Advent Reflections #24 – Born, reborn

Christmas Eve is the day when many in the world celebrate the birth of Jesus. For others Christmas Eve marks the final hours of waiting until Christmas Day and celebrate the start of the day at midnight. Others wait until the morning to start the day which, if you have young children, can be very much still the middle of the night!
Whichever day you choose to mark the occasion, in a matter of hours those of us who celebrate Christmas will be doing so to remember Jesus’ birthday.

One of the most obvious yet profound realities which we mark as Christians at Christmas is that Jesus was born. Jesus didn’t just ‘appear’ in the world; he was born into it. He didn’t come to us already fully mature; he started out as we all do in life.
This is something which can be quite hard to get your head around. God becoming man is amazing enough, but to do so by starting out with nothing – that takes some coming to terms with.

What on earth is God trying to tell us by coming in this way?
Why start out with nothing? Why come in a way which would require learning everything when you already know everything? Why make yourself fully dependent on parents for all your needs when you are already entirely self-sufficient?

God did not need to be born to come into this world or to save it, yet that’s exactly what He did. We may never fully know the reason(s) why but the fact that He did is actually all that really matters.

Jesus has modelled for us what it means to be fully human; to fit perfectly the shape that we were made for and to have the relationship with the Father that we were made for.
He started where we all start and opened a way for us to have that same life. When he spoke with Nicodemus (John 3), Jesus told him that he needed to be ‘born again’ to enter the Kingdom of God. We all, like Nicodemus, need to be born again – not as a label, or a status as some would understand and express it – but as a genuine starting over to live the life that Jesus lives. To understand Jesus’ life requires that we recognise that it’s not so much about ‘who’ he is, but ‘whose’ he is. Jesus was, and still is, his Father’s child. A life lived with the certainty and security of knowing you are your Father’s child is one where your personal identity, provision and purpose are all taken care of.

Imagine living a life where you know who you are, indeed whose you are.
Imagine living a life where everything you need to live and flourish is provided for.
Imagine living a life where you know what your purpose is.
This is the life lived abundantly Jesus spoke of (John 10:10), and it’s the life we can all have because we were born in to this world and the breath of life we have is from God. But to take hold of this life we must be ‘reborn’ to know that God is indeed our Father and we have the right and the power to be His children if we follow Jesus.

The new life doesn’t start ‘then’… it starts right now, and again tomorrow and the day after that, and the one after that, forever.

At the close of this Advent may you know that you can have the same life that Jesus has.
May you see in that little newborn baby an invitation to be reborn again today.
May you live life to the full and know who you are by knowing whose you are.

Advent Reflections #23 – Womb to womb pt 2

John’s gospel describes Jesus coming into the world in a very different way to the traditional Christmas story. John does not describe Mary’s story, or the birth, or the angels and shepherds, or the magi. But he doesn’t avoid the central theme of the Christmas story altogether and instead describes it in a remarkable and curious way.

Having revealed Jesus as THE Logos and that this Logos took on skin and fat (Greek: sarx) John then includes this amazing verse:
“No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.” (John 1:18 ESV)

This is an amazing verse which reveals that Jesus was at the Father’s side and came to us in order to make Him known. Jesus swapped unlimited perfection for limited imperfection so that we might know the Father!

But this verse tells us something much more profound and amazing.
As always, when translating from the original Koine Greek into English certain words throw up a challenge which makes the task far from straightforward. In this verse the word which we read as “side” (Father’s “side”) is the word “kolpos” in Greek.

Kolpos has a number of meanings, none of which seem to be a good fit.
Kolpos is a kind of pocket which is made by creating a fold in your outer tunic and sits at your side. This is the usage which appears to have been used to end up with “at the Father’s side”. But is John really giving us an image of a pocket Jesus?
Another common use of the word kolpos is a gulf or a bay and so the image of the Father’s arms embracing to form a ‘bay’ within which He holds the Son is also used in some translations which read, “in the bosom of the Father”.

But there is another meaning which is just as common as the other two, and perhaps even more so. The other meaning is “womb”.
You can see why the translators didn’t go for this option because it wouldn’t make sense to refer to “the Father’s womb”.
But what if by avoiding what seems to be a nonsense the translators are in fact missing the point? What if John is less about a literal interpretation of his words and more about us grasping something deeply profound?

