Read John 1: 1-14 here.
Merry Christmas! Today is the day we celebrate the birth of our King, Jesus Christ. Today is the day when the past four weeks of anticipation – the last four weeks of Advent – find fulfillment.
So you might say that today, Christmas day, is the fulfillment of everything that we’ve been doing for the past month. And because Christmas falls at the end of our calendar year, you might say it’s the culmination of the year. Of course, I’m sure you know that the celebration of Christ’s birth on December 25th is largely arbitrary. It’s highly unlikely that Jesus was born at this time of year. The Church, however many years ago, chose this day and this time of year for the remembrance and celebration of Christ’s birth for a variety of reasons. Nevertheless, for many of us, Christmas is the big celebration that closes off our year.
Our passage today is the prologue to the gospel of John. It reads as follows:
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 overcomeit.
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 husband’s 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.
15 (John testified concerning him. He cried out, saying, “This is the one I spoke about when I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’”) 16 Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God andis in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.John 1: 1-18
Now this is a passage that we’ve talked about several times in a few different contexts. So I don’t want to spend time on particular exegetical considerations. However, and I apologize if much of this is redundant for some of you, I do want to touch base on a few thoughts, some reflections that arise out of this passage for me.
The first thing we’re likely to notice is that the first words of John’s Prologue echo the first words of Genesis (“In the beginning…). Now it seems quite clear that this similarity is intentional. As opposed to simply a very artless way of beginning the narrative (“Let’s begin at the beginning…”), John is intentionally calling his readers back to Genesis.
Now I don’t want to spend any time examining this reference in Genesis. But as we likely know, Genesis chapter 1 (to 2:3) contain the creation story (we’re also not going to get into the relationship between Genesis 1 and Genesis 2). So the creation story in Genesis 1:1 – 2:3 is the seven days account. And while I don’t want to introduce a debate as to the nature of this account (whether or not we are to take it literally, and indeed how literally), I would argue that the function of this passage is not to tell us how God created the heavens and the earth, but that God created the heavens and the earth. Further, the account tells us not only that God created the heavens and the earth, but it tells us about the nature of the relationship between God and creation. That is, creation happened and happens by the word of God, and by the word of God because of the will of God.
So again, in my opinion, the significance of the Genesis 1 account is not the reporting of the mechanics. Rather, it’s a statement about cosmology (the study of the nature of the universe). It tells us that the nature of the universe, the nature of creation, is found in God’s will.
Now I don’t want to get side-tracked in Genesis so let’s return to John 1. Again, when the early Christians (or other audience) read or heard these words, they would very likely recall those same words in Genesis 1. And it’s not the particular words or the exact phrase (“In the beginning…). Rather, it’s the statement of cosmology – or the statement about God and His relationship with creation – that I think they would have thought about.
So, unlike the gospel writers Matthew and Luke, John doesn’t begin his story of Jesus with a birth narrative (Mark also doesn’t tell us about Jesus’ birth, but for different reasons). If we read Matthew and Luke first, we may think this is a little odd. Because if you’re telling the story of Jesus, the birth of Jesus seems like an obvious place to begin. But John isn’t concerned with chronology (at least as far as this Prologue is concerned); he’s concerned with theology. He’s not concerned with sequence; he’s concerned with significance.
So, again speaking briefly and simply, what is the significance of what John is talking about here? What’s the theology? In short, John says two main (and interrelated) things:
The first thing that John states is that Jesus, here equated with the Greek concept of Logos, is God. Now Jesus as Logos is a subject which I’m sure you’ve heard about before, so I won’t go on about it. But the notion that the Greek logos, a foundational principle for the formation and understanding of reality is equated with Jesus is highly significant. And Jesus as God, as part of the Trinity, and along with the Father, created the world. Now this isn’t just a statement about instrumentality, then – it’s a statement about source. It’s a statement about foundations. That is, the world, all of creation, has its source, its foundation, in Jesus Christ.
Now we are essentially bypassing John’s statements about John the Baptist, but we might simplify by saying it relates to God’s promises for redemption. Or, Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promises.
