"The Word became flesh and lived among us.
Hereâs a question for you this Christmas Day: Say there had been no fall from grace in the Garden, and humankind had never sinned. In that case, would God have become man? Would God have become part of our human race? And would we today be celebrating Christâs birth?
Medieval scholars pondered these questions long and hard.
Many answered with an emphatic no, citing the clear witness of scripture and the creeds. Christ came to bring salvation to humankind, they maintained. He lived among us and taught us, and his death on the cross became the means of our redemption. That was the reason he came to earth â to save sinners. In their view, if we had not sinned, there would have been no need for redemption or salvation and so no need for the Incarnation â no need for Christmas. Humankind would have remained at peace in the Garden â in a state of bliss as some writers might call it â and the person of Jesus Christ would simply not have been. And we would never have been the wiser.
Other scholars however were deeply troubled by this train of thought, which appeared to make the Incarnation contingent â that is, dependant â upon evil itself and the sinfulness of humankind. Yet how could that be? After all, in Christ, God and creation had come together as one, and God was united with humankind forever. Godâs love for us, these scholars argued, was so deep and profound that the world itself would be unthinkable â un-creatable, to coin a word â without the Incarnate Christ at its center. Christ, the God-Man, was no afterthought to sin, and Jesus Christ was far more than just a cosmic Mr. Fix-It. No, they concluded, God would have become human no matter what.
There can of course be no absolute answers to the hypothetical questions posed ages ago by these scholars. Perhaps both schools of thought have a point. Christ certainly came to save sinners. But humankind did not have to sin in order to experience Godâs love. For us as Christians today, it can be reassuring to imagine God in Christ at work in our lives and in our world from the very beginning of creation regardless of our human and sinful nature.
The Gospel of John seems to reaffirm this basic truth of Godâs creative love.
In terms that would have been familiar to ancient Gentile philosophers, the Evangelist tells us today, âIn the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.â
This âWordâ of which John is speaking is the essentially creative principle of life â something much more than a one-syllable lexeme or unit of language. The âWordâ explains Godâs way of making things happen. It is the assurance of Godâs intimate and vital involvement in the world and ultimately in human affairs as well. And this divine âWord,â or creative force, is none other than Christ our Lord, born in Bethlehem centuries ago. In Christ, âall things came into being â¦ and without him not one thing came into being.â
In other words, God in Christ was not content to remain somewhere beyond the stars and galaxies â distant and aloof from that which had been fashioned and brought to life in creation. In Christâs birth, âthe Word became flesh and lived among us.â And that is what we celebrate this Christmas. The birth of Christ into our world is in a very real sense the birth of the universe itself: the Big Bang in the manger.
âWordâ and creative principle and creation may well seem like so many philosophical and theological terms and abstractions. But there is nothing abstract about the birth of a child. It is the most real thing there is. Ask any mother. Every parent who has been up all night with a child has experienced first hand the reality of life and creation in all its godly resilience and human vulnerability.
Everything we know and even everything we cannot know has been brought into being through the small helpless Christ-Child born this day into time and history. The fretful cry of this infant has become the Word proclaimed in our gospel message across the ages and throughout the world. In Christ, the world is not just redeemed and saved from sin. In Christ, the world has come to be in the first place. And in him, it continues to be made new each and every day.