The Gospel of John compressed the Christmas story into a single and shimmering sentence:
“The Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's unique son, full of grace and truth.”’
No peasant parents, singing angels, frightened shepherds, or worshipping wise men—not even sleeping baby. Instead, John went straight for the meaning of Christmas: In Jesus of Nazareth, God became a human being. The God who made everything and everyone lived an individual life, in a particular place, and at a specific time.
In Jesus, God took on the constraints and possibilities of a completely embodied life. Jesus had the night-chill cuddled away by Mary’s tender embrace; he felt sheltered and safe in Joseph’s sinewy arms. Jesus laughed when Mary tickled his feet and shouted with glee when Joseph tossed him in the air. He skinned his knees when he was learning to walk. He hit his thumb with a hammer while working in his dad’s carpentry shop. As a teenager, he felt stabs of desire when a pretty girl smiled at him. He had headaches, suffered indigestion, caught colds, and sweated through fevers. He knew the frustration of an occasional sleepless night, had leg cramps when he walked too long and too far, and knew how hard it is to be kind when you’re worn-out. He enjoyed food and wine, and also knew what it was like to be hungry and thirsty. When he died, his strength was beaten out of him, his wrists and ankles were ripped by nails and bound by ropes, a crown of thorns was pressed on his head, a sword ripped open his side, and his blood flowed and oozed out of his body and onto the ground. And, Christians believe that because the Word became flesh in Jesus, God experienced all these very human things.
With his body, Jesus said and showed the good news of God’s love for us. With his eyes, he saw the furrows of worry in people’s faces, tear stains on their cheeks, downcast gazes, slumped shoulders, dancing eyes, bright smiles, springing steps, and outstretched arms. With his ears, he heard painful moans, lonely cries, whispered questions, delightful laughter, songs of wonder, and shouts of praise. On his feet, he went to the marginalized and estranged. With his arms, he embraced outcasts and welcomed sinners. With his hands, he blessed children, restored sight to the blind, and broke bread for the hungry. On his knees, he washed the feet of his friends. With his mouth, he spoke words of challenge and comfort.
In the flesh and blood of Jesus, the Word was in the world. Jesus is God’s own answer to the question “What are you like?” In him, we hear from God about God. The truth of Christmas is that God is like Jesus. I say again what I have said often before: any image or concept of God, any feeling or conviction about God, and any claim or statement on God’s behalf that is inconsistent with the character and spirit of Jesus is not the truth about God. And, there are so many misguided, fearful, and twisted understandings of God, even among Christians.
Jesus is God’s self-portrait. Jesus is what God says, what God does, and who God is. Jesus makes it clear that God is not distant from us, but here with us. God dwells among us; God comes to us wherever we are.
Jesus shows us that God is not vindictive and capricious, ready to pounce on us with harshness and punishment. Instead, God comes to us in our failures, lifts us out of guilt, wipes the tears of shame from our eyes, and tells us, as Jesus told a woman caught in the act of adultery: “I do not condemn you; instead, go and sin no more.”
In Jesus, as Reynolds Price said, we hear spoken “that sentence all humankind craves from stories: The Maker of all things loves and wants me” (Three Gospels, 177). God became flesh in Jesus, so that we may trust the goodness and love of God.