A father may not have a womb but the womb shows us something about the relationship that the child in the womb has to its mother. In the womb the child has life in itself and yet that life is entirely dependent and sustained by the mother. In order to live the child simply has to be. There is no effort required, no work, no striving, no need for the child to offer anything back to the mother in order that its life is sustained by the mother. The child simply has to be.

So if we insert “womb” into John’s words, and apply “unique son” in the right place too (see this reflection for ‘monogenēs theos’), then this is what they tell us:
“No one has ever seen God; the unique son of God, who is in the Father’s womb, he has made him known.”

The unique son of God, sustained in the Father’s womb, just being: this is the God that Jesus has come to make known.
Jesus moved from the Father’s womb as one with Him to be formed in Mary’s womb as one with us. This is John’s revelation for us.

This Advent may you know that Jesus has come to reveal a God who is a Father who nurtures us in His ‘womb’.
May you know that to be His child and to receive His life and love all you need is to ‘be’.
May you experience the effortless, life-giving kindness of the Father’s womb and, like Jesus, emerge to make the Father known.

Advent Reflections #22 – Have it your way®

On a recent journey with my wife and children we stopped off at a motorway services for some lunch. As we were choosing where and what to eat a Burger King sign caught my eye. As I read it the message seemed to me to be speaking about a lot more than a choice of burger. It seemed to sum up perfectly the orientation of our culture today.


We live in a culture which is powered by consumerism. Our lives are continually interrupted with messages trying to persuade us to buy more and more things. The skill of the advertiser is truly impressive because they know how to create a desire in you for something you don’t actually need or want.
In the 21st Century the new mantra is “consumer choice” and we’ve recently seen the volatility of global brands when consumers ‘choose’ to boycott their brand.

But inasmuch as we live in a time when consumer choice is perhaps the greatest it’s ever been, the insidious truth is that it’s actually a false choice. We have become conditioned to considering our options and making a choice without ever standing back and questioning whether this is even a choice we need to make.

The message that says, “have it your way®” (amazingly a registered trademark owned by Burger King!!!), is in truth a message that says “do it our way” (unsurprisingly NOT a registered trademark owned by Burger King).
The whole message on that sign board is intended to move you into a place where you will think about making a choice, and that that choice will be a product from Burger King.
But what if you didn’t want to make a choice?
What if you simply weren’t thinking about whether it should be my way or a different way?
We have been so saturated by media, and the messages carried in them, that we now respond as if on autopilot without engaging critical thought as to why. The moment we apply critical thinking to the content we’ve already engaged with the medium whether we like it or not.

The same is true of Jesus. Once you ask yourself questions about the truth of his birth, his teaching, his death, his resurrection… you’ve already engaged with the medium.
Choosing to reject Jesus is just another form of engaging with Jesus, not avoiding him.

But there’s something really interesting about Jesus the ‘medium’ and what his message is to the world, especially in the context of the Burger King strap-line.
By coming into the world as one of us Jesus is the message to us that God desires to dwell with us and to be in relationship with us. It’s not what Jesus said or did that communicates this most loudly and clearly; it’s Jesus himself.
The medium is the message.

And what is the content of his message? “Have it your way”.
As you read the gospels you can see that in his exchanges with people Jesus is always offering them the choice to have things their way, if they really want it that way. He never insists that they do it another way but he does offer it to them.
Jesus has come into the world to reinforce that we were created to be free. This means that we have an amazing amount of freedom to make choices, including the choice to reject the loving Father who made each one of us. He reminds us that we have made our own choices and are free to continue to do so, if we want to.

We all know that our freedom to make choices can have huge consequences, not only for our own lives, but for the whole world. What can appear to be a freedom to choose can quickly become a burden of responsibility if we stop to consider those around us.
Jesus does not take that choice away from us but he does offer us an alternative choice. He offers us the choice to use our freedom creatively and sacrificially. He offers us the choice to love our enemies, to forgive those who have wronged us, to pray for those who persecute us, to make a neighbour out of someone we despise, to turn the other cheek, to walk the extra mile, to lay down your life for your friends.

All of these, and more, are what real freedom looks like. Jesus came to show us that real freedom is not about “have it your way”. It’s about knowing that you’re not bound by anything, unless you choose to be bound. You aren’t bound by false choices because you don’t have to make that choice. In the freedom Jesus is offering not even death can limit your freedom!

