January 5, 2014
One of the ultimate tests of coolness in my neighborhood where I grew up was jumping your bike across the ditch. Let me explain. The street I grew up on was a dead end and it encompassed a large hill. My house sat at the top of the hill, and then the street sloped gently downward toward the dead end. One of the houses on that downward slope was the Hall house. The Halls were an elderly couple who didn’t seem to mind the multitude of kids in the neighborhood playing in their yard. They had a big ditch where the yard and the street met. So jumping the ditch meant that you started riding your bike by my house, picked up as much speed as you could, swerved right and rode your bike into the ditch. If you did it just right you could make your bike jump as you came up out of the ditch and swerved again into the Hall’s driveway. I have to be honest. I was a little slow in working up the courage to jump the ditch, but once I finally did it, I was unstoppable.
That was just one of the many things that made up the particular flavor of my neighborhood. Think for a minute about your neighborhoods; the ones where you grew up or the ones you live in now. Picture the people, the houses, the sounds, the sights, the smells. Think about your neighborhood and hear these words from Eugene Peterson’s contemporary translation of scripture, The Message.
The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, Generous inside and out, true from start to finish. John pointed him out and called, "This is the One! The One I told you was coming after me but in fact was ahead of me. He has always been ahead of me, has always had the first word." We all live off his generous bounty, gift after gift after gift.
“The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.”
Although I’m not always a big fan of paraphrases of the Bible, I have to admit I am captivated by Peterson’s translation of this verse.
“The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.”
This sentence in the Greek would read like this. “The Word became flesh and blood and God pitched his tent among us.” Pitching his tent or moving into the neighborhood, either way you read it, there is a depth to these words that isn’t conveyed by the word, “lived.”
The Word became flesh and blood. God moved into the neighborhood where we jumped our bikes across ditches and played endless games of Freeze Tag and Mother May I. God moved into our neighborhood.
Commentator Frank Thomas wrote that Peterson’s translation makes him think about the neighborhood he grew up in; a city neighborhood with lots of kids. A neighborhood where they played stickball, turning the manhole covers in the four corners of the street into bases. The Word became flesh and blood and moved into that neighborhood.
The Word became flesh and moved into my neighborhood, Frank Thomas’s neighborhood. The Word became flesh and moved into your neighborhood. The Word became flesh and moved into affluent neighborhoods, where the houses are big and set back from the street, barricaded by fences and gates. The Word became flesh and moved into the neighborhoods where no one goes out at night for fear of being mugged or worse. The Word became flesh and moved into the barrios and the projects and the upper East Sides, the slums and suburbs. The Word became flesh and bone and blood and moved into the poorest of poor neighborhoods and the richest of the rich. The Word became flesh and moved into our neighborhood.
What is this Word that John writes of? Is it the written word, scripture, the summation of adjectives and nouns and verbs that make up the testaments to God’s work in the world? Yes. But it’s even more than that. The Word or Logos is what God spoke at the beginning of creation. When God said … “let there be light and day and dry land.” The Word is Life. The Word is the driving force behind the very universe itself. The Word, the Logos is not just what we read about God, it is the very essence of God. It is far bigger than we can understand or comprehend or describe. But think about it. That Word became flesh and blood and moved into our neighborhood.
While John’s prologue to his gospel does not contain a birth narrative as we understand it – a birth narrative that we find in Luke and Matthew – it is still a Christmas story. It is still about how God’s love, God’s self became embodied in the flesh and blood of Jesus. God, the Word, that which called the world into being, became flesh and moved into our neighborhood.
Why did this happen? Why did this take place? What was the point? I think the answer can be found in the earlier verses. Jesus, Love Incarnate, came into the world, became our neighbor so that we could become children of God.
As we read in verse 12, “But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.”
I could go into lengthy descriptions of theological doctrines to explicate this passage; the doctrine of atonement, the doctrine of adoption. While these are important doctrines of the church, it seems to be that being children of God is what truly defines us. As one commentator wrote, it is easy to let the descriptions of ourselves become the definitions of ourselves. We are single, we are married. We are old, we are young. We are short, we are tall. We are strong. We are weak. We are employed or laid off or retired. But those are just descriptions. They’re not who we are, not really. Being children of God, as John explains it and as I understand it, means that we are more than just products of biology. We are more than our circumstances. We are more than our greatest mistake, our most devastating failure, our most exhilarating triumph. Being children of God means that we are more than the sum of our parts. That is the grace upon grace, the gift upon gift we are given. We are children of God because God loved us so much that God took on the frailties and the vulnerabilities and the weaknesses of flesh and moved into our neighborhoods.
God came into relationship with us so that we could be in relationship with God. So that we could be in relationship with one another. God moved into our neighborhoods so that we might truly be neighbors. Perhaps we should keep John’s words in mind the next time we read Luke’s story about the Good Samaritan. Who is our neighbor? John tells us it is God, the Word, the Logos that pulled order out of chaos. That Word became flesh and moved into our neighborhoods, so that we could become children. Children of Light. Children of Love. Children of God. That is the good news of Christmas, that is the good news of Easter, that is the good news of every day. The Word became flesh and moved into our neighborhoods so we could become children of God. Let all of us, all of God’s children, say, “Alleluia!” Amen.