At Christmas time, we often hear ‘Immanuel – God is with us’ in song (sometimes spelt ‘Emanuel’), but do we really grasp the ‘message’ that our nativity reenactment is meant to convey?
Only two of the gospel writers, Matthew and Luke, recount the birth of Jesus, so does that mean that John and Mark are not concerned with its message? On the contrary, John sets out in the very first chapter of his gospel what he wants to make known:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind….
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1-4, 14)
This ‘Word’, who was with God, and was God (huh!?), from the beginning of time… became flesh and lived among us! “We have seen him!” John declares. This is John, ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved‘, who was closest to him (not Peter, the sanguine, brash extrovert, as many imagine), though John was no shrinking violet either – Jesus gave him and his brother James the name ‘sons of thunder‘! He wants to make it clear to his audience, from the start: the message of Isaiah 7:14, the sign fulfilled, actually does mean ‘God is with us’ – how the Israelites must have tried to interpret that prophecy; did they imagine it truly would mean a literal appearing of God among them?
John makes it even clearer in the opening to his first letter:
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched – this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete. (1John 1:1-4)
Can you sense the excitement, and the joy, as he writes this? As much as I can? He wants the world to know what he knows, what he has seen, and touched; the greatest story he could tell, and writing this will ‘make his joy complete’!
That baby in the manger we see year in, year out… John met the man, and John knew, and John tells us:
Grace be with you, and have a Happy Christmas.