No baby, no manger, no shepherds, no wise men, no guiding star, not even a virgin! This is John’s nativity – he omits them all. For John Christmas is simply: the Word became flesh. Not as cute as the baby, not the stuff that inspires awesome snow scenes, but it has the same conclusion: Jesus is Emmanuel – God with us. Or put John’s way – the Word become flesh.
John doesn’t tell us why he omits the manger and the virgin birth, but we can make some calculated guesses. Perhaps, unlike Matthew and Luke, he felt he should only testify to what he saw. Or perhaps he was trying to respond to specific questions people had at the time of writing; like how can Jesus be both God and man? Or how can God have a Son? Whatever his motives were we are grateful for the rich insights that accompany his explanation of the origins of Christ.
In his opening chapter John refers to Jesus as the Word, the Light and the Son. Today we will discuss each one briefly.
Jesus – the Word
John says “The Word was with God and the Word was God” (1). This is an interesting description. It spoke to Jews and Greeks. Jews saw God’s Word as his revelation coming through the prophets. Greeks saw God’s Word as the divine idea or command that formed the universe. John uses both the Jewish and Greek understandings to explain how Jesus could be both God and man. He says the Word (God’s revelation and his creative ideas) were with God and were in fact God too. God’s Word – his revelation and his thinking – cannot be separated from him; they are a part of him. And Jesus is the Word who became flesh – or human (14).
It’s interesting that the Koran also describes Jesus as God’s Word. In fact it tells us that he is God’s Word bestowed on Mary (Surah 4:171). But the same verse goes on to deny that Jesus is divine. Here we need to ask a question; can God and His Word (his revelation and thinking) be separated? If they cannot; then God’s Word conceived in Mary must be God too. This is certainly what John is claiming. But let’s move on and look at the second description John uses in his nativity.
Jesus – the Light
Speaking of the coming of Jesus John says “The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world” (9). Light enables us to see; Jesus is the light that enables us to see God.
Alpha Centauri is the closest star to our earth (if we don’t count the sun). We would not know Alpha Centauri was there if it weren’t for its light. Its light travels 4.37 light years to reach us. Jesus is the light of God; he has travelled to us so we could see and understand who God is. Prophets can share the light of God, but they themselves are not the light. John is saying that Jesus is different to a mere prophet in that he is the light itself (John 8:12). Again we must ask; can we separate a star from its light? Perhaps we can with verbal descriptions, but ultimately the light of a star is an emanation of the star. And Jesus is an emanation of God – he is God from God.
Now there is a reason why John is taking us through these descriptions – understanding the Word and Light of God helps us to understand how Jesus is the Son of God.
Jesus – the Son
John says “No one has ever seen God, but God the one and only Son has made him known” (TNIV). People often don’t understand how Jesus can be the Son of God because they are thinking of a son in human terms; they think that a Son of God can only come from a Father and Mother God. This is not what is meant when the Bible says Jesus is the Son of God. The Bibles concept is simply this; Jesus is the Son of God because his being comes directly from God’s being. Spiritually he is of the same substance as God. The word son simply describes the fact that he comes from something. The something he comes from is God. Just as God’s Word and Light streams from God and is the same as God, so God’s Son streams from God and is the same as God. The Son of God existed before Mary gave birth; he is an eternal Son an eternal emanation. You might point out that sons don’t stream from fathers eternally. That’s correct, that’s one of the reasons why the concept of God’s Son is different to that of a human son.
The Bible tells us that there are many prophets but one Messiah. Again the Koran agrees with this, but it does not explain the difference between a prophet and a Messiah. The Bible does. A prophet is one of God’s many servants, but the Messiah is his final and ultimate representative. The Messiah is King of kings, Priest of priests, and Prophet of prophets. He is not just one who speaks the truth, but is the truth itself. He is not just one who points the way, but is the way itself. A prophet can speak from God to the people, but he cannot be God to the people; the Son of God can. After many prophets had come and gone John said, “No one has ever seen God, but God the one and only Son has made him known.” Only the Son of God can be a complete representative of God. This is the reason that God’s Word became flesh and was bestowed on Mary; that God would be with us, and made known to us. Happy Messiah-mas!