“The word became flesh,” John writes, “and dwelt among us.” Flesh: nothing romantic or idealized here. This is the sagging, wrinkling, discolored, splotched, weak, limited, smelly stuff which we are. Flesh, bodies: wholly ordinary, corruptible, and unsatisfying. So much of what we do is an attempt to circumvent or decrease the limitations and degradation of our flesh, especially over time. Glory, we are sure, exists outside of these bodies.
And that, of course, is true: When glory — “his glory, glory as of the only son from the Father, full of grace and truth” is revealed, it dazzles in its otherness, awe-inspiring and beautiful and only allowing for one response: reverence and worship.
But — paradox, mystery! — glory does not remain other. “Among you stands one you do not know, even he who comes after me, whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.” That Glory would wear sandals! That Glory would join to feet, dirty feet exposed to the dust and the filth of the road. How can we possibly recognize Glory here, when he looks so ordinary, so much like we do?
The short answer is, we can’t. John tells us, “He was in the world and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him.” Again and again, John tells the story of people meeting Jesus, only to respond with incomprehension. They don’t recognize him.
Some, of course, do receive him. But John marks this out not as a difference in personality, or receptivity, or righteousness, or worthiness. Instead, the eyes to see who Jesus is come from the Spirit. Those who receive Jesus are “born…of God,” “born of the Spirit.” The revelation of Jesus’s identity is a gift, allowing people to see not only the flesh-and-blood man before them, but also the glory of the one sent from God.
In this gift of sight, our vision is transformed. Not only do we see Jesus differently; we can no longer despise the ordinary, the everyday, the less-than-picture-perfect anywhere around us. In the reality of word-made-flesh, glory-wearing-sandals, we now know that everyone around us is more than their physicality. The people we meet, as C.S. Lewis tells us, are no mere mortals: “it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.” Indeed, our treatment of them, Jesus says, is equated to our treatment of him.
Our sight usually comes in stages. We see gradually, perhaps regressing at times. Shadows of figures and undefined shapes, rather than the clear reality. Here, we must simply ask, “Rabbi, I want to see.”