In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God . . . And the Word became flesh and lived among us.
Let’s see – by my calculation it’s the sixth day of Christmas. To some, perhaps to you, that means you’re due those six geese a-laying to add to the stock pile of five golden rings, four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves and the ever popular partridge …
It’s been an exciting week – not only in the world of accumulating a variety of exotic birds to befriend or roast for feasting as the case may be. There’s been feasting in the Church as well, four feast days in the past week: the feasts of the Nativity, St. Stephen, St. John the Apostle and Evangelist, and the Holy Innocents. And in this sense, this is the most festive time of the year!!
This time in between Christmas and New Year’s always feels to me like time suspended; we’ve arrived at the major event and we’re now coasting along into the new year. There’s something of the same feeling in today’s Gospel reading from the first chapter of John. Time, in terms of historic time, is suspended. The reading takes us back to the beginning – before historic time. It pulls us out of our time into God’s time.
The gospel reading is not a story – it’s poetry. And it reminds us of the poetry in the first chapter of Genesis:
“In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light.”
The Prologue of John’s Gospel reveals an evolution in the understanding of Genesis. John says that the Word was in the beginning – the Word was with God – the Word WAS God. And John tells us that it was through the Word that creation happened. God spoke creation into being; he spoke life and light into being. And at one point in history about 2000 years ago, that Word became flesh. That same Word was born as a man on this planet – and his name is Jesus.
All this takes a bit of adjustment in our thinking. It requires us to enlarge our outlook and understanding – to try to see as God sees – to try to let go of our human way of seeing time – to step out of history into the eternal realm . . .
The other three gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke, give us the historic facts of Jesus coming into this world – the stories of Mary and Joseph, his parents, and Jesus’ birth in the town of Bethlehem. These stories begin in history. But the purpose of the opening of John’s gospel is to step out of history in order tell us what all this means. What is the meaning of Jesus’ incarnation, Jesus coming to us as a man. What this means in the larger picture outside of history.
Basically John tells us about two things: revelation and relationship. John tells us that God reveals himself to us solely through Jesus Christ; and John tells us about how God relates with Jesus and how God relates with us.
Jesus is the Word of God. Practically speaking, words are the clearest revelation to us of who someone else is. We can begin get an initial impression of another person by observing their appearance, their demeanor, their actions – but when we hear them speak, when we have a conversation, the revelation of who they are becomes much, much clearer. What someone says is, perhaps, the clearest expression of who they are. So as the Word of God, Jesus is how we get to know God – not just how we get to know about God – but how we get to actually know God and begin to have a relationship with him. Jesus is how we talk with God. When we speak with Jesus we are speaking with God.
Not only is Jesus the Word; Jesus is the Word made flesh. In Jesus, God became human. And as a human being, Jesus became vulnerable to the darkness of this world. He knew hunger, he knew homelessness . . . injustice . . . poverty . . . abandonment. In Jesus God became vulnerable to death. And because he knows death and darkness, he understands our pain when darkness surrounds us.
We can go to Jesus with anything – he’s been there, been through it all. Jesus is the light that shines in the darkness, and our darkness does not – can not – overcome Jesus’ light. “We have seen his glory . . . full of grace and truth . . . From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.”
At Christmas Jesus comes to us as the Word of God, the light of the world – ideal, divine perfection. The Good News of John’s gospel is that the divine ideal becomes reality. The divine ideal comes into our reality. Our lives can be changed. We can be transformed by the grace of God in the presence of Jesus Christ. God can make us like Jesus.
At Christmas Jesus comes to live with us as a man, a fellow human being. If we accept him, he comes to live with us intimately as a brother . . . And if we invite him in – if we open ourselves to become a living temple – Jesus actually comes to live in us. He is the light that shines in and through our internal darkness. He is the light that shines forth from out lives into the world.
Let us pray:
Almighty God, you have poured upon us the new light of your incarnate Word: Grant that this light, enkindled in our hearts, may shine forth in our lives; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.