And the Word 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)
It is usually good to know there is a plan. Whether it is for a classroom lesson, an economy, a business, a ministry, a country. Even the concept of a life plan is growing in popularity. It is even better if it is a good plan. And it is wonderful if the plan is stuck-to and actually works. Though of course we make our plans knowing that ultimately the Lord is in control (James 4:13-15).
The Wider Story
As we contemplate the incarnation at Christmas the setting in John 1:1-18, it reminds us of the setting of the incarnation in the wider plan, the wider story of God. All of the Gospels do this, of course, with Matthew and Luke most explicitly focused on the events surrounding the birth of Jesus. But the wider plan is never far away for Mark and John.
John takes this plan into eternity with the sending of the Son, ‘from above.’ Everything is happening according to plan. In the incarnation of the Son we see the plan of God unfold. It is a detailed and intricate plan as Paul outlines aspects of it in Romans 9–11. It is a plan that unfolds in its own time, and at just the right time. It gives pause to marvel.
There is a longstanding debate concerning the structure of the prologue concerning the ‘high point’ of the first 18 verses of John. For many John 1:14 is the high point. For others the prologue drives to the final point of revelation when in verse 18 we are told that the Father, whom no-one has ever seen has now ‘gone public’ in the person of his Son. Another alternative sees verses 12-13 as the centrepoint of a composition that highlights the possibility of salvation; of believers becoming the children of God as a result of the work of God in them.
But why not all three? The incarnation of the Son clearly reveals the Father and makes possible the salvation of the children of God. All these points, and more, come out of the reading of John 1:1-18. The prologue tells us a story and gives us commentary. It tells us things about God, and things about salvation. The Word came into the world as the perfect revelation of God and was rejected. Yet, for all who believe, the possibility of becoming of children God is real, thanks to the initiative and power of God.
God and His Long Story
Finally, to finish off this series, I want to reflect briefly on some things this story tells us about God—the way it reveals the persistence, patience and perseverance of God with his creation.
God’s plan unfolds over a long time, to understate the case! Beyond the three years of Jesus’ ministry there lies the history of Israel—indeed the entire sweep from creation to new creation. What patience and unhurriedness there is in the methodical unfolding of this plan. It seems slow to us; we want things fast-tracked. But the Lord’s patience continues as move towards the consummation in the hope that more might be saved.
The Lord persists with a disobedient and recalcitrant people. He works in, and through, the choices made by kings, warriors, prophets, priests, ordinary men and women—in all their frailty, flaws and failures. The temptation to wipe the slate and start again must have been strong, but the Lord persists with his plan for the world and people whom he created and loves.
Finally the Lord perseveres in seeing things through to the end. For Jesus this is encapsulated in his thought that that Father had given him a work to complete—which of course he does, by staying the course until he declares it “finished” from the cross.
Wisdom and Care
At Christmas we are often reminded of the message of love, peace, and reconciliation that the coming in the flesh of the Son presages. And this will always be appropriate. But perhaps we can also contemplate the wisdom and care of the plan of God—especially in an age when we may be tempted to value spontaneity as a measure of authenticity. There is no capriciousness with God; rather promises are made, planned for, communicated, and kept. Our God is utterly reliable.
God is persistent. And we can contemplate the value of persistence in age when the temptation is to cut and run on difficult situations and relationships; to not bear with one another.
God is patient. We can contemplate the value of patience in an age where we are encouraged to sing ‘I want it all, and I want it now.’
God is persevering. We can contemplate the value of perseverance in faith, love and hope; and in that ‘long obedience in the same direction’ (Eugene Peterson) that is part and parcel of the Christian experience. Such reflections will serve us well in a tempting, antagonistic and confusing age.
A Praiseworthy Plan
We will only live as believers with persistence, patience and perseverance if we are confident that there is a plan that it is worthwhile, and that everything will work out in the end. And we will only get this if we understand the implications of the Word made flesh and dwelling amongst us.
There here is plenty here for both prayer and praise. Let’s praise God that the Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us—and that we beheld his glory, the glory of the unique one from the Father full of grace and truth.
Photos: (Body) Staci Flick, flickr; (Head) Reg Tiangha, flickr