The Second Day of Advent
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it…
And 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.
John 1:1-5, 14
Thomas Torrance is regarded by many as one of the greatest theologians of the Twentieth Century. He told of a battlefield experience that set his life’s course as theologian and Church of Scotland minister. Torrance was a chaplain in “The King’s Own Royal Rifles” serving on the front lines in Italy during World War II. In October of 1944, Torrance came upon a 20-year old mortally wounded soldier who obviously had but moments yet to live. As Torrance bent over the dying man he was asked, “Padre, is God really like Jesus?” Torrance assured him that God was like Jesus, and the young man smiled and died. Torrance wondered what had happened in all of the church’s talk about God that would lead a young man to ask if God was really like Jesus. He devoted the rest of his long and fruitful life to proclaiming and celebrating Jesus as the revelation of God.
In today’s Gospel text we learn that Jesus, the divine Logos, is “the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” It is a striking Greek word that is translated here as “a father’s only son”. It is the word monogenes; the first part of the word, mono, means “one”, and the second part, genes, is the Greek word from which we get “gene” and “genetic”. In contemporary English we might say that Jesus is ‘one gene’ with the Father, or, ‘one chromosome’ with Father. He is of the same nature as God. God’s character and nature come through in Jesus as a human son resembles his father. But in Jesus’ case His likeness is exact; He is the one and only.
Do you ever look up at the stars at night, or ponder the marvels of the atom, and wonder what God is like? Just look at Jesus! He is identical to the Father — God’s exact image. A ‘one’ and only ‘genetic’ equivalent to God. He has all of the Father’s glory, a glory that is “full of grace and truth.”
In one of his later theological volumes Thomas Torrance wrote of Jesus as the perfect revelation of God: “Christ is of one and the same being as God, as well as of one and the same being as ourselves.” (Thomas Torrance, The Mediation of Christ)
John’s Gospel declares that God the Word became flesh “and lived among us”. There were many words that the Gospel writer could have used for the word, “lived”, but he chose one with profound implications. He chose a word (eskenosen) that can be literally translated “tabernacle among us”, or “pitched His tent among us”. John clearly wants readers to make the connection between Jesus and the Old Testament tabernacle in which God dwelled and manifested His presence and glory on earth (Exodus 26).
As God once dwelled among His people in the tabernacle, so He dwells among us in Jesus Christ. In Jesus’ flesh God makes known His presence with us. He is truly Emmanuel, “God with us”. Jesus will later say, “He who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9), and, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30).
As God’s glory radiated in the Old Testament tabernacle (Exodus 40:34-35), so God’s glory radiates on earth in Jesus. Yes, God is like Jesus! Jesus has all the glory of the Father, a glory “full of grace and truth.”
I was never a chaplain on the front lines of battle like Torrance, but I was a chaplain on the front lines of life and death in hospice. What a great delight and privilege it was for me to talk with people who struggled in their thoughts about God, and assure them that God is like Jesus. He is full of grace and truth! “For in Christ the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Colossians 2:9).
- Why do you think a dying soldier might have smiled when Thomas Torrance assured him that God was like Jesus?
- What might it mean for you that, “Christ is of one and the same being as God”? (Thomas Torrance)
EMBODIED PRAYER: STANDING
The most common prayer position in the Old and New Testaments was standing with eyes open looking upward, and raising arms with open hands. It is a prayer position practiced by the Lord Jesus (Luke 9:28-32; John 17:1). Ancient Jews called this position the Amidah (“standing prayer”); early Christians knew it as the Orans (“praying”) position. This standing prayer is seen on wall drawings in the catacombs in Rome, and is the posture recommended by early Christian theologians and Church Fathers.
Just as we stand to express respect and awe in our culture, so we stand to embody our respect and wonder at God’s majesty and greatness. We raise open hands towards Him ready to receive, and open our eyes towards Him as the source of all life and goodness.
Today and every day of this first week of Advent, pray the Lord’s Prayer:
- Open hands raised towards heaven
- Open eyes looking expectantly to God