In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.
We’re still in the season of Epiphany, that season which celebrates the making known of Jesus to the wider world, the world beyond Judaism as represented by the non-Jewish Wise Men of Matthew’s Gospel recognising the infant Jesus as King of the Jews, the Messiah. But here we are with one of the two Gospels that don’t seem to do Christmas and I’m sometimes asked why the church doesn’t use John’s Gospel more during the Nativity Season and, now that we’ve read it, it’s easy to see why: there’s no baby lying in a manger; there are no parents traveling to Bethlehem; there are no angels or shepherds; there’s no star and no Wise Men.
John doesn't set out to give us a historical account of Christmas. Whereas the other Gospel writer, Mark, doesn’t bother with the nativity at all, the opening of John’s Gospel as it deals with Jesus’ origins, does and does so in a completely different way if we look a little deeper and understand his message.
This passage also gives us something very like a confession of faith, a statement of belief about the incarnation of God: God made man. John isn't concerned about exactly what happened in Bethlehem during the reign of Caesar Augustus and King Herod. He’s much more concerned about what people believe about Jesus, and from the start John balances and compares two themes: the eternal cosmic sphere from where John makes a point of stressing Jesus came, and the day to day world of John the Baptist into which Jesus came.
There’s also a sort of witness testimony towards the end of today’s passage which talks about those who experienced the God incarnate in Jesus living amongst them, We have seen his glory….
It’s as if in this short passage John is anticipating - or possibly responding to – confusion about who Jesus was: not merely a teacher; not merely a prophet or a role model; not merely a miracle worker or a man of great compassion but God himself in human form. It’s as if John is saying, “Let’s get something clear from the outset. Everything that follows is to be seen in the light of Jesus, The One God, The Almighty, The Yahweh of Judaism - Jehovah - coming among us in human form.”
The Christmas confession of John's community extends beyond a baby being born and wrapped in cloths and laid in a manger. It is the belief that he existed before creation and he comes and lives among us now as he came and lived among them then.
So, this word “word”, Logos in Greek, can sometimes feel very theological and deep to those of us who prefer our mangers and shepherds and wise men but we really do need to see the two together which is why this is a standard Christmas reading, albeit one that doesn’t quite seem to fit with the general themes.
John takes us back to the beginning. He echoes words from the book of Genesis: In the beginning God created; God moved over the chaos and darkness and said, Let there be light. The God who moved over the face of the deep, over the darkness, this same God who was from the beginning and spoke that Word, is the God who became flesh and blood and dwelt among us. The word of God is seen as powerful and active throughout scripture: as we’ve seen, God creates the cosmos with speech. Jeremiah compares God's word to fire and to a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces, In Isaiah, God's word is rain that waters the earth, making it sprout and bring forth and it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
When Jesus is described as the Logos, The Word, it’s John’s way of describing Jesus as the revelation of God. Throughout the Old Testament God chooses to allow himself to be known in quite limited and restricted ways as he reveals aspects of himself to key people such as Abraham, Moses and the Prophets who interpret that understanding of God to the people. Their visions and experiences of God showed many of the characteristics of God as we understand him today – King, Judge, Almighty, All-powerfull, All-knowing, all-present etc. but rather distant and unknowable, certainly not personal in the way that we understand him today. But through the incarnation the God who wanted to be in relationship with his people becomes known and knowable in human form, to be spoken to face-to-face, walked with, eaten with, laughed with and wept with, and with those experiences came a knowledge of his love, his justice and his compassion. It doesn’t get more personal than that and later in this chapter John re-emphasises this idea when he writes, No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father's heart, who has made him known. Not God’s son but God the Son, God in human form. In him we have a permanent glimpse of God, and in him we’ve come to know more about God than was ever known before. In this man Jesus, they saw, and we see, the face of God.
This is what many of our friends who come from other faith backgrounds struggle with because their understanding of God remains at the level of the distant, the impersonal and the unknowable. The Quran itself says, “God forbid that He Himself should beget a son” and Jews still await the coming of The Messiah. It’s inconceivable to these faith groups and to others that God can be so knowable, so personal. And yet today’s passage from John talks about this revelation having been received by humanity and you can’t receive something that’s not been freely given. This incarnation is God’s gift to us – to us all.
To me, this brings us back to the deeper meaning of the word “word”. Do you remember when your children were infants, before they could speak? How we wished they could tell us what was going on inside of them. They would cry. We would ask, "Are you hungry? Do you hurt? What's wrong?" They didn't answer our questions with words. We had to guess the answers. Some form of communication was needed for us as parents to know what was going on inside that small child, what they were thinking, what they were feeling, what they wanted. That’s still true even now they’re adults. Without the sharing of words in some way: face-to-face, phoning, e-mailing, texting, we don't know what they’re doing, thinking, or feeling. We need words to understand what’s happening in each other’s’ lives. Words have power. Everything we say or write, however trivial is designed to evoke a response in someone else.
Jesus, as the Revealer of God, is like that. He communicates to us the thoughts, feelings, and desires of God. Yet, he doesn't just talk about what goes on inside God, he is God. His life reveals God to us. In order to know God, we need to look to Jesus, to listen to Jesus, to try and understand Jesus. So, if words are designed to evoke a response, what is the response that Jesus as The Word is supposed to evoke in us? The answer, surely, is belief. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God.
The intended outcomes of God speaking to the world in this way are eternal life and salvation as John outlines later in chapter 3.16-17, For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.Our task as disciples is to speak and live a language that has the same intended effect among our hearers. John talks of Jesus as the life and light of all people. Our response is surely to bring that same life and light to those we encounter in our own pilgrimage of f