And the amazingly good news is that Jesus is the message. His life was so utterly free and he tells us that that same freedom is within us. He has come to set us free by showing us in himself what it means to be that free. He has come to show us that we’ve been seeing life and the world through someone else’s lens and it’s not showing us a true picture.

This Advent may you know that you can still “have it your way®”, if you want to.
May you know that Jesus has come to set you free and that you can know what real freedom is like because you were made to be free.
May you know that Jesus, the God made man, is the message of Christmas: He has come to dwell with us and show us how to live life to the full.

Advent Reflections #21 – This age, and the age to come

NOTE: This reflection was first written for 21/12/2012 which will provide context for the opening sentence.

According to popular myths which have arisen surrounding an ancient Mayan prophecy today marks the end of the world.
If you’re reading this then I guess the world hasn’t ended.
Recognising that these kinds of prophecies can result in all manner of crazy behaviour in people, scholars have been at pains to point out that the proper understanding of the Mayan prophecy is that today marks the end of an ‘age’, and the beginning of a new one.

When Jesus came into the world he ushered in a new age in the history of the world, the universe and everything, and he talked about this age, and the age to come.
His parables refer to ‘the end of the age’ and interchangeably he would take about the life to come, or the age to come.
It would seem that the Mayans have connected with something profoundly real about this universe. Whether or not their dates are correct I’m less concerned about, but I do find it interesting that they’ve understood that there is this age, and the age to come.

For many of us we have grown up with an understanding of how this age and the age to come work. It tends towards this life, this age, being a waiting experience for the next one where it will be so much better and everything will be perfect. We envisage a disposable earth which will make way for a perfect heaven and therefore find no attachment to this natural world as it’s passing away. Our evangelism seems to orient around the idea that we must be saved in this age if we are to be a part of the next age, and there’s a time limit on it to get your ticket to heaven after which the train leaves this universe forever.

Whilst it’s true that the life and the age to come will be defined more like how things were in the garden of Eden than how they are now, we should see in Jesus coming into this age that it matters much more than letting it pass by whilst we wait for the next one.
More than that, Jesus’ life and how he lived it tells us what God’s view of this age is like. The medium is the message. He has come so we can have life now, and have it in its fullness. He has come to seek and save the lost, the broken, the frustrated creation now, not at some future point in time.

God loves this age in spite of all its brokenness, sinfulness and the way we continually reject Him and His love. And that is good news for us. In fact it’s great news!
Whatever is broken in your life, Jesus has come to value it and make it whole again.
Whatever sins have separated you from God and your neighbour, Jesus has come to value you and restore you into right relationships again.
However lost you are, Jesus has come to value you like a precious lost coin that you just don’t let stay lost and to rejoice in finding you.

This advent may you know that Jesus has come to give you life in this age, and in the age to come.
May you know that His life of abundance and freedom is your life too if you receive Him.
May you not waste this life waiting, ticket in hand, and be released to love this age and those around you the way God does.

Advent Reflections #20 – O little town of Bethlehem

Bethlehem was for a long time a very small and unremarkable place.
It’s amazing that this out-of-the-way little town has played such a significant role in world history.
Even ancient prophecies about it’s role in the Christmas story highlight its smallness:
“But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.” (Micah 5:2 ESV)

The significance of Bethlehem in Jewish history is that it’s the town where King David came from. The promised Messiah was understood to be one in the line of King David and, as the prophecy shows, would come from Bethlehem. When the magi came to King Herod it was this prophecy that pointed them to the right destination.

Today Bethlehem is a very different place to the one of King David’s day, where he was a shepherd like the ones in the Christmas story.
Today it is a part of the Palestinian territories and a few years ago was the scene of a Christmas siege when the then leader of the PLO, Yasser Arafat, was at the centre of the world’s media attention as a violent confrontation between Israeli and Palestinian forces centred around this ‘little town’. It seems Bethlehem is forever destined to feature on a global stage!

That first Christmas night the sky was lit up by angels proclaiming good news to a group of lowly shepherds.
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will among men!” (Luke 2:14)
When the shepherds entered Bethlehem they took with them this message of peace and good will for all men.

It is tragically ironic therefore that 2,000 years on Bethlehem is a place that is central to one of the most complex and intractable conflicts, and absences of peace in the world. This year has been marked once again by violent confrontations and killing between Israelis and Palestinians and it seems that ‘peace on earth and good will among men’ is not what people are getting this year for Christmas.

