“In the beginning was the Word”Katerina K Whitley John 1:1-18. Year A - Second Sunday after Christmas Day
There may be more famous beginnings in literature but none can compare to the beauty and meaning found in the opening of St John’s gospel. No truth can equal its significance, no message can balance its weight.
In both my native Greek and in its English translation I hear the awe in the voice of the writer, the recognition that even though he is writing about Jesus of Nazareth he is also writing about the Christ of God—the Logos, the Creator, the Light.
The stories of the earthly Jesus will come soon, but for now the writer is filled with awe as he proclaims the Christ.
“In the beginning was the Word.” That powerful, multi-faceted Logos. In the Greek logos still means word, expression, speech, logic, reason. It also has its verb form meaning to speak, to express, to affirm. “And the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
Had the writer stopped there, his few words would have been sufficient proof of the Christ who is always with God—the cosmic Christ. What follows makes me think, each time I read it: Why aren’t we falling on our knees when we read these words?
“ . . . without him not one thing came into being.” This is the power of Creation; we genuflect before it.
“And the Word became flesh and lived among us.” Now all this power of the Logos— of the one who was with God from the beginning, of the Logos who was God—comes close to us, very close, and dwells among us.
The words of the Incarnation should pack a wallop, but here we are, a week after Christmas Day saying them as if we know what we are saying, as if they are words like any others.
They speak of an event that altered all history, the central event in the history of Creation as C. S. Lewis called it. The Incarnation. The enfleshment of God. Fearful words, awesome words that must not be uttered casually. He lived among us, in this place, at this time in history.
As Dorothy L. Sayers writes in her book, The Man Born to Be King, “He is the only God who has a date in history.” And so we come face to face with “the scandal of particularity.”
We can know our history; we may even know our theology; we may be some of the fortunate ones who can really place stories in their context, but we still need faith to approach this reality, this “scandal.” Why Bethlehem? Why Mary of Nazareth? Why Jesus? Are all these included in the Logos of God?
Our own reason, our own logos, may protest. This protest, this struggle to believe, has been happening from the very beginning of the Christmas story; “ . . . the world came into being through him, and the world did not know him.”
The writer chooses a few stark words to state the world’s unbelief, this tragic lack of recognition. “He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.” How does God bear it?
We live in a world, in a country, that has made an idol out of the name of Jesus while completely ignoring the Christ of God, the Logos. Not only do we not recognize the One who came to us, we make substitutions, we create idols and call them by his name. Why does God bear it?
We are given not quite an answer but a promise of hope in this same remarkable chapter of John. “But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God . . .”
Those who are becoming children of God, the writer tells us, were born of God. The mind reels. It’s impossible to take all this in through reason. Is this a hint of the story John will write later?
The visit of Nicodemus in the night comes to mind and we recall the words of Jesus to him: “You must be born again.” He who chose to become flesh gives us the gift of becoming children not of flesh and blood but of God.
So, after weeks of singing lovely carols that speak of a manger and of angels, of music and light, of good will and the promise of peace, we are confronted with the awesome reality of the Christ of God.
Today, we are thinking no longer of a little powerless baby but of the eternal Christ of God, of the Logos of God who was with God from the beginning, who is with God, who is God.
From the tender picture of a helpless baby we move rapidly to the demands of the One who emptied himself, taking the form of a servant. He is the grown Jesus whose life and words confront us daily; he is the Christ who is always with us.
And before this reality we bend the knee and ask for enough grace to glimpse the Truth, to enter into the Mystery, to hold on to the promise of his presence. We hear again and again, “And lo, I am with you always.” Yes, Lord, let us know that you are with us always.
In the beginning was the Word. And the Word is with us still. And the Word remains unto eternity, and no power on earth is going to alter that reality; no political madness, no foolish rush toward extinction, no turning to idols can change God’s reality.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Thanks be to God!
About the writer: Katerina Katsarka Whitley is a native of Thessaloniki, Greece. A graduate of Furman University, she has spent her life teaching, writing, and sharing the good news of Epiphany through the Incarnation. She lives in Boone, NC, teaches communication courses at Appalachian State University, leads retreats and writing workshops.
Her books are biblically based. They can be found wherever books are sold: Speaking for Ourselves: Voices of Biblical Women; Seeing for Ourselves: Biblical Women Who Met Jesus; Walking the Way of Sorrows: Stations of the Cross;Waiting for the Wonder: Voices of Advent; Light to the Darkness: Lessons and Carols.
Also, a cookbook: Around a Greek Table, Recipes and Stories Arranged According to the Liturgical Seasons of the Eastern Church; and a novel, A New Love, on the early Christians in Greece.
Her forthcoming memoir covers her Greek years and is a memory of occupation. She can be reached through her website: www.katerinawhitley.net
Scripture and Music.
John 1(1-9), 10-18
Christ Is the World s True Light
O Splendor of God s Glory Bright
Arise Your Light Has Come
Angels from the Realms of Glory
On This Day Earth Shall Ring (Personet Hodie)
He Comes to Us (Jane Marshall)
Arise, Shine, Your Light Has Come (Mary McDonald)
A Wondrous Mystery (Lloyd Pfautsch)
Light Everlasting (Gordon Young)
Jesus, Thou Joy of Loving Hearts (Claude Bass)
The Birthday of the King (Neildlinger)
What Will You Do with Jesus?