January 3, 2016, Second Sunday After Christmas
The Gospel of John does not begin with stories about Mary and Elizabeth, the birth of the baby Jesus, or a visitation by shepherds. We don’t read of blessings or circumcisions or teaching in the Temple. No, with John’s gospel, we are at once taken back to the beginning and ahead to a new beginning.
John’s opening words echo the opening words of Genesis. There we read the account of God’s creation of the world and all that is in it. Listen to the story:
In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day. (Genesis 1:1-5)
I’m sure you remember the rest of the story. Over the next five days, God creates land and sea; the sun, moon, and stars; and living creatures of every type and form – including humankind. That first man and woman enjoyed the beauty of God’s creation in company with God. They lived in a garden of splendor beyond anything we can even imagine. And for a time, their lives were very good.
But then the serpent and a forbidden fruit came into the picture. One bite, and Adam and Eve found themselves cast out of the garden, removed from their close communion with God, struggling to survive in a world suddenly gone hard and dark.
God in that first creation made something very good, something with which God was well-pleased. God delighted in this new world and in these humans made in God’s own image. God walked “in the garden at the time of the evening breeze” (Genesis 3:8), seeking the company of all that had come into being during the act of creation. But that wonderful new beginning became a source of sorrow and heartache for the most high God. Sin separated humankind from God, and their relationship was fractured.
The Gospel of John describes a second creation. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (1:1). This Word – this logos: word, spirit, and mind – would redeem all people and open the path for a new relationship with God. “Jesus would become God’s infinite reconciliation entering into time and space.”[i]
All of John’s poetic language and abstract ideas testify to the person of this Jesus, in whom God is made known. When John speaks of the Word, he speaks of Jesus. When he says that “the light shined in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it,” that light is Jesus. That light erases all of the darkness, the selfishness, the haughtiness, the egotism, the anger that consumes us and illuminates a path directly to the heart of God.
How is that possible? “Jesus not only speaks the Word of God; he is the Word of God. Jesus not only speaks the truth; he is the truth. Jesus not only does the work of God; he is God.”[ii] “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” (1:14). When Jesus, who existed even before that first creation, entered time and put on flesh, he reminded us that God’s creation is, after all, good. John tells us that in Jesus, God created the world, and in Jesus God redeems the world. For John Calvin, the incarnation of Jesus enables him to serve as our mediator with God, and because of that mediation, we are able once again to live in communion with God.
Our baptism serves as a sign and seal of God’s grace and our response and recognizes our Christian commitment. The Book of Order notes that “in baptism, we die to what separates us from God and are raised to newness of life in Christ” (W-2.3002).
Through Jesus, God poured God’s own self into human form. Indeed, through Jesus, God condescended to take the humblest of forms, that of a tiny baby, born to poor parents of no particular importance. All God asks of us is that we accept this Jesus as God’s true Word. When we do, we have the power to become children of God. John writes, “From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace” (1:16). To see Jesus in this way is to see Jesus’ Father as well. “Seeing Jesus is the closest we will ever come to actually seeing God.”[iii] Through John’s story of Jesus’ life, we are able to witness the ways in which we might work to embody God’s word as well.
In Jesus’ life, we see the importance of the Word not only as an abstract idea. We witness the ways in which the incarnate God embodied the Word. We see miracles and demon exorcisms and teachings. And we see God incarnate caring for the sick and dying, helping the poor, lifting up the brokenhearted, sharing with all those he meets.
With Jesus, the world has fundamentally changed. That change is rooted not in obedience to the law or by being born into a specific people. That change comes through the grace of God in Jesus Christ. Poet Jean Denton expresses God’s grace in these verses:
Good is the pleasure of God in our flesh,
longing in all, as in Jesus, to dwell,
glad of embracing, and tasting, and smell,
good is the body, for good and for God,
Good is the flesh that the Word has become.[iv]
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 (1:1-4).
[i] William J. Danaher Jr., Feasting on the Word C/1, 188
[ii] Paul J. Achtemeier, Feasting on the Word C/1, 193
[iii] Stephen Bauman, Feasting on the Word C/1, 190
[iv] Jean Denton, Good is the Flesh: Body, Soul, and Christian Faith; cited in Journey with Jesus, Daniel B. Clendenin, Jan. 3, 2016