For too long the word peace has been misused and abused in relation to this and other conflicts around the world. Too often ‘peace’ is no more than a limiting of conflict where someone else is holding the gun. ‘Peace walls’ are erected to keep people separated and segregated and end up fomenting more conflict by concentrating the agitators into more enclosed space on their respective sides of the divide.

The world into which Jesus was born was one dominated by the Roman Empire. This empire had what they called the “Pax Romana”, a Roman Peace.
It worked very simply: If you live a quiet life, and follow the law, and keep your head down then you will live in peace. If you rebel, or cause disruption, or challenge the authority of Rome then we’ll crucify you and lots of others to make an example of you.
The Pax Romana was peace by the sword and the cross. But a ‘peace’ enforced by weapons is no peace at all.
Like Rome, it’s possible to enforce external ‘peace’ by limiting more and more freedom and with increasing threats and more dire consequences, but this has little or no positive effect on the inner peace which is in the human heart.

When the angels announced peace and good will they weren’t announcing the end of the Roman Empire, which would remain for several centuries more.
They were announcing a peace not based on enforcement but on freedom. They were announcing a peace that can exist in the midst of war and conflict and which will ultimately win over them.
This is the peace of God which surpasses understanding because it has this amazing power to transcend and break through conflict and bring it to an end.

The reason there are wars is because the human heart is not at peace.
Unless and until we have that inner peace there is no possibility of there being an external peace in the world. And unless and until we have peace with God there is no possibility of us having that inner peace. This is the message of Christmas; the one the angels proclaimed.

Jesus has come into the world as the “Prince of Peace”. He has come with a ministry of reconciliation to break down the dividing wall between man and God and to make peace where before there was conflict (see 2 Cor 5:18-19 and Eph 2:14).
When we are reconciled with God we too become reconcilers and peacemakers because that real peace is now in our hearts and drives our external behaviour.
When we lay down our arms against God then we can lay down our arms against each other. There is no weapon more powerful than love to subdue an enemy and it’s a tragedy that too many people discover this too late once the trigger has been pulled, or the missile has been launched.

In Northern Ireland there is a ‘peace wall’ which divides the community and reinforces an identity of separation as much as it prevents direct conflict. These walls are famously daubed with graffiti about the cause and the war for each side, glorifying those who take up arms in the ‘struggle’. Recently someone added a small graphic which put a crack in this huge, indestructible wall. The graphic simply says, “Love will win”.

This advent may you know that peace on earth begins with peace with God.
May you know that Jesus has come into the world as the Prince of Peace to give you that inner peace which surpasses understanding.
May you know that as you receive this peace you become a peacemaker in this world and hope for the future of Bethlehem, Israel, Palestinian territories, Syria, the whole of the Middle East, Northern Ireland, North Korea and all the other places where peace in men’s hearts mean a lasting peace on earth and good will for ALL men.

Advent Reflections #19 – Jesus & Moses

“The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen” (Deuteronomy 18:15 ESV)

This prophecy about a future prophet, made centuries before Jesus’ birth, is one of the prophecies that Jews hold on to as a promise of the coming Messiah.
The prophet referred to is in certain respects given parity with Moses. In the mindset of the Jew this prophet would be a really big deal.
To be a Jew was more than being a descendant of Abraham; it was to have God’s revelation of His word and His law. This meant that you could become a Jew even if you weren’t descended from Abraham.
To the Jew Moses was the great lawgiver and the one who stood above the rest of the congregation of the people of Israel. He is the paragon of what it means to be a prophet and what it means to fear God and uphold His law.
Anyone who is given the same status is therefore someone of immense importance.

For those of us who believe that Jesus is who he said he was (and is) recognise Jesus as the fulfilment of this prophecy. Jesus is the prophet like Moses and he came from amongst the Jews.

What is fascinating is how many parallels there are between the life of Moses and the life of Jesus which make the words, “like me” mean much more than just in the ‘prophet’ sense:
Both had to escape from the wicked slaughter of babies from paranoid kings.
Both were raised by their natural mother and an adoptive father.
Both found refuge in Egypt yet neither remained there.
Both had an encounter with God in the wilderness which defined their life’s ministry.
Both visibly radiated the glory of God after an encounter with God on a mountaintop.
Both were messiahs who led God’s people out of slavery into a place of abundance.

There are probably even more parallels but it’s interesting just how much they share the same story and how both represent something of who God is and what His mission in the world is.

