December 27, 2020 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – John 1:1-5, 14 (NRSV)
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. . . . And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.
The Incarnation is, ultimately, a mystery. But it is the mystery on which every other mystery of the Christian faith depends. Let’s live like we believe it.
Years ago, on a cold December night, I was driving across the frozen prairies of Illinois, where I grew up. I was scanning the radio dial (this was in the 1990s, long before Spotify, Pandora, and Sirius XM) and suddenly I heard a woman singing plaintively:
“What if God was one of us?
Just a slob like one of us
Just a stranger on the bus
Tryin’ to make his way home?”
I nearly drove off the road! As I said, this was before a lot of technology we take for granted now—specifically, Google—but I eventually tracked down that the song was called “One of Us” and it was performed by a singer named Joan Osborne, with lyrics by Eric Bazilian. I know now, 25 years later, that it would go on to become the most famous song either of them would ever be associated with—covered by numerous artists and even serving as the theme song for a TV series, Joan of Arcadia.
At the time, though, what struck me—and still strikes me every time I listen to the song—is twofold. The first is how the song asks a central question about the truth of the Christian faith. This was a question asked in one way or another by many people who met Jesus. How could this man, the carpenter’s son of Nazareth, the boy next door, possibly also be the God who made the heavens and the earth? A famous traveling rabbi—sure. People did that, even carpenter’s sons. But God incarnate? How was that even possible?
Our passage from John 1 today is the most famous statement in the entire Scriptures of how central the Incarnation is to our faith. If you’ve ever listened to the Nine Lessons and Carols service broadcast from the University of Cambridge every Christmas, you will know that this reading is always the final one in the service, and that the provost of the university always introduces it the same way: “St. John unfolds the mystery of the Incarnation.” The Incarnation is, ultimately, a mystery. But as we discussed yesterday, it is the mystery on which every other mystery of the Christian faith depends.
And the second thing that struck me when I heard “One of Us” was that here was a song asking that central question of the Christian faith as if Christians had not had two thousand years to get that central message across. Too often, we have reduced the faith to fire insurance: believe in Jesus, and your soul won’t burn down. Believe in Jesus, and you get a hall pass into heaven. What happens in this world doesn’t matter, too many songs and sermons say; what happens in this world was unchanged by what Jesus did. To begin her music video for the song, Osborne in fact uses a snippet of a gospel song called “Heavenly Aeroplane” which proclaims that Jesus is coming to take folks up to heaven in the end. But, as a matter of fact, what Revelation 21:22 says will happen in the end is that heaven will come down to us. As it also did once long ago, in Bethlehem.
“One of Us” asks, “If God had a name, what would it be? And would you call it to his face? . . . If God had a face, what would it look like?”
Folks, that question has an answer, and it’s Jesus. The Word became flesh and lived among us. And we have seen his glory. Let’s live like it, this Christmas season and always.
Where can you see God’s glory right now in your life and the lives of those around you?
Where are you struggling to see God’s glory and believe in the Word become flesh?
Listen to “One of Us.” Really listen. Allow yourself to be challenged by the doubt and longing it expresses. Then ask for Jesus’s help to live in such a way that he can help bring about light shining out of darkness through you.
Lord Jesus, may we truly come to understand that you are the light of all people. You are our light. You are my light, my Brother, my Friend, and my Savior. Amen.
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Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Christmas Reflection: The Word Became Flesh
Jennifer Woodruff Tait (PhD, Duke University) is the editor of and frequent contributor to Life for Leaders. She is also the managing editor of Christian History magazine and web editor for the Theology of Work Project. She is a priest in the Episcopal Church and an adjunct faculty member at Asbury Theological Seminary. She has written a book of poetry, Histories of Us. Jennifer lives in Berea, Kentucky, with her husband, Edwin, and their two daughters.
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