Today we are still thinking about the coming of Jesus into our world, but framed in quite a different way from the stories we have recently heard of the baby born in the manger. There are no angels or shepherds, no wise men, no Mary and Joseph. There isnt even a baby! Our reading is the prologue to the Gospel according to the apostle John.
John 1:1-14 New International Version
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
6 There was a man sent from God whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.
9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husbands will, but born of God.
14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
"In the beginning " : an awe-inspiring and majestic proclamation that what is about to be told has no need of any reference point, because it will itself provide the reference point for everything else that follows.
It echoes Genesis of course, quite deliberately. John is about to announce an event that is as dynamically original and generative as the process of Creation that was described when that phrase was first used. Everything that follows from this moment in time will reverberate throughout Creation as the voice of God did in the beginning.
The opening sentence tells us that the logos, the thought, deed and power of God was present and active in the original acts of Creation. The closing sentence in this excerpt tells us that this logos, this thought, deed and power of God became flesh and dwelt among us.
John wants us to be arrested by the enormity of this intrusion of the divine into human life and community. He paints a picture of the outpouring of creative power that comes from the presence of the logos within the world and how it re-creates the parameters of human existence.
The language he uses is grand, and deep, sometimes so deep we are overwhelmed, and flounder in it, so perhaps this paraphrase will help us appreciate the message John proclaims:
John 1:114 Paraphrase by Jim Stamper, Emmanuel Episcopal Church, Virginia, U.S.
Initially there was a pattern for everything.
The pattern was God's; God was the pattern.
The pattern was always God.
Everything came from that pattern.
There isn't anything else.
The pattern is both the source of life and the meaning of life.
It is a way of being alive in opposition to death, and death cannot overcome it.
God sent a man named John to tell people about the possibilities of this way of being alive in opposition to death so everybody would trust the source of life. John wasn't the source of life; he taught how to recognize the pattern. The true pattern, the source and meaning of everybody's life, was coming to people.
To some people, however, life, and what life is all about, is unrecognizable. Some who could be expected to see the possibilities of this way of being alive select death instead. Others embrace life. They trust what life offers.
Life offers something more intense than the strongest family ties: obtaining a new parent, God, the source, the meaning of life itself.
The initial pattern for everything that is became a human being and lived among us.
I think that helps translate the message for us: Gods purpose was to create a radically different perspective and framework within which human beings could understand their role and place in the ongoing life of Creation. Until this time, people saw themselves as living under a god who periodically chastised and punished them for their failure to live by the rules that had been imposed upon them. God was autocratic and unknowable; his anger and vengeance was sometimes as great as his mercy was on other occasions.
Into the earthly arena of this often uneasy relationship came Jesus, and the Greek text says he has come to translate (exegesato) God to us. Gods thought, deed and power is translated into another language for us; the language of human existence and life.
Jesus translates for us an invitation to a life-changing offer - to join the family. God has opened his arms wide to welcome us in to a different, closer, more intimate relationship. No longer are we to think ourselves as separate from and subject to a distant, unknowable authority figure.
We know that deep and strong bonds of love are shared by people who have no blood-ties to one another, but who have chosen to be involved in one anothers lives. This is the nature of our relationship with God. We are not bound by duty or blood, but because we have chosen to be involved in one anothers lives.
And being part of Gods life enriches us. As the paraphrase version expresses it: Life that is the life we can choose to enter into by accepting Jesus offer of relationship offers something more intense than the strongest family ties: God, the source, the meaning of life itself.
This more intense experience of life is like the difference between dipping your toes in a puddle and jumping into a clear, refreshing pool. We are borne up by the water, but we can dive more deeply into it as well. We can make our way through it, or be carried along by it; we are extended and made stronger by our engagement with it. And the only thing better than this experience is to participate in it with others. The good times of life are made more precious by experiencing them with other people. Even sharing difficult or sad times creates bonds between us, and when we are collectively in relationship with God, yet another dimension is added.
This is an important aspect of the nature of the thought, deed and power of God it is communal. Jesus is of God and from God. John the Baptist, whom Jesus honoured among the great prophets, is described in the Greek as being sent from alongside (para) God. And Jesus is the true light that gives light to everyone, and to all who received him he gave the power to become children of God.
As one commentator* remarked, this is not about our individual appropriation of Jesus, but Gods appropriation of humanity, through Christ, and how God lives in the greatest intimacy with his followers.
This change of perspective corrects the imbalance that comes about when we view the world as if it flowed from us. Remembering that it flows from God and we are part of the stream of Gods own life results, paradoxically, not in the loss of our power and significance, but in the blossoming of a sense of liberation and empowerment. This comes about because the truth is established in this new perspective and we rejoice to find ourselves in a position where we accept and take up our role as children of God.
This is a good place to finish this reflection this morning, in position to greet what God chooses to share with us in this coming year, enriched and willing to be part of his blessing to the world. May we walk with God, Amen.
* John Petty Progressive involvement: lectionary blogging, Dec. 27, 2010