “For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized [embodied, enfleshed] through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). We no longer have to worry about God’s heart toward us. We can fully rest in the fact that God is completely for us in Christ. Throughout his public ministry, Christ reached out to the outcasts, the religious, the self-righteous, the guilty, the lonely, the marginalized, the diseased, the sick, the drunkards, the sexually immoral, and wicked criminals. In doing this, Christ revealed God’s open embrace to all people. We do not have to worry that behind the face of Christ there is a malevolent deity hiding, waiting to pounce upon us. The reason: Christ reveals the Father’s heart fully. And the Father’s heart toward us is loving, accepting, and embracing. We can apply the cliché “what you see is what you get” to Jesus, for he completely reveals God’s stance toward us!
2. The second reason the Word became flesh was to die. As important as this is, this reason is often emphasized above all others. You’ve heard the slogan: “He was born to die” and certainly this is true—but not the whole truth! Obviously, God cannot die, but God in Christ can. And that is what he did. Christ bore the full consequences of fallen humanity—betrayal, rejection, ridicule, heartache, and ultimately, death. He did this for our sake, in order that there may be nothing in the way of full and complete communion with God.
But there is more to the story. If this were the only reason the Word became flesh, then Christ’s humanity is presently expendable and unnecessary. It has served its purpose in succumbing to death. But the Word did not become flesh temporarily. Christ rose again in new humanity, restoring our humanity, making us fit vessels for his Spirit. This leads us to the third reason the Word became flesh.
3. The Word became flesh, not simply to die, but in order that we might live! God united deity with humanity in Christ in order that humanity might forever be united with deity through Christ and in the Spirit! In short, that we might share in the Dance of Eternity… forever! That we might know the love of Father, Son, and Spirit by sharing in the sonship of Christ through the Spirit.
This may sound too-good-to-be-true, for how can a mere human know the eternal love, joy, and fellowship of God? The answer: One already does! In the Dance of Eternity, a human being now participates in the fullness of love, joy, and communion! The Word did not become flesh temporarily. No, the Word became flesh in order to raise flesh up to full participation in the life and love of God. Christ has done away with the old by bearing the full consequences of sin, and has inaugurated the new by rising again in glorious humanity. Jesus remains forever and fully human while at the same time remaining forever and fully God. Jesus is thus the bridge between God and humanity. Through union with Christ through the Spirit we begin to taste this love, joy, and acceptance. In Christ we share in the Dance! This Dance, which is our source, is also our goal and destiny because of the abounding grace of God in Christ.
God has said “yes” to humanity in the person of Christ. This is good news of great joy to all people! God has exalted humanity to the highest position through his union with humanity in Christ. A human being now shares in the Dance, making it possible for us to do so as well! Again, to use some clichés, God has “sunk to the lowest level” and “gone to the extreme” to embrace us.
We are invited to the Dance of Eternity—a Dance of Love which is at the heart of reality. Will you accept the invitation by opening yourself up to the love of God in Christ? “But as many as received him, to them he gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in his name” (John 1:12).
The invitation is open to all. Come join the Dance!
“Love is the Dance of Eternity”
--Dream Theater, Metropolis – Part 1, Images and Words, 1992
© Richard J. Vincent, 2005