Reflection for Lessons and Carols service, 13 December 2015, The Third Sunday of Advent
Scripture Reading: John 1.1-18 (NRSV)
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. (John testified to him and cried out, ‘This was he of whom I said, “He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.” ’) From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.
In the beginning was the Word
What we have just read is one of my favourite Bible passages. Normally, it’s the stories I enjoy most. But this most mysterious of passages is the one which puts the stories into context. For this is how we make sense of the Christmas story, how we make sense of all the stories of the Bible, how we make sense of Christ.
‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God’. The word we translate as ‘word’ is logos in Greek. It’s almost untranslatable, for it means more than just the ‘word’. It suggest something living, a person, someone who is the personification of God’s message to us. It suggests that our God is not a distant god who wound up creation like a clockwork train and then left it to run. It suggests that our God is a god who has something to say to us. Our God has a Word for his creation. Our God wants to be in relationship with all his creatures, wants to communicate with us.
But one of the greatest problems of the Church in our time is that too many Christians think that God has spoken to us in a book. They believe that the Word is words- the print on a page, the text of the Bible. And so they think that part of being a Christian is that we need to believe a hundred impossible things before breakfast. They would have us all believe, because the Bible tells me so, things we can’t believe in, things which aren’t necessary for Christians, must be believed. That the world was created in six days. That the world was once totally covered in water, and the only survivors took to an ark. That God can command his people to commit genocide. That there was once a man named Jonah who survived being swallowed by a giant fish. That women must be second-class citizens in the church, wear hats and keep silence in the church, and ask their husbands if they want to know the answer to any puzzles. That gay and lesbian people will always find it impossible to find lasting, loving and fulfilling relationships. Many Christians believe these things to be literally true, because they think the Word is a book.
But I don’t, and we don’t have to, because The Book itself, the Bible itself, gives us here a hint that the Word of God is something which cannot be bound up in a book- not even a leather covered book with a zip. For in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and was God, and the Word came into the world, though the world did not know him, and the Word became flesh and lived among us. You cannot know the Word just by reading the text of a book, for God’s Word has come to us not in a book, but as a person. The Word became flesh at Bethlhem- the son of parents who could find no place at the inn. A child who, with his family, had to flee the wrath of a bloody dictator and seek asylum, refugees in a strange land. The Word grew and enlightened the world, teaching grace and truth. Very much from his Jewish tradition, he nevertheless was willing to reinterpret that tradition. He was gracious and kind even to those who the religious thought were beyond the pale. He healed the sick, brought forgiveness to sinners, treated women and children with a graciousness which had not been seen before.
And it is this Word who is still alive in the Church, speaking to us not of ancient rules, but of love and grace and forgiveness. Yes, it is through the Bible that we meet Christ, the Word of God made flesh and living among us. But he interprets the words of the Bible for us, helps us to navigate what it means to live as his followers today. The Word has become flesh to live among us. Thanks be to God! Amen.
Biblical references from the Good News Bible, unless otherwise stated
© 2015 Peter W Nimm