…grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.
5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. 6There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. 10He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. 14And 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.
15(John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’”) 16From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known. John 1: 1-18
Maybe it’s all the lights on the Christmas trees or the candles that proliferate at this season but it all helps us consider Jesus, the light of the world. The backstory to that is this prevailing view of the world, of creation, as a dark, dangerous and fearsome place. In the classic Bible commentary, Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, we find this description: “in this dark, fallen world, or in mankind ‘sitting in darkness and the shadow of death,’ with no ability to find the way either of truth or of holiness. In this thick darkness, and consequent intellectual and moral obliquity, ‘the light of the Word’ shineth.”
Jesus is God’s candle that chases away the darkness and makes it possible for humanity to see the corruption of their culture and the palpable darkness of thier lives. That might suggest that, adequately informed, humanity might do something to clean up their act. Hadn’t happened yet.
For most persecuted peoples, persons brought against there wills to lives of servitude or people like early Quakers who were persecuted for their challenges to cultural norms, developing themes of overcoming the darkness, a messianic hope that might not come until sometime after their own demise, Jesus offers hope in this thick darkness. George Fox wrote: Sing and rejoice you children of the day and of the light; for the Lord is at work in this thick night of darkness that may be felt. And truth flourishes as the rose, and the lilies do grow among the thorns, and the plants atop of the hills, and upon them the lambs do skip and play.
What could be a more appropriate message for the winter solstice? For untold thousands of years human beings have lived by observing the changes of nature. The mound builders who populated our continent and whose identity is lost in pre-history invested much time and effort to build structures to help them survive the changes of seasons by observing the movement of the lights of the sky. Like the builders of stone-henge who made visits to that site both in mid-summer and during the winter solstice when the sun would set between the largest of the central arches. How appropriate for us to connect the birth of Jesus to what the ancients understood to be the rebirth of nature.
As satisfying as that may be for persecuted people or for people who have no notion of how our solar system operates for those of us who expect to have ripe tomatoes and cantaloupe in winter and who don’t let winter weather slow our economy and who are not being persecuted for our race, gender, or faith I believe there is a more apt metaphor lying dormant in this forward to John’s gospel.
Imagine Jesus, the Word, as God’s love song, singing life into the world’s babble, chaos and anxiety. John’s description of Jesus in the Prologue is poetic, even lyrical speech. It is an echo of or response to God’s love song, which is Christ. Maybe you can hear the plain song hymn “Of the Father’s Love Begotten” as you meditate on John’s words. We might imagine the proclamation of the good news as a Christmas carol — more evocative than explanatory — because this is in keeping with the reading’s genre and because most of us as we approach Christmas aren’t thinking logically. It’s better to inspire than inform.
John sings that Jesus is the Word of God become flesh, who from all eternity was with God, and actually is God. While we think of “word” as something written or printed, the word John uses to describe Jesus means first of all something said. In Luke’s Christmas story, angels bring the good news of great joy. In John, Jesus has been singing love and bringing life from the beginning – from the very beginning of creation.
Genesis tells us that God said, “Let there be . . .” and there was. God spoke day and night, heaven and earth, land and sea, plants and animals, and us into being. Jesus is that utterance. Jesus is God’s eternal speech, which existed before anything else and called everything else into being.
John regards both law and grace as God’s life-giving, world-changing speech. As the law was given through Moses as the Word of God, John says, so grace and truth are given to us in Jesus Christ. This figure of speech, God’s eternal expression, was articulated within our world and within human history in a particular person. Jesus, then, is “God’s sermon preached to us in the living out of a human life.” Jesus became the en-fleshment of what God says to us.
And what is God saying to us? First, God says, “This is who I am!” God speaks in Jesus as in no other way; not as in the Bible, not as in nature, not as by human reason or accomplishment, not as by listening to inner voices. Jesus tells us who God is. In Jesus we hear that God heals, forgives, embraces outcasts, and prays even for those who hurt him. In Jesus we hear that God understands betrayal and denial, suffering and pain, humiliation and death. Jesus tells us that God knows that, both as individuals and as a world, we need a Savior; and Jesus is that Savior. In Jesus we hear that God brings victory over despair, defeat, destruction, and death; and God wills and shares that victory with us, with humanity, with creation.
The Christ who comes to us not only tells us who God is; Jesus speaks God’s power into our lives. John writes, “But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God” (John 1:12). What phenomenal good news! That “all who” is you and me. Jesus can do this because Jesus has power to create, power over all creation, power to restore us to what God wants us to be, and to give life everlasting.
As God’s Speech, Jesus is able to do as he wishes; and what Jesus wishes is to give to men, women, and children the authentic, abundant life of the children of God by breathing the Holy Spirit into us.
God is not unknown to us. John says, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” I might say, “Though other voices strive to drown it out, God’s Love Song is not silent.” All that we could possibly know in this world about God is disclosed as fully as possible in Jesus Christ. John writes, “No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made God known.”
In response to God’s Love Song, we echo Luke’s angels and sing, “Glory to God in the highest and peace to his people on earth!” John’s Hymn of Praise is different. John glorifies God with another hymn:
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father. And from his fullness have we all received, grace upon grace.”
Although we may not be singing these exact words, Jesus, God’s Speech made flesh, sings them into our hearts so that we know who God is. Knowing who God is, we know who we are. And we sing.