We Might Know God
A young girl woke up one night frightened, convinced that there were all kinds of monsters and spooky creatures in her room. Terrified, she ran to her parents’ bedroom. Her mother took her back to her room, gave her a long hug, and said, “You’re safe here. You don’t have to be afraid. After I leave, you won’t be alone in the room. God will be here with you.” The little girl replied, “I know that God will be here, but I need someone in this room who has some skin!”
Skin is tangible; skin is relatable; skin can embrace and comfort. We all want someone we can hold on to. Sometimes God can seem, as he did for the little girl, like not enough. We want a God we can touch and feel. Like Thomas, we want a God we can stick our fingers into.
If you had a thought you wanted to communicate to someone, how would you express it? If you’re feeling playful, you might act it out like in a game of charades. Or you might draw a picture. For most of us, the most natural way to express our thoughts and ideas is through words, spoken or written. And if the message is very important, rather than relying on a text message or a phone call, you’d likely try to express your message through words in person.
John, one of Jesus’ closest students, wrote in the gospel that bears his name: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. . . . Through him all things were made. . . . The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:1, 3, 14). The mysterious Word, who is God (John 1:1, 18), took on skin, bones, and connective tissue and moved into our neighborhood.
The Greek term John uses, which we translate as “Word,” is logos. It’s the root word from which grows our words logic and logical. But this isn’t exactly what the Greeks would have thought of. Close, but not quite. When the Greeks heard the term logos, they would have thought of the logical, rational principle that they believed governed the world. The Greeks believed that an invisible, intelligent, integrating force was behind the universe, holding it all together. Writing to his own Greek world, John grabs their attention by saying in effect, “You’re right! There is a Logos-Power in the world.”
But this Higher Power isn’t simply above us, “out there” and aloof. Unbelievably, this Higher Power has come to us to communicate with us, which is why Word is such a fitting translation for us today. Jesus came to communicate God to us.
Jesus was the Word because the message that God wanted to convey to us was so important that he had to come to us in person to express it.
The Higher Power, the Word, came to us in time and space two thousand years ago on that very first Christmas and began communicating with us through the words and actions of Jesus Christ. The message? This is who God is.
My friend Penny’s dad founded a Bible school. In his later years, when he moved out of his house into an apartment in Vancouver, British Columbia, he had to clear out his huge library. Most of the books went to the seminary where he served as the founding president, but Penny asked him to select a handful of books for her. Books that he especially wanted her to have.
He carefully went through his vast library and came up with several books, all of them focused on Jesus. When he handed them to her, he said, “Get to know Jesus—because to know Jesus is to know God.”
If we get to know Jesus, we get to know God. Because God took on skin and became a human being in Jesus that first Christmas, we get to know who God is. And if we know God, we can also come to know the meaning of our existence.
Some of us don’t quite understand the meaning of our lives. Sometimes we may feel as if our lives are like a book with a missing chapter. But John is saying that Jesus is the missing chapter, and if we embrace him, he will complete the book of our lives.
If there were no Higher Power in the world, no Word to communicate with us, then our presence on earth would simply be the result of some kind of a cosmic accident. If we are all the result of some cosmic fluke billions of years ago, then the meaning of our lives amounts to nothing more than “a tale told by an idiot full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Not very inspiring, but it’s a fair conclusion if our lives are simply cosmic chance.
Yet to that idea John says, “No, no, no! There is a Higher Power, an infinite Word, a God who is seeking to communicate with us” (see John 1:1). The Word took on skin in the person of Jesus and became one of us that first Christmas so that we might know who God is and also come to know the meaning of our lives.
Now, if you’ve heard the Christmas story from the Bible before, this idea may not stun you. In fact, you may be yawning a bit about this whole idea. But think about the first readers of John’s gospel. To John’s fellow Jews during the first century, the idea that God would take on skin would have been beyond scandalous. The Greeks in John’s world, on the other hand, would not have been offended by this story about God taking on skin because their gods: Zeus, Apollos, and Aphrodite, were often thought to walk among people looking like humans themselves. The Greek gods were often depicted as human beings in statues. But John and his fellow Jews were forbidden to portray the living God in any concrete way, whether as a statue or a drawing (Exodus 20:1–4).
Several times groups of Jews threatened to kill Jesus during his public ministry because, as a human being, he claimed to be God. He claimed to be able to forgive sins. Before Abraham existed (who lived two thousand years before Jesus walked the earth), Jesus said, “I Am” (or literally in Hebrew, “I-was-am-will-be” see John 8:58). In other words, Jesus claimed to preexist before his own birth on earth—something he would not have said if he had not believed that he was God. When his fellow Jews heard these words, they were so scandalized by what they thought was blasphemy that they picked up rocks because they wanted to stone Jesus to death.
Have you ever been that offended? So offended by someone that you wanted to curse them, spit on them, or punch them? Have you ever been so scandalized by someone that you wanted to draw a weapon and snuff them out on the spot? That’s how many of Jesus’s fellow Jews felt about him when he claimed to be God. Why so offended? Why not just write him off as a nut job and walk away? Their offense and outrage wasn’t merely personal, it was an offense to their religion and their God. It struck an offense at the very core of their identity.
For a Jew, the assertion that a human being was God was the worst kind of blasphemy, a horrible disgrace. Many fans and ardent followers of Jesus gradually came to believe that Jesus was God because he did things that only God could do: he turned water into wine, opened the eyes of the blind, and raised the dead.
On the other hand, some who came to believe that Jesus was God doubted that he was actually a human being. These followers of Jesus began saying, “He’s God but he’s not really a human being. He just seems like a human being.” This idea persisted for about three centuries.
As a result, early church leaders determined that some clarity was needed. The Nicene Creed affirms that Jesus Christ was God and that he was mysteriously a human being. Jesus was God “incarnate,” “of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary.”
What exactly does incarnate mean? It comes from the root word carne, which means “meat.” The Spanish phrase con carne means “with meat.” God incarnate, or God con carne, means God with meat—God with flesh, muscle; God with skin. This is not some dusty, abstract theology that makes no difference in our lives: this truth can change our lives and our eternity.
If God came to us with skin that first Christmas, then it means we are never truly alone. We have someone who has mysteriously come to us both as Spirit and as an embodied being.
Now, it should be said that God was not absent before Jesus came that first Christmas. The whole Old Testament is filled with stories of how God was present with his people. But when Jesus was born that first Christmas, it was “God with us” in a whole new way.
That first Christmas, God—an invisible spirit—took on skin and became one of us so that he could be with us always (Matthew 28:18–20).
Scripture teaches the mystery that Jesus Christ was both 100 percent human and 100 percent God. Why is this important? Because if Jesus was both a finite human being and the infinite God, then his death was not only for one person, but for the whole world. Being human, he could die for human sins (of which he had none of his own so he could die for someone else), and being God his sinless death was enough for the sins of everyone. Yes, for your sins too. That’s why John says that Whoever receives him can have their sins washed away and can actually become a daughter or a son of God (see John 1:12). We celebrate the Christmas story because God, the Higher Power, the Word, became flesh—con carne, with meat, with skin—so that we might know who God is: a God who loves us and who died to show us mercy and forgive our sins.
Jesus came as the long awaited Jewish Messiah, yet many people missed his true identity. John 5:39 says this explicitly. Why did those who should have recognized him most, miss who he truly was?
Remember a time when you wanted/deeded to know that Jesus was right there with you. Were you able to remind yourself of his presence? What difference did or didn’t it make?
Though Jesus cam and put on skin, he’s now in heaven. Yet in Matthew 28 he promises that he’s always with us. What reminders of his presence can you use to experience his presence everyday?