Now John doesn’t really talk about God’s covenant promises here. Instead, John uses the language of Jesus as light. Now, throughout his gospel, John has a tendency to talk in terms of dualisms: for example, light vs. dark. And according to John, it is through the light that we can become children of God.
The next thing that John talks about is Jesus being incarnated into human form (“the Word became flesh”). And John says that Jesus becoming human is the means by which God (the Father) is working out his plans for redemption.
And so in summary form, John tells us that:
16 Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God andis in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.John 1: 16-18
In other words, Jesus Christ, God made man, the Word and the light, is the fulfillment of God’s promise and plan to redeem humanity, begun and pointed to in the Old Testament Law, to redeem creation. In Jesus Christ, we see the true revelation of God and his purpose in human history.
So what we might say is that while the passage in Genesis talks about the first creation of the world, and that this created world has its source and its foundation in God alone, this passage in John’s gospel talks about the “creation” of the new world, the new life, that has its source and its foundation in Jesus Christ.
Now what does any of this has to do with Christmas, with the celebration of Jesus’ birth? Well, there are a lot of ways we could think about it. But for me, at least today, this has to do with beginnings. Creation, in the Genesis 1 way we often think about it, obviously has to do with the beginning. But the birth of Jesus Christ is also a beginning. Not just of the Jesus story, but the beginning of our new life.
And I bring this to your attention because of the (possible) tendency to think of Christmas as the end of the year. Because of the unfortunate placement of Christmas at the end of our calendar year, we may tend to think of Jesus’ arrival on earth, Jesus’ incarnation, as an end instead of the beginning. Even because of the observance of the Advent season, we might think of Christmas as the end of waiting instead of the beginning of living.
Not too long ago, I read A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking. It’s a really interesting book, though to be honest I didn’t understand all of it. But it attempts to explain the universe, how it was created, how it functions, where it’s headed, from the perspective of a physicist. In theory, these things are supposed to help us understand the universe. And for some, understanding such things about the universe helps us understand our place in it. But while physics (and other sciences) may be able to explain (or at least describe) how the universe works, it cannot explain why it matters. It may describe the mechanics, but it cannot provide the meaning.
And we are all searching for meaning. The meaning of life is one of those questions – perhaps the question – that occupies the hearts and minds of most human beings. It is with the hope of finding the meaning of life that we seek religion, that we study philosophy, that we long for relationships. Some people hope to find that meaning through career, and money, and success – to leave a mark on the world.
To me, it makes perfect sense that we’re searching for meaning – because we as human beings have lost our meaning. We’ve become disconnected from the source, lost our footing from the foundation. We cannot understand our place and purpose in the universe if we don’t understand why it exists in the first place.
Jesus Christ came to reconnect us with the source, to give us our foundation – to restore that which was lost. And perhaps the fact that He came to earth as a baby, as a human being, in time and space, tells us something about that. Of course, there’s an awful lot involved, theologically, with Christ’s incarnation. But perhaps it tells us something along the lines of “meaning isn’t found in some esoteric mysticism, some secret wisdom. Rather, it’s about inhabiting this creation, this life that is made possible by God, and God alone.”
So for those of us who have found that meaning, who have entered into the truth, true life is made possible. And though we are in the in-between, waiting still for Christ’s return, what that means is that we can now begin. From the Christian perspective, meaning is not something we work towards, something we achieve. Rather, we begin with meaning – we begin with truth. We live out the meaning, and we live out of the meaning.
Christmas for us, Christ’s arrival as true God and true human being, is not an end – no matter what the calendar may tell us. Though the calendar tells us that the year is coming to an end, with Christ’s arrival, we can finally begin. We are called to begin. We can begin to live the life that God has meant us for. We can begin to inhabit this creation that God has made for us. We can proclaim that the true light that gives light to everyone and everything has come into the world. So we no longer walk in the darkness. We no longer wait for something we have yet to discover. We walk in the light and in the truth.
“We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”John 1: 14b