The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.—John 1:14
He pitched his tent among us—that is the literal meaning of “made his dwelling among us.” Our human minds can’t understand how Jesus was born by the direct action of God. But the fact that God pitched his tent with us, coming to live among us, is all-important. It is our salvation.
Ironically, Jesus’ birth passed with little fanfare. Most people did not understand that God had entered time and space. I’m reminded of how cartoonist H.T. Webster celebrated the 100th anniversary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln. Webster re-created events surrounding Lincoln’s birth by depicting two Kentucky woodsmen meeting on a snow-covered wilderness path:
The two woodsmen exchanged news of the swearing in of the new American president, James Madison. They wondered how much of Europe Napoleon Bonaparte would be able to conquer. Finally, they discussed their local communities. One of the men mentioned that a baby had been born at Tom Lincoln’s house. Then they agreed that nothing much of any consequence ever happened in their corner of the world.
It might have been something like that in Bethlehem. Life seemed to be the same as always. Nothing new; just another birth. Joseph and Mary were the proud parents, and they had just arrived in town. After the birth, strangers from a distant land arrived, and they brought gifts for the baby.
Matthew tells us that the Magi, who came from the east, had first gone to Jerusalem. They knew that the king of the Jews was to be born, and they came to bring gifts. The chief priests and teachers of the law directed them to Bethlehem. King Herod was understandably threatened that someone else should be called “king of the Jews.” He gave orders to kill all the baby boys in Bethlehem. Just to make sure, Herod ordered his men to slaughter all baby boys who were two years and under, in the vicinity of Bethlehem. An angel told Joseph to take Mary and Jesus, and become refugees. So the young family became aliens in the land of Egypt, the country that had once enslaved their people. They stayed there until Herod died.
Aliens and strangers. Struggling through the wilderness. Longing for the Promised Land. Refugees. It sounds much like our world today. Christians are called to be citizens of another kingdom, aliens and strangers in Babylon. Our beacon of hope, our source of Light, is the One who pitched his tent.
John tells us Jesus was “full of grace and truth.” Grace is a powerful and complex word that is often misunderstood. It speaks of unconditional love for the undeserving. Love for the refugee and alien. Love that comes to the rescue—salvation love. Grace speaks of giving and of generosity. Paul speaks of the riches of God’s grace. Grace is a one-word description of the way God deals with us, loving us so much that, in Jesus, he pitched his tent with us and died for us.
The Magi came with gifts. But the greatest gift had already arrived. That gift was given, in its fullness, on the cross and in the resurrection from the tomb. Salvation is the greatest gift. If you have needs, hurts, worries and problems, do not despair—grace is available. Turn to the Lord, the King of kings and Lord of lords. He is the answer.
Take another look at John 1:14, this time from The Message, the New Testament in contemporary English. Eugene H. Peterson has put the New Testament in the language and idiom of the playground and marketplace, comparable to the everyday Greek idiom used throughout the New Testament. Peterson has tried to give us an equivalent. His translation of John 1:14 may help you realize that God, in the person of Jesus, came to be with us and rescue us from sin: “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, generous inside and out, true from start to finish.”