Art can be difficult to understand. Since my daughter is an art student, I’ve had the opportunity to visit two of the Midwest’s finest art galleries. As I wandered through those quiet halls, I felt immersed in the paradox of knowing what I viewed but not really knowing what I viewed. While I appreciate art, I need help to understand it. For example, I once read that Vincent Van Gogh used the color yellow to symbolize the divine. That insight brought to life his famous painting, “Starry Night.”
The Gospel of John is like that for me. Matthew writes with the precision of a tax accountant. Mark displays a unique understanding of the humanity of the story line. Luke pens his witness with the care and concern of a physician. John, however, writes with an artist’s paint brush. While his words sometimes seem clouded, they should have resonated to some degree with his Jewish audience.
John’s Christmas narrative is not like that of Matthew and Luke, who cite times, locations and people. John’s version of the Christmas story goes like this.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1-5, 14)
The first thing that John points out in his Gospel is that Jesus is the Living Word. We know about words. Words are a means of communication; the expression of oneself to another. So the first thing John wants us to know about Christmas is that God is trying to say something to the world. God is speaking. So what is God trying to communicate?
God wanted us to know that Jesus is divine. He wasn’t created at birth, he was pre-existent before time and space came to be. To emphasize this, John reminds us that Jesus played a vital role in the creation of the world that he has come to reclaim and redeem.
God wanted us to know that Jesus offers us tremendous possibilities. “Words create worlds,” as my friend Bryan Rose likes to say. The Word brought forth life, and from life comes light. John is reminding us that the first day of creation was the creation of light. Light is important because it reveals. That is true of any light from the nightlight in your bathroom to the surgical lamps of the operating room. Light reveals what is there and what is not, and enables us to see to take the next step.
Finally, God wanted us to know that the Living Word is filled with promise. He came full of grace and truth. Jesus’ unfailing love and faithfulness offers two things to us this Advent season. In Jesus, God is promising that he will never stop loving us and that he will never abandon us. No matter who we are, where we are, or what we have done, his grace and truth is relentless.
In order to make all of this happen, “the word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Or, as Eugene Peterson wrote in The Message, “The Word became flesh and moved into the neighborhood.” That’s what Christmas is about. The Word becoming flesh and moving into the neighborhood.