John 1, Christmas Eve, “Incarnation and Humanity, Glory, and help from Rembrandt”

Incarnation and Humanity, Glory, and help from Rembrandt

John 1

1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things came into being

through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. 6There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. 10He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. 14And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

The first chapter of the Gospel of John, the prologue, tells the whole gospel story in miniature.

I used to think of the incarnation as a way of speaking of Jesus as divine; it was a God-thing that God became flesh; a miracle.  Now, I understand that the meaning of incarnation, en-flesh-ment, when God becomes human, is not a celebration of miraculous god-power; an amazingly magical feat of conjuring, the ultimate rabbit out of the hat.  Instead, now I understand incarnation as the ultimate celebration of humanness.  The ultimate affirmation of the sacredness of human life.  NT Wright compares John’s prologue in chapter one to the book of Genesis where human life began:

 “The climax of the first chapter of Genesis is the creation of the human being in the image of the creator” Gen. 1:26-28

26 “Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness… 27 So God created humankind in his image in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

Wright continues:

“The climax of John’s prologue is the coming to full humanness of the logos [word]… The [word] becomes a human being.”

“John is consciously writing a new version of Genesis.” (NT Wright, NTPG, p. 416)

Gender and Flesh

Is it too much to say that the incarnation celebrates humanness?  Perhaps it celebrates only male-humanness; the flesh that the Word became, after all, was the flesh of a man.  Yes, true; but the Word itself that John tells us about, before taking on male flesh, had all of the features of a special biblical woman; Lady Wisdom, who appears in the book of Proverbs.

As Alyce McKenzie explains,


“The portrait of Jesus the Word of God in the Prologue to the Gospel of John owes much to the portrait of Woman Wisdom in the Book of Proverbs. Like her the Word was active in creation. Like her he brings the light of wisdom into the darkness of folly. Like her, he was not recognized by everyone, for many refused to follow her path. Like Wisdom, the Word requires our response, but is, at the same time, a gracious gift from God to humankind.”

(From Edgy Exegesis, Alyce McKenzie, at Patheos)

In addition to Proverbs, Lady Wisdom also makes an appearance in the Jewish book called Sirach, written about two hundred years before Jesus was born.  Sirach tells us that Ms. Wisdom describes her own “glory,” saying:

I came forth from the mouth of the Most High… I dwelt in the highest heavens…. Then the Creator of all things gave me a command and my Creator chose the place for my tent.  He said, ‘Make your dwelling in Jacob and in Israel receive your inheritance.‘  Before the ages, in the beginning, he created me, and for all the ages I shall not cease to be.”  (Sir. 24:1-28)

Lady Wisdom is glorious; she is present with God the Creator; she came to dwell among humans, to pitch a tent among people.  Clearly John has this woman in mind when he tells us about the logos the Word that was in the beginning with God, full of Glory, who came to dwell – literally to “tabernacle,” to “pitch his tent” among us as one of us, becoming flesh; human.

So John puts together both genders in this one place, this feminine Wisdom-Word, puts on masculine human flesh affirming in a brand new way what Genesis had said

 27 So God created humankind in his image in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

Incarnation celebrates the sacredness of humanness, male and female.

Glorious Light


What is the effect of God taking on human flesh?   Light!  It is as though a huge light has been turned on so that for the first time, we can see clearly what were only shadows and shapes before.

 “4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.  5 The light shines in the darkness…”

Light is the best way to think about the meaning of “glory.”  The angels who appeared to the shepherds in the middle of a dark night are “glorious” – shining, terrifying the shepherds.  They sing about glory: “Glory to God in the highest.”

John tells us, that when the Word became flesh, he came with visible “glory” – “the light shines in the darkness.”

In Rembrandt’s drawing of the angels appearing to the shepherds, they are bursting with light in the dark sky.  Is Jesus glorious in the same way as the angels?  Is that what the incarnation is all about?  God terrifying poor defenseless humans with an overpowering light?  Is that the glory John describes?  What happens when that glorious eternal Wisdom-Word becomes flesh?

In Jesus, glory is transformed.  Rembrandt has another painting called the “Adoration of the Shepherds.”  They are at the manger with Mary and Joseph, some near and kneeling, others standing, looking down in wonder.

In Rembrandt’s unique way, he shows us light is streaming up from the baby Jesus, illuminating the faces gathered around.  “The light shines in the darkness, and we beheld his glory.”  

Only now, “glory” is not the overwhelming, intimidating glory of angels, it is the glory of a  new birth, the glory on the face of every new father, looking down at the miracle of life in his arms.

14   And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son,


It is the glory of a baby, a human, made in God’s image; a sacred life.


So what has been illuminated by the light of Christ that came into the world?  Now we see, as if the light has just been turned on, the way God sees us, humans, creatures of flesh and blood.

In the light of Jesus, we see the dignity and sanctity of menial shepherds, the first to be entrusted with the glorious news.

In the light of Jesus we see blind people and lame people, sick people and injured people not as economic liabilities, but as flesh and blood embodiments of the image of God.

In the light of Jesus we see lepers, enemy soldiers, Canaanite women, and demoniacs, not as objects of our discrimination and revulsion, but all as flesh and blood subjects of God’s full-bodied embrace.

In the light of Jesus we see ourselves, as Rembrandt painted himself, illuminated by the light streaming from the cross, showing his complicity – our complicity, in the evil of our day for which Jesus died.

In the light of Jesus we see the darkness that we have lived in, and the harm it has done, to each other, to our neighbors, to our planet.  Now we see injustice for what it is.


Now we see greed and selfishness for what they are.

But now, in the light of Jesus, we see God in a new light.

Now we see a God who loves humanity so much that he came to us, to dwell with us, to be flesh, as we are, so that we could live in his light, and see each other in his light, and find redemption.

Let us live in the light of his glory.

Let us bear his light into the darkness.

14   And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son,


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