John 1:1–18 (NRSV)
The Word Became Flesh
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
14 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. 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.’ ”) 16 From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 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.
The Christmas season is one of great importance. For most of us we get to December 25th and we imagine that the season is over. But in the liturgical calendar the season of Christmas extends twelve days beyond the 25th day of December (which is the first day of Christmas) to January 5th, the last day of Christmas. Today is the ninth day of Christmas, the day our true love gives to us the nine ladies dancing. Of course the ever kill joy website Snopes has said that the popular Christmas carol has nothing to with teaching Christians of faith but what they don’t realize is that anything can be used to teach others about the grace and love of God.
Why do I bring up the concept of the twelve days of Christmas? I mainly do this because the fullness of Christ coming, the theological implications of the very birth of Christ cannot be fully contained in a celebration of one day. Christmas must be a season, we need to reflect on the meaning and implications of the divine taking on flesh and being born as a human, over the course of several days. If we try to push it into one day we lose the fullness of the event. And if we lose focus of the fullness of the event we can focus in on singularities surrounding the event and quite possibly lose focus of what the meaning really is.
Just consider the birth of any child. How many days do we consider the child a newborn? Western cultures all see that it is very important to give parents time for bonding with a new child in the family. Both mothers and fathers are given legally protected leave from their jobs for a limited period of time so that the child can bond with the family. Why would we make laws about this sort of thing? Because it is scientifically proven that without this period of time social development can be hindered. Bonding takes time. We celebrated the birth of Jesus nine days ago, and we are now in the season of bonding, learning, recognizing, and understanding. This is not something that happens overnight but it takes time, it requires a season.
So let’s take this time today to bond with Christ. To look into his eyes, to study his features and enjoy his presence. I said a couple of weeks ago that the prologue of John’s Gospel is probably my favorite Christmas passage and I stand by that statement today. I say this because this passage goes deeper than just a mere description of what happened on that day 2000 years ago, but it is as if we are sitting with the babe just after the late night feeding looking at the face of the child and trying to determine whose nose his closest resembles. It is a description of the event that is more relational and personal than any other. It is looking into the eyes of the child and seeing the universe.
Many scholars believe that the prologue to John’s Gospel might possibly be an ancient hymn of some sort, a poetic profession of faith that can easily transmit theological ideals. That is pretty much where the agreement among scholars stops. Some go on to say that these first few verses were corrupted by early heretical movements of the Gnostics because the words revolve around the central theme of divine or secret wisdom or knowledge. Other say that it dives deeper into the ancient Jewish concepts of creationism. It does not really matter what the scholars want to debate because the truth remains that these words all point to Jesus as being the Word of God, or the true source of Life.
I want to focus on this for a moment. John’s Gospel was and still is the most theologically packed gospel of the New Testament. Every group from the most heretical to the most orthodox group uses the words penned by John to hold up their teachings, or to tear down their competition. The Gnostics would use these verses to point to the secret knowledge, while others use it to point to the supremacy of God. We as humans tend to pick favorite passages to support our ideas and build on them. Just like focusing on the singular ideas of Christmas causes us to lose the reality of Christmas focusing on singular concepts in scripture can cause us to lose focus of what true faith is. What I want us to consider is the idea of Word of God. For most of us we would say that the word of God is scripture. That is not what this is saying. The Word of God is God Himself. It is the meaning behind the words that we can read. It is the inflection behind the words that we speak. In the Word there is life, it is not because the words themselves have power, but because there is power within the Being the words describe. Scripture is important, it is very important, it is inspired writing that speaks directly to the core of our being but it is powerful only because of Who and what the words written about describe.
Let me explain a bit further. In the second section of this passage, the author leave the abstract mystical realm and begins to speak about a man by the name of John. In the other Gospels we are introduced to him as John the Baptist but here we are just told that he was a man sent by God as a witness to the light. The teachings of John though inspired and powerful are only witness to something far greater. Scripture as well is a witness of something far greater. It speaks of events that happened among people that either followed or neglected to follow God. It has poetry that causes our minds to be redirected to a concept that is just beyond our comprehension but can allow our finite spirits to commune with something greater. The words written reflect the light but the words and those that wrote the words are not the Light, or the source of Life. The words of scripture are only witnesses to the true Word which is God.