Whenever you have two things which appear the same there is always the question of which one is the original and which one a copy.
The key difference between Jesus and Moses is that one is the original and the other is a copy, and even though Moses was born and lived centuries before Jesus was born, Jesus is the original and Moses the copy.

This is what the writer of the letter to the Hebrews says about this relationship:
“For Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses—as much more glory as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself. (For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.)
Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later, but Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son. And we are his house if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope.” (Hebrews 3:3-6 ESV)

The difference here which clarifies who is the original and who is the copy is that one is faithful to God as a son and the other is faithful as a servant.
When we look to Moses and to the law we can only ever see what is expected of us as servants in being faithful to God as He is faithful to us. We must fulfil this as a servant because it is not innate to us.
Jesus however is God’s unique son and for him it is completely innate to be faithful to God, just as it is innate to any of us to be faithful to our own fathers.

The good news of Christmas is that God has come into the world in Jesus, who is the prophet just like Moses, only instead of being a servant he is a son. He has not come into the world to get rid of the law but to fulfil it by being a faithful son, and he hasn’t come to hit us over the head with the law but to free us from its power over us because of our sin.
If we break the law then we deserve to be punished according to whatever the law prescribes, but Jesus has come to show us an alternative offer. We can be a son instead of a servant.

This is amazingly good news!
We no longer have to live our lives in a way whereby we continually break God’s law as a servant and stand guilty under it. We can choose instead to be sons and treat Him as our Father, being faithful to Him as we would to our own dad.

This Advent, may you know that Jesus is God’s unique son and not a servant.
May you know that he has come to offer you his own life so you too can be a son or daughter of the living God.
May you know that as a son you are free from the law which means you are also free to fulfil it, just like Jesus.

Advent Reflections #18 – Special lambs

According to historians and scholars the lambs which were raised and reared in Bethlehem were very special indeed.
The shepherds of the Christmas story would almost certainly have been looking after these special sheep in their special flocks so they would produce these special lambs.

So what was so special about them?
At the time of Jesus’ birth the Jews still operated under the sacrificial system whereby you would demonstrate your inner repentance of sin by an external act of animal sacrifice.
The sacrifice would cost you something and make a tangible link between your sin and its consequences for you and everything around you.
By the time Jesus was born the whole system for the Jews had become a profiteering racket by an incredibly wealthy group called the Sadducees. Their methods and accumulated wealth would put most of today’s ‘casino’ bankers to shame.
The Sadducees had manoeuvred a system whereby only sacrifices offered at the temple in Jerusalem were valid, and they controlled access. Any money offerings required the ‘temple coin’ which meant currency exchange from the common Roman currency at extortionate exchange rates. Any animals offered couldn’t be your own as they weren’t ‘pure’ enough and so you would have to buy one of their officially verified animals, again at extortionate prices.
These were the special lambs which were being watched by the shepherds that first Christmas night as Bethlehem was the best place within easy reach of Jerusalem to rear flocks of sheep. They were special because only these lambs could be offered as a sacrifice for sins, and no other lambs would suffice, which made them extremely valuable.

What does this have to do with Jesus and Advent?
One of the images given to us in the Bible to help us understand what Jesus has done for us by dying for us is that of a perfect lamb, without blemish, being offered in our place and atoning for our sin.
Jesus is the ‘sacrificial lamb’ – the Lamb of God – who takes away the sins of the whole world. In a culture where the image of animal sacrifice and the continual practise of it would have been imprinted firmly on the cultural consciousness, presenting Jesus this way would have been a radical shift in understanding the purpose and role of the whole sacrificial system.

The letter to the Hebrews in the New Testament describes this brilliantly and sums up the whole thing with this amazing verse:
“For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” (Heb 10:4 ESV)
This verse shows us that there’s something else going on and it’s really not about the blood of the animal or the ‘life for a life’ that many would have believed was the purpose.
The writer goes on to say,
“Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.'”” (Hebrews 10:5-7 ESV)

Jesus has come to show us that it’s all about doing the Father’s will because that’s what we were made for and it’s how we express back to Him the love He has shown us in making us His children.
It’s not – and never has been – about making sacrifices to appease an angry god.
This is not good news for the Sadducees and history shows that their whole system was unsustainable in God’s economy.

Jesus has come into the world as the ‘Lamb of God without blemish or sin’ to show us, and model for us, the life which we are all called to live, because that is the life of a son.
His death finalises the whole sacrificial system in one act of sacrifice on our behalf, and his resurrection breaks the cycle of sin and death and proves that it’s not about paying the price, but about living the life we were made for.

