The Advent season commenced for Christian believers around the world on Sunday, November 30 this year. In the four Sundays before Christmas, the focus of worship and reflection would be the incarnation of Jesus Christ in this world.
St John, in the first chapter of his Gospel, explains the meaning and purpose of the incarnation of Jesus Christ. Two key verses are John 1:1, “In the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God and the Word was God”, and John 1: 14, “And the Word became Flesh and dwelt among us”. While these two capture the essence of incarnation, images in the same chapter such as life, light, grace and truth introduce the mission of Jesus Christ.
‘The Word became Flesh’ is one of the most perplexing statements in the Bible, and commentators down the centuries brought out several meanings as to why St John described Christ as the ‘Word’. In Greek language, in which John wrote his Gospel, the word Logos was most significant, which carried diverse meanings such as ‘reason’, ‘knowledge’, ‘ground’ and ‘animating principle of the universe’. When John wrote that “In the beginning was the Word (Logos)”, his intention was to show Christ as the supreme reality, highest reason and the ground of all being.
‘Christ as the Word’ could also convey three other meanings: One, just as a word (an ordinary word) reveals or uncovers what is otherwise hidden in the mind, Jesus reveals the nature of God; secondly, just as a word facilitates communication process, Jesus made communication between God and humans possible; and thirdly, just as a word could bring about comfort and consolation among peoples, Christ came into the world to offer comfort to weary souls, leading to their salvation. The ‘eternity’ came into ‘time’, when the ‘Word became Flesh and dwelt among us’.
The incarnational model, which is based on the birth and mission of Christ, is a powerful way of living out the life of a Christian. By His in-carnation (lit. Coming into flesh), Christ demonstrates how human beings could live a perfect life and relate themselves meaningfully to their fellow beings. Love and forgiveness, sacrifice and service lie at the heart of Christianity. Whether it is the feeding of five thousand people or washing the feet of his disciples, or forgiving his enemies or laying down His life for humanity, Jesus showed the path, the narrow path, to tread. His Sermon on the Mount is an inspiring moral discourse, which touched the lives of countless people, cutting across all borders of religion, language and culture.
‘WWJD’ (What Would Jesus Do) had for centuries been the motto and guiding principle for Christian believers to live their life in accordance with the Word of God. Whether a Mother Teresa embracing the destitute baby or a Graham Staines bandaging the wounds of a leper, or a Pope washing the feet of a criminal, or a missionary starting a school or college or hospital, it is the same incarnational model they sought to follow. ‘The Word became Flesh’ at Bethlehem two thousand years ago, but its effects are seen around the world in every nook and corner.
Christmas is the season for believers not only to remind themselves of the defining qualities of Christ such as love and forgiveness, service and sharing, but to practice them in their lives. (Joshua Kalapati is head, department of philosophy, Madras Christian College, Chennai).