Sometimes we struggle to know how to pursue two good goals simultaneously.
Take, for example, the yearning for freedom and the desire to be safe. Both are important to us, but throw in a pandemic, the internet and a dose of scepticism towards authority and there’ll be no end of debates about how to balance them with each other.
Or we might consider a passion for truth and a desire to be gracious. At worst, seeking grace without truth can result in silence or acquiescence in the face of evil. On the other hand the pursuit of truth (or our version of it) without grace can lead to discord and disagreement.
In light of our struggles these words from the fourteenth verse of the first chapter of John’s gospel come like a gentle cooling breeze at the end of a long hot day: ‘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.’
Unlike Matthew and Luke, the gospel of John doesn’t begin with the events of the first Christmas. There are no angelic visitors, no heavenly choir and no baby in the manger surrounded by awestruck shepherds. Instead we read a profound meditation on the significance of those events. We are reminded how the Word who was with God, indeed who was God, came into the world that had come into being through Him. We recall how in doing so He shone bright light into our dreary darkness. We are told that He reveals God’s grace and truth, not grace or truth but grace and truth.
It’s not that the grace of God or the truth of God were unknown before Christmas. For millennia God had poured grace into creation, first by gifting us this beautiful world then by choosing and rescuing a people. God had also revealed truth, in the cycles of the seasons, in the depths of the human conscience and through the prophets.
Then at Christmas the invisible becomes visible, the word becomes flesh, grace and truth are embodied in one flawless human life. As He grows Jesus embodies grace in His welcome of the outsider, in His care for the needy and in His forgiveness even in death. Jesus embodies truth in teaching with authority, in His critique of hypocrisy and most especially in making God known.
The very polarities we struggle to explain, let alone express, Jesus lives to perfection. Then He empowers us to do the same. This is the true wonder of Christmas. The God who comes to be with us in the manger, gives Himself for us on the cross so that He might be in us by the Spirit.
Growing as gracious, truthful people is a journey that lasts a lifetime. It begins with a simple act of trust in the One who showed the way for us. Monica and I pray that this Christmas your celebrations and your lives may be full of the grace and truth of Jesus.