That first Christmas the special sheep in their special flocks kept to produce special lambs were replaced in one night by the birth of a little baby boy.
His birth removed the need for the sacrifices and instead came to show us the life we’ve always wanted to live but didn’t know how.

This Advent, may you know that the blood of bulls, goats and even special lambs cannot take away sin but Jesus can.
May you know that Jesus is the special Lamb of God who has taken away the sins of the whole world.
May you know that he has come to bring you the life you have always wanted and today it’s yours if you want it.

Advent Reflections #17 – Are you receiving me?

“He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.” (John 1:11 ESV)

This is part of how John chooses to start his gospel. He’s telling a non-Jewish audience that Jesus, a Jew, came to his own people but they didn’t receive him.
This is immensely significant because Jesus was the Messiah the Jews were waiting for. For centuries they’d been waiting and when the moment came, they missed it. Even today, 2,000 years later there are many Jews who are still waiting for their Messiah.

It’s clear that not everyone believes that Jesus is the Messiah, the one prophesied throughout the Old Testament. Even during the years of his ministry Jesus wasn’t accepted by the vast majority, and those of his home town rejected him.
John the Baptist prophesied that Jesus was the promised Messiah and pointed him out to the crowds, and yet after a while even he had to check that Jesus was indeed the Messiah.

Why is this?
I think that John the Baptist’s story, and the stories you pick up reading the gospel accounts point to a jarring issue which affects us all: Jesus subverts our expectations.
Jesus entered a world, a culture and a history that had created an idea of what the Messiah should be like, and how he should be, and what he should do. The problem with Jesus was that he simply didn’t fit that mould. Whichever way you looked at him, he was no Messiah. Rabbi, yes. Miracle man, yes. Messiah – as in the Messiah – no.
Rome was stood on the neck of the Jewish nation, and whilst the jews were finding new ways to subvert Roman rule, Jesus was subverting their expectations of who the Messiah was and what he had come to do.
His teachings further frustrated and compounded any claims that he was the Messiah.
Love your enemies? Ridiculous.
Turn the other cheek? What a cheek!
A Samaritan is my neighbour? Forget it.
Eat my flesh and drink my blood? He’s lost the plot!

Jesus didn’t change anything about the prophesies of the Messiah and fulfilled them all perfectly. In every way Jesus was, and is, the Messiah. The trouble with seeing Jesus as the Messiah is a problem with our sight, not with Jesus.
Every person exists within a culture and a history which act as lenses through which we understand the world. We look at Jesus through these same lenses and get a distorted image of who this Jesus is because he entered into a different reality to the one we exist in, and he also transcends culture and history.

Jesus has come into the world so that we might receive him. We don’t receive him by making him be someone he isn’t, or projecting onto him ideologies that aren’t his.
The Jews thought that the Messiah was coming into the world to take sides; their side. But Jesus came into the world for all people, Romans and Jews alike, and everyone else on this planet we call home. Yes he came to the Jews and they were “his own” but they didn’t all receive him.
Time and again Jesus turns up in our lives and in our churches and subverts our expectations of him, not to be awkward but so that we will receive him for who he is and not for who we’d like him to be.

This is good news for people who have no expectations of Jesus and have never met him. As they encounter Jesus they get the real Jesus as he really is.
For those of us who have become familiar with who Jesus is, or perhaps become familiar with the person we think we know from reading the Bible, this is not necessarily good news. Jesus will not meet our expectations or fit our moulds and this can be difficult to accept and unnerving as it can disorient us.

But he does this because there’s much at stake. Jesus has come to have a relationship with us and to show us the Father. Unless we receive him as he is and as he comes then it’s no different to how a friend might react if we started to tell them how they ought to be so we can feel that we know them.

That first Christmas Jesus came into the world in a way few were expecting. He came as a baby who needed to be held to be received. There is nothing complicated about receiving a baby. You just put your arms out and hold it.
The message of Christmas to us about our Messiah is that simple: receive me as you would a little baby. No expectations, no prejudices, no concerns, just holding.

John gives us some amazingly good news in the next verses of his gospel;
“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12-13 ESV)

If we receive that baby born on the first Christmas; if we receive Jesus as he is and not how we want him to be; then we receive the right – the power – to become children of God, in the same way Jesus is. That’s amazing news!

