As we carry on in our Johannine Advent blogging through my Advent Daily Office with the prologue to John’s gospel, we arrive at a pair of fairly significant verses… I might even say favorites, and if the structure of the passage didn’t convince me otherwise I might say that verse 14 is the climax of the passage. Well, in many ways it is the thematic climax, but the main point is yet to come. Verses 9-10 and 14 are linked in their subject matter, both positively and negatively. In 9-10 the Word comes into the world he created but his people don’t recognize him; in verse 14, he “pitches his tent” among his people and at least some recognized him and “beheld his glory.”
John 1:9-10, NET & JBP
The true light,
who gives light to everyone,
was coming into the world.
He came into the world—
the world he had created—
and the world failed to recognize him.
Zephaniah 3:14-20 (God gathers and delights in us)
John 1:14 (paraphrased)
So the Word became flesh
and tabernacled among us;
We beheld his glory,
glory befitting the Father’s one-and-only,
full of grace and truth.
Isaiah 12:2-6 (The Lord has become our salvation)
Our Old Testament passages also speak of the “Holy One of Israel” living among his people, and my use of the word “tabernacled” in the above translation is a literal rendering of the Greek — John’s allusion to the Old Testament tabernacle as the dwelling place of God amid his people is quite intentional, backed by the word “glory,” as it was the glory of God that dwelt in the tabernacle. Here something is different though — we have the eternal Word not in a tent but in the flesh… revealing his glory.
I could probably blog on this one verse all week long based on the deep theology and practical example it provides. It is in fact a text of major significance to the missional conversation, and my friend Mark Priddy has in fact named his blog from Eugene Petersen’s translation of this verse. It picks up the theme of being present among the people to whom one is sent, a thoroughly missional concept. We could pick up themes from this verse and talk about seeing glory in Jesus, or not seeing it — about how things can be hidden in plain sight, or about the shekinah glory of God. We could talk about light and dark, about seeing and recognizing in John 12 where people hear but do not recognize even an audible voice from heaven. We could also camp on the word “one-and-only” for a while.
Verses 9-10 set up a theme in John about recognizing Jesus, or not. In a significant way in John’s Gospel, this is the statement of Jesus’ “fatal flaw” which formally enables John’s framing and telling of the story as a tragedy. It’ll come up again in the prologue, but becomes a recurring theme throughout the gospel. We find the Messiah in a most unexpected form. Will Willimon writes (HT: Jamie Howison),
God wanted to do something for us so strange, so utterly beyond the bounds of human imagination, so foreign to human projection, that God had to resort to angels, pregnant virgins and stars in the sky to get it done. We didn’t think of it, understand it or approve it. All we could do, at Bethlehem, was receive it. A gift from a God we hardly even knew.
One certainly does not have to come to the church to hear this popular gospel: You have, within you, the solution to what ails you.
After having tried for generations to cure what ails us, God reached for something strange, radical and inconceivable. God put on our back doorstep a solution so radical that many missed it.
Among the most familiar Christmas texts is the one in Isaiah: “The Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, a young woman shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (7:14) Less familiar is its context: Isaiah has been pleading with King Ahaz to put his trust in God’s promise to Israel rather than in alliances with strong military powers like Syria. “If you will not believe, you shall not be established,” Isaiah warns Ahaz (7:9). Then the prophet tells the fearful king that God is going to give him a baby as a sign. A baby. Isn’t that just like God, Ahaz must have thought. What Ahaz needed, with Assyria breathing down his neck, was a good army, not a baby.
This is often the way God loves us: with gifts we thought we didn’t need, which transform us into people we don’t necessarily want to be. With our advanced degrees, armies, government programs, material comforts and self-fulfillment techniques, we assume that religion is about giving a little, of our power in order to confirm to ourselves that we are indeed as self-sufficient as we claim.
Then this stranger comes to us, blesses us with a gift, and calls us to see ourselves as we are — empty-handed recipients of a gracious God who, rather than leave us to our own devices, gave us a baby.
Advent is a time for reflection, and what Willimon sketches for us does, I suppose, beg the question: what is God doing and saying to us in these days that we are utterly missing? Are there gifts we might already be receiving if we would only recognize them? Something tells me there are. Or was it only thunder? Wouldn’t that be just like God? Yet we have a recognition problem, a seeing problem… no different than the man born blind in John 9. Muse on that chapter for a while…
What do you think?