When reflecting on the Christmas story I usually jump straight to Luke’s telling of the nativity. He does a wonderful job at painting the picture of the journey and celebration culminating in the virgin birth. Although joyous, I find that it causes me to focus on the singular event rather than the whole scope of what is occurring.
John’s gospel starts off with the telling of the birth of Jesus by going all the way back before the dawn of creation. “In the beginning” causes us to pull back from the nativity to a view of the entire timeline. Instead of seeing only months, we see thousands of years. We find ourselves looking at Jesus at the dawn of time, the Word that speaks and there is light.
Moving forward we see “the Word took on flesh”. John continues the creation story in his take on nativity. Jesus places himself in his own creation. The Message translation says “and moved into the neighbourhood”. This brings to mind imagery of God walking in the garden with Adam and Eve.
“And we have seen his glory” – John 1:14
Adam and Eve witnessed the glory of God. They walked with him, and knowing no sin they were not struck down by the sight. When Jesus took on flesh he allowed us to see the glory in a fallen world. This is not just the birth of God, but the first time since the gate to Eden was shut that the glory of God could be witnessed with an unveiled face, no sacrifice needed.
This is so much bigger than a single moment! For all of history, creation was lying in wait, anxious and crying out because of the separation. The Word takes on flesh, as if it were the final day of creation, a moment of completion we were all waiting for. This celebration is so much bigger than any of us realised. The anticipation dates back further than we can fathom. This moment echoes further than any of the witnesses understood.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.” – John 1:1-2
I can only imagine how long the wait felt to the angels before showing up to the shepherds. This was no sudden move, but planned since the beginning. It is why John starts with “in the beginning”. Right from the beginning this plan began to rectify the fall of man by God taking on flesh and giving up the skin of God while still radiating the glory.
“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” – John 1:12-13
The birth of Christ in John’s gospel doesn’t just look back to the dawn of time but stretches to eternity. The birth of the King welcomes us into an inheritance of eternal life. This moment is not the start of a new story, but is the pivotal mark in the ongoing story. The celebration is not complete for John in the celebration only of a new born king or even in the living God dwelling with us.
The story of the birth of Jesus is incomplete without the acknowledgement of the larger role it plays in history. The Word taking on flesh is the moment of victory, for this world had fallen and now the glory of God has moved back into the neighbourhood. Victory is ensured and the promised inheritance has been sealed.
Yes, the moments of the cross, descent, resurrection and ascension are also required in securing the victory over death and sin. But the moment Emmanuel was born is what all creation was waiting for since sin entered this world. God with us was always the intention and sin created distance from the glory of God. But God, not wanting this separation, took on flesh for a time as a foretaste of what was and is to come. Once again men and women could join the ranks of Adam and Eve walking with God in the cool of the day.
John 1 gives us the whole storyboard instead of a single chapter. At the center is Jesus. He is at the center of it all. We are celebrating Jesus, yes the birth of Jesus, but also everything his birth stands for. He is what creation was crying out for and who we still await with joyful expectation.
In Advent we find ourselves in a season of anticipation. We place ourselves on both sides of the virgin birth. We join with all those from Adam until the birth who waited with bated breath for the glory of God to be made manifest. We also acknowledge the anticipation of our current state. We wait for the return of Jesus and the end of this age. We hope for and rejoice in the victory that is set but not yet our reality.
John shows us God has already written the story. Before the dawn of time this story has been written like a play waiting for actors to take their places on the stage. We celebrate moments along the way but Advent calls us to embrace in faith the story that is unfolding before us.