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 testified concerning him. He cried out, saying, “This is the one I spoke about when I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’”) Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known. (John 1:14-18)
In some Churches, it is part of the tradition when saying the Nicene Creed to bow the head at the words, “For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man.” Such a gesture invites a sense of wonder at the depth of the mystery of the Incarnation. Without the Incarnation, without God coming to live among us in the flesh as Jesus, his only Son, then none of the rest of the Gospel can take place. It is something fundamental in all our concepts of salvation.
God came to live among us in Jesus. The words from the Creed are rooted in the first part of John 1:14, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” Let us not fall into the trap of seeing the birth of Jesus just as a Nativity scene in front of a church! To see the real nature of that scene, we have to ask ourselves what it means that God took on human form and became like us in all things.
John writes in verse 18, “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.” Brother Roger used to say that God no longer knew how to express his love for humankind, so he sent his Son to us so that we might understand that in him all people could be reconciled to God. God really cares about us. That is why God has taken the initiative and become human to live among us.
What does this really mean? There is no human experience so hidden that God’s grace cannot find it. There is no human heart that the seed of God’s love cannot grow in. There is no moment so dark that it can extinguish the light of God which continues shining in it. Because the Word took on flesh, no part of our humanity is out of reach of God’s love. Everything that is broken within us can be touched and healed, because God’s Son became human and felt our brokenness.
And that has an incredible influence on the way in which we look at ourselves and at others. There is so much hope for human existence if we take to heart that the Word became flesh. At the same time, we understand the unbelievable humility of God in coming to live among us. The Word became flesh amongst the poorest of the poor. Literally, the Greek says “And the Word became flesh and pitched his tent among us.” The Word, the One who existed before John the Baptist, a pilgrim throughout history, becomes a pilgrim in our history.
The second part of verse14 reads “We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” In saying this, John speaks already as a witness to the Resurrection. But his “we” includes all those who come after, all those who will believe without seeing, as he says at the end of his Gospel, because of the testimony of those who were eye-witnesses to the Resurrection.
God’s glory is “full of grace and truth”—grace in the sense of a love freely given, truth in the sense not of a moral value, but of something that is unchanging, solid, remaining for eternity and finding full expression in Jesus as we meet him in the Gospel. A fullness of life is offered to us. God holds nothing back. The Incarnation reveals everything to us as free gift, constantly renewed, which we are asked to welcome over and over again. “Grace upon grace,” John writes in verse 16. There is nothing that can limit the gift of God in our lives because the Word became flesh.
Have you seen anything of the glory of which John writes? What attracts you particularly in Jesus? What does he reveal to you about God?
How can we bear witness, in our day-to-day lives, to the grace and truth revealed through that glory, in other words to the fullness of life made accessible to us in Jesus?