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31 December 2014

At the Threshold to 2015: Extraordinary Tenderness

This is the Christmas Story, according to St. John.

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was fully God. 2 The Word was with God in the beginning. 3 All things were created by him, and apart from him not one thing was created that has been created. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of mankind. 5 And the light shines on in the darkness, but the darkness has not mastered it.

6 A man came, sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify about the light, so that everyone might believe through him. 8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify about the light.

9 The true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was created by him, but the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to what was his own, but his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who have received him- those who believe in his name - he has given the right to become Gods children 13- children not born by human parents or by human desire or a husbands decision, but by God.

14 Now the Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We saw his glory - the glory of the one and only, full of grace and truth, who came from the Father. 15 John testified about him and shouted out, “This one was the one about whom I said, He who comes after me is greater than I am, because he existed before me.”

16 For we have all received from his fullness one gracious gift after another. 17 For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came about through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God. The only one, himself God, who is in closest fellowship with the Father, has made God known.

Martin Luther said about the Prologue to John's Gospel that this pericope "is the most important of all the Gospels of the church year, and yet it is not, as some think, obscure or difficult. For upon it is clearly founded the important article of faith concerning the divinity of Christ". Luther loved John's Gospel because the evangelist makes it clear that "Whoever has touched Christ's skin has actually touched God".

Verse 18 concludes and encapsulates the Prologue; it recapitulates the first verse addressing again who Jesus is, what Jesus’ relationship with God is like, and where Jesus comes from.

"No one has ever seen God. The only one, himself God, who is in closest fellowship with the Father, has made God known."

Where various translators say "in closest fellowship", or “close to the Father’s heart”, the Greek original has κολπος, “bosom.” The choice of “side”, “heart” and "fellowship" over “bosom” suggests that some translators find it difficult (or perhaps scandalous) that, as God’s unique expression of God and God’s son, Jesus might dwell at the bosom of the father.

Jesus at the bosom of God -- that's  an image of extraordinary tenderness! The nursing of a child, especially in the context of the manger, is the ultimate image of intimacy between Jesus and God!

There is a parallel here: As Jesus and the Father are extremely close, God wanted to be close to us. This is from one of Martin Luther's sermons:

"He has power to cast us into hell and yet he took soul and body like ours ... If he were against us he would not have clothed himself in our flesh ... Here God is not to be feared but loved, and that love brings the joy of which the angel speaks ... Satan, on the other hand, brings home to me the Majesty and my sin, and terrifies me so that I despair ... But the angel does not declare that he is in heaven ... 'You shall find ...' He points out that he has come to us in our flesh and blood ...

... Reason and will would ascend and seek above, but if you will have joy, bend yourself down to this place. There you will find that boy given for you who is your Creator lying in a manger. I will stay with that boy as he sucks, is washed, and dies .... There is no joy but in this boy."

John 1:1-18

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