“It’s the most wonderful time of the year . . ” and it is also the most sentimental time of the year with characters in movies and tv shows alike teaching us what Christmas is really all about. What is normally said may fit for someone with a very sentimental view of Christmas, with Christmas being all about family, or generosity, or peace and harmony. But it is John, in the Gospel of John, who cuts through all the sentimentality of the season to give us the most succinct expression of of what Christmas is really about: “And the Word became flesh and lived among us” (John 1:14a NRSV). John does not give us any details on how Jesus was born, there are no shepherds, angels, mangers, or magi in his account, just a clear expression of Christmas: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”
To tell the story of Christmas, we need to start at the beginning, no not that beginning with the angel making an announcement to Mary, the real beginning:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. John 1:1-5 NRSV
Of course with the opening words “in the beginning,” and with the mention of creation, and life, and light, we are meant to think about Genesis chapter 1. That is where the Christmas story has its beginning! The Christmas story does not begin with the baby Jesus, but with the Word who existed before creation. This points us to the fact that Jesus is part of the Godhead. Christmas does not work without that. This does not mean we should think of the man, Jesus, existing before creation as a man, for “the Word became flesh.”
“And lived among us,” or we might prefer the translation “dwelt among us” though I prefer “tabernacled” among us as the word points to the pitching of a tent. This might seem an odd thought indeed if it were not for the fact that God had already pitched his tent with the Israelites following the exodus from Egypt. There is great and wonderful symbolism here when you think of God’s people wandering around the desert with their tents, and right in the midst of them is the tabernacle, the tent of God as He dwells among them. “I want to be with you” is what God is communicating to them. “But I cannot really be with you for I am holy” is what is communicated by all the rules and regulations about how the tabernacle would be built, carried, approached, used, and by whom, and how, and after what religious rigmarole. “I want to be with you but I cannot for I am holy and you are not.” And so the tabernacle, then later the Temple, and the whole religious system was in place to remind the people of all this. But in one moment of history “The Word became flesh and tabernacled/dwelt/lived among us.” It is through Jesus that God makes the way for God and human to come together in full relationship. We can think of the veil of the temple tearing at the moment of Jesus’ death (Mark 15:37) and the symbolism of that moment. A sinful people are forgiven and made holy, now we can really be together, and now we can really see His glory, His grace and truth (see John 1:14). This points us forward for while the story of Christmas begins before creation, it is not finished until that time spoken of in Revelation:
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell [tabernacle] with them as their God;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
He will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.
Revelation 21:3,4 NRSV