When it comes to reading the Christmas story in the Bible, the Gospel writer Luke gets most the attention. Like a film director, he vividly captures poor Mary giving birth in a stable as shepherds watch their flocks and a band of angels fills the Bethlehem sky, announcing the good news. But to me, the neighboring book of John best answers the mystery of who Jesus is and why he came.
It is John, Jesus’ closest companion, who writes of Jesus “the Word,” who existed with God before the world began. “The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought life to everyone,” John 1:4 (NLT). It is John who gives us what is perhaps the New Testament’s most oft-cited verse, “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life,” John 3:16.
And it is John who records the seven “I am” statements in which Jesus repeatedly ascribes to himself the name by which God first revealed himself to Moses, who led the ancient Israelites out of slavery. More than any others, these verses display Jesus’ divinity.
“I am the bread of life,” John 6:35. Just as God sent bread from heaven, manna, to feed his people on their journey through the wilderness, so God sent Jesus, the bread of life, to provide spiritual food for us on our journey.
“I am the light of the world,” John 8:12. Here Jesus’ words mirror those of David, Israel’s poet King, who writes in the Psalms, “The Lord is my light and my salvation,” Psalms 27:1.
“I am the gate,” John 10:9. The same way that the prophet Hosea promised that God would provide a “gateway of hope” (Hosea 2:15), Jesus is the door through which we have hope.
“I am the good shepherd,” John 10:11. God frequently refers to himself as the shepherd of his people, most memorably in Psalm 23, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want…” Here again, Jesus associates himself with God.
“I am the resurrection and the life,” John 11:25. In the creation narrative, God is the source of all life. Not only does Jesus claim to be that life, he claims the power to bring those who are dead back to life, a power attributed only to God.
“I am the way, the truth, and the life,” John 14:6. The prophet Isaiah foretold a time when God would make “a way of Holiness” (Isaiah 35:8) and “a pathway through the wilderness,” (Isaiah 43:19) like the path he once made through the Red Sea. Jesus is that way.
And last, “I am the vine,” John 15:5. Throughout scripture, God refers to the Hebrew people as his “vineyard.” Here Jesus identifies himself as the life-source not only of Israel but of all humanity.
Blasphemy, surely. These claims would be an act of supreme arrogance and sacrilege, if Jesus were not truly “Immanuel, God with us,” as the prophet Isaiah also foretold (7:14).
“For a child is born to us, a son is given to us,” Isaiah proclaimed (9:6). “…And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
Oh, great mystery! Reading John reveals that the babe in the manger was both the Son of God and the Son of Man, come to make known God’s love to the world.
Meadow Rue Merrill, author of the award-winning memoir, Redeeming Ruth, writes and reads from a little house in the big woods of Midcoast Maine. Her children’s picture book The Christmas Cradle and four other books in the Lantern Hill Farm series celebrate the holidays with activities that build children’s faith. Connect at www.meadowrue.com