And the Word Became Flesh and Dwelt Among Us
From the Gospel of John, Chapter 1, verses 1 and 14
In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was with God, and the Word was God. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory.
In these few words lie the heart of our Christian faith. In them we find our beginning and our end, our reason for being, and the axis that sets us apart from those who do not believe.
What exactly do they mean? They come from John’s Gospel, and John’s Gospel is unlike any other. The other three gospels talk about the events of Jesus life, but there is no mention of “the Word.” Here, it is the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us. John could have said God became man and dwelt among us. He could have said God became a baby and dwelt among us. And while that is true, he didn’t use that language. He said the Word becomes flesh and dwelt among us. Why?
First, some background. What do we know about John, the most provocative and contemplative Gospel writer?
John is an old man when his words are written down in Ephesus in about the year 100 AD. He has a wisdom and a level of contemplation that the other three gospel writers don’t have, and part of that is because he has has taken a lifetime to reflect. When he shares his memories, the details are perfectly sharp, but they are also imbued with a lifetime of knowledge and spiritual maturity.
Think of events early in your life, early in your young adult years. In some ways you can remember them perfectly. The images may, in fact, be much clearer than recent events. Sights, smells, places, sounds: close your eyes and you are right there. Yet you have a certain perspective. You understand things better. You interpret things that happened most likely with wisdom and the depth of years. And that is what John does. He shines light on the actions of Jesus from a place of contemplation, from an advanced spiritual maturity.
John also gives us something that other Gospel writers don’t have, for he was Jesus’ cousin. His mother was Salome, a relative of Mary, Jesus’ mother. Salome was the one who wanted Jesus to put her boys, James and John, on either side of his throne once he reached heaven. John the gospel writer was one of the Sons of Thunder, whom Jesus affectionately called Sons of Boagernes—men of great temper, undivided loyalty, and lightening quick responses.
The mind behind today’s Gospel is the beloved disciple, the one who took Mary into his home after Jesus had died. The mind here is the man who raced Peter to Jesus’ tomb after Mary Magdalene had sworn Jesus’ body was stolen…only to stop and let Peter enter the tomb first. And that loyalty and temper has by now died down…but what we see is a tremendous amount of wisdom, born of pain, born in first-hand knowledge of the resurrection, both in the ardent desire to share the news in a way that people can understand.
So why the use of the term “Word?” John understands that in the Hebrew world, once the word is set forth, it is full of power on its own, power that can’t be taken back. Once a blessing is given, it cannot be revoked. Once God’s word is pronounced, as in creating the heavens and the earth, it is done. From Hebrews, chapter 4, verse 12 “The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” The Word. Active. Alive. One in being with the father.
Yet in the Greek community—and by the time John was writing, the members of the Christian community were primarily from a Greek background, not Jewish—the term for Word is logos, which also means reason.
In one seamless effort, in his masterpiece opening to his gospel, John combines the best of Jewish and Greek thought in describing Jesus as the culmination of both reason and action, verb and noun. And from that place, that place that combines both heart and mind—the two key elements of the human spirit—he is also saying that Jesus is not only part of God, but is God….there before creation, there as part of creation, there…in that small child as the heart and mind and soul of God, always bearing light…always being the light.
It’s pretty intense stuff, this description of Jesus. And it is something that wouldn’t make much sense to a child. Mark and Matthew and Luke wrote in one dimension, and that’s why we usually tell the Christmas story from the manger point of view.
John writes from a three dimensional place…time and space together…and maybe just a bit of a fourth dimension going on there as well.
John’s words come to us in that place where words, with a small “w” are often not enough. Truth for John is found in the deepest of human experiences combined with the purest forms of reason and thought.
When have you known truth? Has it been when you’ve been reading an account of someone else’s life? I don’t think so. John can write about the Word becoming flesh because he experienced it.
When have you known the power of the Word? I know you have, or else you wouldn’t be here. Like John, we believe because of our own experiences with Christ: the moments when his light, shining in our own darkness, was so bright and so compelling that we could not help but see it…and follow it the rest our lives.
The darkness has indeed seemed very dark at times in human history, especially lately in world events, and no doubt we have all experienced great moments of darkness in our own lives.
Yet because of the Word made flesh, and because of great theologians like John, we are lifted out of our factual one-dimensional way of understanding things. We are freed to consider new ways of being, new ways of understanding just how valued we are, just how loved we are. We are freed to believe in the light that shines in the darkness and the truth that the darkness did not overcome it, does not overcome it, and will not overcome it.
In the beginning was the Word was with God, and the Word was God. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory.
And for that, and for his many mercies, thanks be to God.
Artwork: The Star of Bethlehem, by Paul M. Shaffer from The Spy on Noah’s Ark and Other Bible Stories from the Inside Out, Forward Movement 2013.
Sermon: St. David’s, Minnetonka, Minnesota, December 28, 2014.