Then the Word became flesh and dwelled among us, and we beheld his glory, a glory as of an only-begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)
At most carol services, following this verse, the reader will say: “here endeth the lesson”. And with good reason: it is climactic and of all the verses in the prologue, perhaps the most loaded!
While the gospels of Matthew and Luke spend a significant amount of time on Jesus’ birth, John expresses it highly economically: “the Word became flesh”. In so doing, however, John drops a theological bombshell: Jesus is still unnamed, referred to as the Logos. Moreover, he is identified in almost indecent terms as “flesh” (sarx). The juxtaposition of a divine Logos and human flesh would have arrested the original readers and listeners, and it should arrest us today. This is, however, how Jesus chooses to move into the neighbourhood. Mysterious though the Incarnation may be, there was a point in time when he lived, and it had a definitive starting-point – even if it wasn’t necessarily 25th December.
The historical evidence for his life is virtually undeniable. Yet, what marked him out? Why was he so special, despite being “flesh”? John’s answer is: “His glory”. We talk quite happily and casually about things being glorious – for instance, food, as we might imagine Nigella Lawson marvelling, or the cast of Oliver singing – but of course there is something deeper than this. Jesus’ glory is to do with how He is revealed. The creation, which the Logos orchestrated, reveals. The psalmist talks about the works of creation telling of the glory of God’s kingdom (Psalm 145:11). The Son is also identified by his glory. Firstly, he has a unique status and nature, “the only-begotten from the Father”: while believers are born from God; Jesus was begotten. Secondly, he has unique characteristics: “full of grace and truth”; despite being fully flesh, He was nevertheless fully divine – untainted by his human nature.
Jesus Christ, the Messiah, might not have come as we or the people at the time expected; but the Word becoming flesh was truly glorious.