Today’s Bible reading

John 1:14

“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.”

More thoughts for meditation

This week we’re taking a cue from one of the wise ones from among our cell multiplication movement, who once talked about leading a cell as being about “holding space.” We’re letting that language guide us as we imagine holding space as an invitation to know God, ourselves, and our community more deeply. Today we’re invited to see how God holds space for love to be actualized in the person of Jesus. In his Ethics, Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes: 

“When God in Jesus Christ claims space in the world- even space in a stable ‘because there was no other place in the inn’- God embraces the whole reality of the world in this narrow space and reveals its ultimate foundation.” 

What is this ultimate foundation? Yesterday we heard from NT Wright and Michael Bird in The New Testament in Its World, where they said:

“If God revealed himself in the world by turning his love into flesh and blood, we should realize that, when we do the same, we are completing God’s love.”

Isn’t that striking? God turned God’s love, that beautiful “divine dance” among Father, Son, and Spirit, “into flesh and blood.” Eugene Peterson puts it similarly and adds even more flair in his translation of John 1:14 above, when he says that “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.” Nothing could be more foundational, but why would God do this? What does it mean that embodied love, love with flesh on, “moved into the neighborhood?” In talking about John’s gospel in his New Testament for Everyone series, NT Wright says that the theme of the gospel of John is this: “if you want to know who the true God is, look long and hard at Jesus.” Pastor and writer Brian Zahnd has, for a while now, been reminding the church that “God is like Jesus. God has always been like Jesus. There has never been a time when God was not like Jesus. We have not always known what God is like—But now we do.” Many of us rightly have many questions about what God is like and even concerns about how we see God depicted in the Bible. The violence in the Old Testament usually surfaces here as a case in point, and we recently spent a week working with the writing of Eberhard Arnold to root us again in our conviction that, of all the things Jesus calls us to, nonviolence is surely among them. As our proverb says, “In a culture deformed by violence, proactive peacemaking transforms our individual fears and faithfully witnesses to the Prince of Peace like nothing else.” Unfortunately, there are many Christians who do not share this view, and support their opinions by referencing the Bible. All of this is why Zahnd might say that “we have not always known what God is like.” The good news is that “now we do.” Colossians 2 is helpful here: “9 For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, 10 and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority.” This is why we also say that “Jesus is the lens through which we read the Bible,” and it’s why we keep at this group project of knowing the Bible and following the Jesus we meet there. This, too, is a way of holding space. For now, though, let’s continue to notice how God holds space in Jesus to put on flesh and blood and move into the neighborhood. That’s when love came to town.

Suggestions for action

How might you hold space today to notice God holding space in Jesus? How might you discover anew that God is like Jesus and always has been? If God is love, and the fullness of God dwells in the space Jesus holds for relationship with us, how might you experience God’s love today? God put on flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood to make God’s love known. So there seems to be a truth there about embodiment, about incarnation. We often know love best by things that bodies do. They look, they smile, they have and hold, they listen, and they come alongside. This pandemic has been very difficult in no small part because all those embodied expressions of love have become difficult and even dangerous. Still, there are things we can do. For some of us the circumstances might be right for showing up in person with masks and social distancing to express our “with-ness” to each other. For others, that might not be possible for any number of reasons, but we still hold space to be “present” to each other, like God holds space to present to us in Jesus. Whatever our circumstance, we can still make a phone or video call, we can write a letter, or we can practice our “with-ness” in some other modified, creative way. Simply by being as present as we can in our own bodies, we re-enact the way that God held space in Jesus to be present with us.In doing so, we “re-member” that love came to town. Let BB King and Bono sing it to you.