This Advent, may you receive Jesus just as he is.
May you see in that newborn baby the Jesus who must be held to be received.
May you discover Jesus for who he really is, not who you thought he was, and in receiving him become like him as a child of God.

Advent Reflections #16 – THE Logos

Of the four gospels of the New Testament, John’s gospel stands apart from the other three in approach, content and style. John includes an account of Jesus coming into the world but approaches it in a very different way to the other gospels.

This is a quick summary of how John describes the story of Jesus coming into this world:
“In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with God, and the Logos was God. He was in the beginning with God.” (John 1:1-2 ESV)
“The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.” (John 1:9 ESV)
“And the Logos became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14 ESV)
“No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.” (John 1:18 ESV)

John approaches the story of Jesus entering the world by connecting Him to the idea of “Logos”. Most Bibles translate this Greek word as “Word”… “In the beginning was the Word“. This idea of a Word becoming flesh feels a bit too abstract for it to make sense to us. We don’t have a framework in our thinking that can easily translate a ‘word’ into a person. But this is not a problem with John’s approach, but more a limitation of translation.

It isn’t in any way inaccurate to translate the word ‘logos’ as ‘word’ but in doing so it misses the key understanding of what John’s mainly Greek audience would have understood by ‘logos’, and especially when referring to THE Logos.
John’s audience would have understood him to be referring to the underlying, underpinning, foundational basis of everything; the life, power and wisdom of everything and behind everything.
We can get closer to this way of understanding if we consider terms we encounter everyday: biology, anthropology, archaeology, technology, theology…
The ‘logy’ part comes from the root word ‘logos’. These words refer to a study of something through which we discover the underlying principles – the ‘word’ on the subject – and attain knowledge of it through study, analysis and experimentation.

So when John describes Jesus as THE Logos, he is saying that Jesus is the ‘logy’ behind all other ‘logies’.
John is describing to his Greek audience that the mystical source of all things – THE Logos – is none other than a man, Jesus of Nazareth. The Logos has taken on flesh and come to live amongst us!

All other ‘logies’ root themselves in what we can discover and learn through scientific analysis, rigour and experimentation.
But God cannot be approached in this way, and so even ‘theology’ becomes somewhat redundant because God can’t be defined by systems or systematics, however good a job we’ve done in trying.
To have any hope of understanding God, science and thought must give way to the simple reality of THE Logos Himself coming into the world. ‘What’ must give way to ‘who’.

A simple scanning of the stories and words of Jesus in the gospels would show that he was less interested in talking about doctrine and analysis and more interested in establishing relationships. John, the beloved disciple, got this and so his gospel is built around a series of conversations which address matters of the heart and relationships.
In John’s gospel the ‘signs’ (miracles) are much more than a display of Jesus’ power. Every sign challenges our understanding of the world AND of God.
Jesus has come as THE Logos to bring to us the power, wisdom and life behind all things, but He has brought these things in Himself; NOT as a philosophy or science or even religion. Jesus never set out to establish a new religion but to invite people into a relationship; to follow him wherever they are, whatever they’ve done, and whoever they think they are.
John’s gospel shows us this in a number of ways.

In one of Jesus’ conversation in John’s gospel He is speaking to Nicodemus, a religious leader who had the equivalent of several PhD doctorates attached to his position.
They are conversing Jew to Jew, Rabbi to Rabbi, and whilst Nicodemus is looking for some form of validation or sign-up from Jesus to his pharisaic religious persuasion, Jesus responds out of left field with a completely different paradigm.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16 ESV)

The thing about love is it doesn’t sit well in the mind and it’s almost impossible to approach scientifically. You may be able to understand certain principles and observable patterns relating to it, but there’s no way that love can be fully understood apart from in an exchange of giving and receiving it. Love is intrinsically and essentially relational; not rational, and rarely reasonable.

If Jesus is revealing his ‘theology’ then it’s no more complicated than “God is love” and Jesus has come to show us this and to invite us to know – as an experience, not intellectually – that God loves you with an everlasting love.
No ‘ifs’ or ‘buts’. No pre- or post- conditions. God loves you because He is love, and because you were made for that love and to experience it.

This Advent may your ‘logies’ give way to THE Logos.
May you know that THE Logos has come into the world to transcend our knowledge, science and reason with his everlasting love.
May you know that he has come to have a relationship with you and to bring you home to be with the Father.