John 1: 1-14
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. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
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. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
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.
The incarnation of God depends on two things. Firstly, as we discussed last week, God became fully human and lived through all the highs and lows of humanity. Now, we must look to another aspect of the incarnation: How does a human being contain Godhood within themselves. How can there be a God in Heaven, while that selfsame God walks the Earth? How could we ever understand God being among us, when even our best language tends to fall short?
There is a balance to strike in Christianity, one that we seldom get quite right. On one hand we must be practical people who are invested in the world as it is and working toward the world as it ought to be. We do this is living out the ministry of Jesus as Jesus first lived it, preaching and healing and loving all those we can. To put it very simply, there is a clear practical element of our faith. However, beyond mere practicality is our need to, even at the most basic level, articulate our understandings of God and how God interfaces in the world. This is our theological ministry.
Today, we focus on the theological, how the eternity of God can exist in our finite reality. Though scripture is never meant to be read as a schematic for the universe, it certainly can give us tools that we can then use to discern the shape of things. Looking at our scripture today we can begin to understand that to say Jesus is our Emmanuel, God with us, is not an attribution given following the resurrection, but is an essential and eternal reality of Christ and how Christ established creation. Jesus, the Word of God, predates everything.
Our scripture today opens with one of the most beautiful sentences in all of scripture. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” A mentor of mine growing up, always said a person learning Greek should memorize this verse. Ἐν αρχη ἡν ὁ Λογος και ὁ Λογος ἡν προς τον Θεον και Θεος ἡν ὁ Λογος.
The essential claim of this verse can be separated into three sections. Firstly, that at the very beginning of the Universe, Genesis 1:1, “When God was creating,” Jesus was there. Though not yet in a physical body, Christ was working in creation. When God spoke, “Let there be light,” Christ was the one who lit the flames of the primordial universe. Later in the passage John elaborates on this verse, “the world came to being through him.” However it was that God moved his dark materials to bring about order from chaos, Christ was the artisan that fashioned them. Nothing exists that does not have Christ’s fingerprints on them, we are all handiwork of God.
This language, if left on its own, would allow for people to reduce the Word, to reduce Jesus, to a tool of God rather than an intimate partner of God’s creative work. That is where the second part of verse one comes in. “The Word was with God,” literally, the word was, “in front of God.” This relationship, face to face, means that God and the Word saw one another on equal footing. They were not just partners, one was not less than the other, but they met together and created together in perfect concert.
Still, there is room in the first two portions of this verse to mistake John’s message about Jesus. So far, the Word is an eternal entity alongside God, one that is intimately connected to God, but in the final portion of verse one John reveals the most incredible aspect of his message. This Word, that created all things, that stood alongside God, was at the same time, God. There was a duality hereto unknown in the universe. Both God and God’s Word were somehow distinct and individual persons of a single and unified Divinity. As John explains throughout his Gospel and in his reference to Genesis 1, there is another member of this unity as well, the Holy Spirit. Three persons, one God, the root of Trinitarian theology expressed in a single verse of scripture.
For centuries, the Church debated how to take this news, that Jesus the crucified Messiah, was also the eternal God whom they had always worshipped. Extremes were created across the spectrum of Christian belief to try and explain how this reality could be true. Some formed the belief that God the Father abdicated the heavenly throne and took on flesh, thus becoming Jesus – this belief is called, “Patripassianism,” or, “The Suffering Father.” Others decided that Jesus was not originally God, but became so after the resurrection – Jesus in this scheme was the first created thing through whom all things were made, but ultimately a secondary creature to God – this belief we now call “Arianism,” after the bishop – Arius – who popularized it.
Hundreds of other theories and sects were created to try and explain how Jesus, the word of God, was somehow on equal footing with God the Father and God the Spirit. Oceans of ink has been spilled to try and tease out how exactly God could inhabit humanity and oftentimes the more complex an example was given, the farther away from what we know to be true about God we, as the Church, came. The mystery of the Trinity ultimately abhors complexity.
Christ is and always has been God, as has God the Father and God the Spirit. Three full persons who are somehow one entity. Scripture uses a single word to describe this unity – Θεοτης (Theotes.) This word is perhaps best translated as, “Godhood,” or “God-ness.” The Three members of the Trinity, each one of them with their own personality and individuality, all share God-ness with one another. They move as one, they act as one, and our prayers to any member of the Trinity are heard by all three. They are the most definite vision of unity and of difference in all of existence. The simple truth of them is that they are one together God and yet always each their own persons.
What this means for us, is what John lays out throughout our scripture. God brought John the Baptist to proclaim the coming of the Word into the world. John was a foretaste of all that Jesus would bring – baptizing with water where Christ would unleash the Spirit to all people. John lived his ministry out and was killed because of his opposition to the rulers of his day. The glory of God, which John reintroduced the world to, could not be suppressed and shone out with every action Christ took while on this Earth.
Christ, who was from the very beginning God, entered the world as a baby and lived through every trouble and joy of life. Celebrating weddings, sitting beside the sick in their beds, talking with Mary and with Martha – no action of Christ was minor. That we participate in the divine life through living out the basic beats of our own lives is a miracle that we cannot let go of. Yet, the way we choose to live our life is often so different from how Christ lived his life, that when Christ came to be among us, we had no idea we looked at God when we looked at him.
When Jesus worked with the poor and the outcast, we accused him of keeping bad company. When Jesus cared for the sick and the broken, we accused him of leading them into sin. When Jesus questioned the powers of this world, we accused him of being a dangerous revolutionary bent on destroying society. When we, the human race, met Jesus, we rejected him at every turn because he was a threat to our understanding of everything. Christ was the perfect person, and so showed us every way our life went astray. Christ was at the very same time God and showed us that our images of God we created for ourselves were fundamentally flawed.
The incarnation, which we celebrate at Christmastide, is the moment when the universe began to turn in another direction. God revealed Godself in the most definite way possible, taking on human form and living among us. The life of Jesus was an example for what we might become if we lived a life in line with God, but it was also a refutation of the present life we lived. Christ came to be among us to save us from Sin and at the very same time to save us from ourselves. The kingdom came and the offer was made for us to join. What must we do now?
The eternity of God is a promise to the eternity of the Kingdom which we are invited to join. Our salvation, given freely by a God who did so much for us, is something put in motion before even the world began. It will last for an eternity beyond our present moment. God in human form came down to save us and we now enjoy the benefit of that eternal God in Christ.
The Word who was with God in the beginning promises that we shall be with God for eternity. The Word who stood before God at creation’s start promises that we will stand before the throne of God as Children of God. The Word who is God has equipped us to become all that we ever could be, true image bearers of God. This Word came to us at Christmas, this Word will come to save us once again, and in the meantime, we nurture the attributes of God which are shown to us in Christ.
In a few days we celebrate the beginning of a New Year, and I don’t think we will miss the one which has gone away. Let us live into this year with the fullness of God before us. As we climb out of some of the troubles we have faced this year, let us take hold of one another and support one another. When we see problems, long standing and hard to face, let us hear the words of John echo in our mind. “In the beginning was the Word,” and in the future for all eternity. Christ our Lord, through the visitation of the Spirit, keeps us tied to all of God. We will never be abandoned, and the light will always shine against all opposition. God is with us, praise God. – Amen.