December 31, 2012
Dear brothers and sisters,
The good news this morning comes from John 1:1-18.
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 to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. A man named John was sent from God. He came for testimony, to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but 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 to be through him, but the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, but his own people did not accept him. But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name, who were born not by natural generation nor by human choice nor by a man’s decision but of God. And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth. John testified to him and cried out, saying, “This was he of whom I said, ‘The one who is coming after me ranks ahead of me because he existed before me.'” From his fullness we have all received, grace in place of grace, because while the law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. The only Son, God, who is at the Father’s side, has revealed him.
For the longest time I believed that the beloved disciple John wrote this gospel. Most scholars now contend that it is a composition of several authors perhaps edited and rewritten multiple times over the course of the last decade of the first century, but based upon the account of an eyewitness who perhaps was John. At any rate, the beginning of this gospel is a remarkably well thought-through theology or Christology upon which our creed is built. The gospel writers are often portrayed as animals. John is depicted as an eagle “because if alone of all living creatures can look straight into the sun and not be dazzled, and John has the most penetrating gaze of all the New Testament writers into the eternal mysteries and the eternal truths and the very mind of God,” according to Barclay.
Tradition has it that the gospel of John was written in Ephesus, a Greek city. Barclay references the historian William Edward Hartpole Lecky who wrote that “the progress and spread of any idea depends, not only on its strength and force but on the predisposition to receive it of the age to which it is presented.” The objective of the early Jewish Christian community was to evangelize the Gentiles, largely Greek-speaking people in the Middle East and Greco-Roman cities. However, the Greeks had no conception or a messiah. So, John was confronted with the problem of how to present Jesus to the Greek mind. John hit upon the idea of “the word or logos,” which was a concept familiar to both Jews and Greeks.
The Ephesian philosopher Heraclitus writing around 560 B.C.E. believed that everything was constantly changing but controlled in an orderly manner by the Logos, the word, the reason of God. He also believed that there was a purpose, a plan, and a design for all the events of life. Further, “what gave a man reason and knowledge of the truth and the ability to judge between right and wrong was the Logos of God dwelling within him….The Logos was nothing less that the mind of God controlling the world and every man in it.”
John brilliantly portrayed Jesus as the Logos, “the power which made the world, the power which keeps the order of the world, the power by which men think and reason and know, the power by which men come into contact with God. Jesus is that Logos come down to earth. ‘The Word,’ said John, ‘became flesh.’ We could put it another way — ‘The Mind of God became a person.'”
And that idea still powerfully resonates with us today — the Word was God. Jesus, the Messiah, was God not just God’s anointed one. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” It was a notion that the Greek mind could grasp in a way that the Jewish one could not. They had the predisposition to receive it.
It’s a difficult task to see anew while building on the familiar. That’s what innovation is largely about — taking the known and seeing it or rearranging it in new, imaginative ways. John was innovative. While he reiterated some of what the other gospel writers recorded, he gives us something quite different, quite lovely, and utterly inspiring. That’s why I want to believe that the gospel is based on the eyewitness of John, the beloved disciple. John who ran ahead of Peter to the tomb and first believed. John who stood at the foot of the cross with Mary. John who laid his head against the bosom of Jesus. John, the eagle, who could look straight into the Son and penetrate the very mind of God. That’s why John’s gospel has always been my favorite — it conveys the love of Jesus, of God, like no other.