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Jesus Moved into the Neighborhood

"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 1:14

The turkey bones have been tossed and I have noticed that a few of my neighbors began stringing some lights the day after Thanksgiving. Black Friday isn’t so black when all of those bushes, trees and roof lines start to twinkle in multi-colored fashion. I will hop on the Christmas band wagon sometime this coming week myself, I hope. And, to that end, I would like to shift these devotional reflections in the direction of my favorite holiday of the year.

The first couple of chapters of the gospel of Luke or the beginning of the gospel of Matthew are the usual "go to" passages for Christmas teachings. Or, sometimes people turn to the Old Testament Scriptures which foretell the advent of the Messiah for inspiration. I would like to dig into the gospel of John, chapter one, for the theme of this devotional reflection. The gospel of John was the last of the gospels written and tends to be a little more abstract and theological than the other three. Still, there are powerful truths to be mined throughout it and especially in the first chapter. Let's lock in on verse 14: "The Word (Jesus) 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."

As a university campus ministry director, I always loved taking students on international mission trips. But we would only ever stay one week when we went. There is a huge difference between visiting a place and actually putting down roots and staying there. Our teams would see what it was like to live and minister in places like India or Bulgaria or Northern Ireland, but they couldn’t possibly know and experience that life in any real way. You really don't know what it is truly like to reside among people until you don't have a return airplane ticket. When Jesus was born, He was here to stay until He died, just like the rest of us. John tells us that Jesus "made his dwelling among us." In The Message, Eugene Peterson translated this phrase in a wonderfully intimate and even affectionate way: "The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood." Literally, in the original Greek language, John highlighted the transiency and brevity of human life by writing that Jesus "tabernacled" or "tented" among us. The meaning of that phrase is both profound and poignant. Jesus knows firsthand what it is like to be "us." He has walked in our shoes. The writer of Hebrews put it this way: "For we do not have a high priest (Jesus) who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are--yet he did not sin." (4:15) And because of that, according to the writer, we can approach the Lord with confidence, expecting mercy and grace when we need it. One of the favorite names of Jesus celebrated at Christmas is "Immanuel," which means "God is with us."

Jesus' physical birth was actually an act of notoriety and misunderstanding in the Greco-Roman world of His day. The philosopher Plato taught that the human body, and all of the material world for that matter, was corrupt and even evil. The very idea that God, or the "Word" (or "Logos," a philosophical concept of the Greek school of the Stoics, meaning active reason pervading and animating the universe) would take on flesh was incomprehensible to the intellectual elite of Jesus' day. So, John's declaration in the first chapter of his gospel was revolutionary! He was saying to the Greco-Roman world around him, "Hey, you know that spiritual principle you think holds the world together, that Logos? He actually became a real man, a God-man, who lived right here at a specific historical moment in an actual historical place." This idea that universal Truth actually lived and ate and worked and served among people like us at a point in time scandalized some, and still does, while it certainly brings others of us tremendous hope and comfort. Nothing is more encouraging than to know that God fully understands and cares about what I face and how I feel about it. We can bank on that encouragement because God, in Jesus, dwelt among us.

Of course, the Lord knows each of us better than we know ourselves. In that regard, He is full of "truth" about us. He has no illusions about our fickleness, our infidelity and our failings. Indeed, He is the Truth (and the way and the life--John 14:6) and His Way represents the model, the template and the answer key for how life must be lived to be fulfilling and purposeful. And yet He knows we can't do it on our own. We can't live up to His standard of Truth. That's where the "grace" part comes in. The good news is that, as John wrote, Jesus is "full of grace." The grace He offers us is not a half-tank full; His grace for us is overflowing. And we need every bit of it. I love this acronym: GRACE means “God's Riches At Christ's Expense.” The baby born in the manger will die on the Cross on Golgotha. And that is the reason we can celebrate our Savior all year round; He measured up to the Truth when we could not. He was able to stand in our place because Jesus dwelt among us. God became man--100% of both at the same time. We may not be able to wrap our minds around that reality, but, this Christmas, we can once again jump for joy because of it.

Heavenly Father, thank You that You sent Jesus to make His home and put down roots among us. Thank You that You know just what it is like to be someone reading this devotional. We celebrate that You know us so well and cover over our failures and sin with the grace and mercy purchased on the Cross. Help us this Christmas to extend the same empathy, understanding and grace to others, especially those who disappoint us, that You have extended to us. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

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