Media critic Marshall McLuhan said in 1964 that “the medium is the message.” He was talking about television. The most important thing about TV, McLuhan suggested, is not the messages it delivers but the way it delivers them. TV changes the way people think. Pictures overwhelm words. A print culture becomes an electronic culture.
Now the Internet and e-mail are proving McLuhan’s idea once again: A new way to send a message is a message in itself.
God proved that was true long ago. When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, God gave the world a “medium-is-the-message” gift.
Jesus didn’t just bring a message from God. He was the message. God had spoken through prophets before and had sent heavenly messengers before. But this time God had a new message. It was the messenger himself.
The Gospel of John has its own way of saying that the medium is the message. John tells us that the Word, which “was God” (John 1:1), “became flesh” (1:14). The Word is Jesus, who not only spoke the words of God but was the Word.
Why is Jesus described as the “Word”? In Greek, the word is “Logos.” Translated as “Word,” it also carries the meaning of “reason” or “wisdom.” The Logos has creative power: “Through him all things were made” (1:3). The Logos, which embodies light and life (1:4), came from the Father (1:14).
We sing about this at Christmas in “O Come, All Ye Faithful.” The third verse says, “Son of the Father, begotten, not created.” To say that Jesus was begotten, not created, is to say that he is of one substance with the Father. Jesus is the Logos, the Word, who existed “with God in the beginning” (1:2). He is fully God and always was. He is not a creation of God.
Such theology stretches the mind but supports a simple truth: What Jesus taught and what he did are inseparable from who he is. “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father,” Jesus said in John 14:9.
Prophets could speak the words of God. Jesus did, too. But only Jesus could live the life of God. Only Jesus could show, by the way he lived, what God is like.
A saying goes, “There is no way to peace; peace is the way.” Similarly, we might say, “There is no way to Jesus; Jesus is the way.” Jesus taught great things, but he did not say people would find the path to God by believing in his teachings. He invited them, and invites us, to believe in him, for he is the way.
“Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing,” the Christmas hymn continues. God sent a message that night in Bethlehem. It was the most important message ever. Angels brought it first to shepherds. But in a stable at an inn, there were no words yet. The presence of a baby in a manger silently spoke all that needed to be said.
Paul Schrag is editor of Mennonite Weekly Review, where this article first appeared. You can access the Mennonite Weekly Review online at www.mennoweekly.org.