The author begins to speak of the abstract mystical concepts of Jesus in the precreation era, he then speaks of the finite tangible ideas of humanity’s understanding, and then goes back into the abstract of the precreation personality of the Word, coming into the world. Again this is heavy stuff that we cannot just quickly go through without considering the implications. He says that, “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.”
Think about this. God, the Word, the source of all wisdom and knowledge, the very essences and spring of Life, came to dwell among us and though everything about us still sings the hymns of creation that echo the Words of Life did not know the voice that first sang the song. How is it that we could lose this? How is it that we could miss something as vitally important as the very source of life? It is a refrain that has been repeated through all of human existence.
We have ideas that we find as being wise, we pull authoritative texts to support our ideas, and then we build a following up around those ideas. In the process we neglect all the rest of the testimony of Scripture and we become an empty shadow of the truth. John was not the light, he was only a man sent by God to bear witness to the light. We are only humans that bear witness to the light, we do not and cannot possibly know all there is to know about creation. We have only begun to understand a miniscule portion of meaning of Life. Yet often we go around claiming to know the Truth.
“And the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him.” This phrase rips the very heart out of my chest, because it says that in my humanity, though I might think I am following God I might actually be far from Him. Though I might know quite a bit about scripture, though I spend hours upon hours in study and prayer over what I read and what I say I might have missed the entire point of what God was actually trying to say.
John wrote these words to a group of people that knew the ancient customs of the first century Jewish people. If there is one thing that can be said about these ancient people it is that they valued education. Every community had a synagogue and in that synagogue they would teach the scripture to every boy in the community. They would memorize the Torah, or the books of the law until they came of age to be seen by the community as Men. From that moment on they would learn the family business and while not working they could come and listen to higher teachings of the rabbis. If they happened to exhibit a mind of a scholar a rabbi may ask them to become a disciple where they would leave the family business and engage a life fully devoted to the study of Torah and the writings of the prophets. There is one thing for certain, every man knew the scripture. Jesus came into the world to a people that knew scripture, they lived and breathed scripture it was the central aspect of their lives the foundation of their businesses. And it was to these people a child was born, a child whose flesh contained the infinity of creation, yet these people looked into His eyes and they did not know him. Yet some would look a bit deeper and would catch a glimpse. Some would be drawn just a bit closer and their perspectives were widened to see beyond the surface. “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.”
We need twelve days of Christmas, we need a season to reflect, a timeframe to contemplate the implications of Emanuel. We need time to become accustomed to the child that was born in the flesh but contained the wholeness of all. We need to be able to hold his tiny hands and look into the wide eyes of the baby so we can begin to grasp the true meanings of what Christmas really is. We need this time. We need it because when we hold the baby, the truth of life is revealed. Life is precious, it is fragile, beautiful, wonderful, delicate, amazing, and worthwhile. It is also hard, whinny, unexpected, unavoidable, dirty, and full of surprises. It makes us laugh and makes us cry. Life is worth it all. Time magically stops for a moment when we look into the face of a baby, and yet at the same moment the universe spreads out before us. The babies among us are reflections of God’s creation hymn, witnesses to the Word. They are reflections. As we enter into this time of open worship and communion among Friends, consider the first time you held a baby, it doesn’t matter if it was a kitten, a calf or a child just think back and look at him or her in your mind. Reflect on the tiny body of flesh and the vastness of the night’s sky. Consider the vulnerability of the babe and the fullness contained within. Reflect on the joy, sorrow, and hope for the future. Do not rush away from the moment look at the baby. 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. Jesus came to the world as a baby, and even as an infant He shows us the True Word. What does that child say to you?