The main truth of Advent is that in the Person of Jesus Christ, God took on humanity and came to earth to live among us. This is what the Apostle John could never get over.
John is likely in his 80s when he wrote the verses in today’s Advent reading. He was living in Ephesus, where he’d resettled to avoid the Roman conquest of Jerusalem. Yet, elderly and far from home, John is filled with joy. Why? Because he got to live alongside Jesus Christ, listening to him, talking to him and touching him. God really came to the earth, and His desire was to hang out with and experience life as a human.
John’s letter begins rather abruptly as he brings us into the experience he had when Jesus was with him and the other disciples. John wants us to share that experience with him, but he says it starts with us believing his eyewitness report. Both in John’s day and in our time, people deny that God really came and took on flesh in the Person of Jesus Christ. What advantage is there to deny that truth? Well, false teachers love the opportunity to lead people astray, and it also gives us a sense of freedom to sin that ultimately traps and destroys us.
John says that God “was made manifest” (2), meaning He was revealed to be seen and known. God’s mission wasn’t hidden. The Messiah wasn’t concealed. He came to be known by his people and to know them.
Ultimately, this is why we can have fellowship with God the Father and with Jesus Christ: God took the initiative to live among us and rescue us from our sin.
But God didn’t stop there. He didn’t go to all the trouble of taking on human flesh merely to take on human sin. Now, that was a massive, only-God-could-do-that thing, but He continued from there to personally come to each sinner, even now, who calls on Him by faith and fills them with joy. Where does that joy come from? It comes from the Word of Life Himself, Jesus, living in you.
Even though John was old and Jesus had returned to heaven decades earlier, he still could not get over the wonder of what God had done through the Person of Jesus Christ. He was out to spread joy, so that all of us could be filled with joy along with him. A joy that doesn’t depend on the circumstances around us. A joy that doesn’t mean the same as the feeling of happiness. This is joy that defies circumstances and rises above feelings to give us deep, abiding joy – because Jesus dwells with us.