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Lectionary Reflection
All Years, Christmas Day III, Gospel

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.

Reflection on John 1:1-14:
by the Rev John Gibbs
 
Easter precedes Christmas in the experience of three Gospel-writers.  Only Mark omits the birth and starts at the baptism, but his first verse also presupposes the resurrection: "The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God."
 
For each of the other evangelists the birth of Jesus is illuminated by the resurrection of the Christ (Messiah). Matthew's first verse points to "Jesus the Messiah," which puts the resurrection front and center. Luke's "orderly account" builds on "eyewitnesses and servants of the word [logos]" (1:1-2), and for Luke "the word" was the same thing as the Gospel incarnated by the Jesus who was raised from the dead (Acts 4:4; 6:7; 10:44 and throughout)
 
For all its uniqueness, the Fourth Gospel also fits into the general gospel-pattern of beginning, and not only ending, with the resurrection. What this gospel adds is its breathtaking cosmic perspective whereby the reader is led all the way back to the creation in order to see even that in light of the resurrection. "In the beginning," an expression that recalls Genesis 1, "was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." As in Genesis, so in John it is by His Wisdom (Logos) that God created the world: "All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being" (1:3). In short, there is a new cosmic beginning at Jesus' birth.
 
What about this for a birth announcement? "The light shines in the darkness," and "The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world." Or this? "And the Word became flesh" Such a birth announcement can be confidently made only if you know how that life turned out. John and his readers knew that the One born here was the Risen One through whom God had created the universe. By the time any gospel was written, all Christians had heard about Jesus' life-death-resurrection, and they viewed all that as one whole reality.
 
First Easter, then Christmas. Imagine the impact of that sequence on our memorials of Jesus' birth. In light of the resurrection, all kinds of darkness would be dismissed: all sentimentalism about manger-birth and baby Jesus, and all literal reenactments with live donkeys and real straw and a visible "angel" and even a "star" that actually moved (things in which I myself have also participated), all this would decrease in order that faith would increase.
 
The Fourth Gospel would help us to recover the point being made also in those birth narratives by Matthew and Luke. We would align our vision with Matthew's focus, which was on: "the child who has been born king of the Jews" (Mt. 2:2), "where the Messiah was to be born" (Mt. 2:4), "a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel" (Mt. 2:6).  We would align our vision also with Luke's exalted perspective in the Annunciation and Magnificat (2:26-55): "He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end." After being told of Jesus' birth, Mary relates as past history what God would in future do through her son. Such a perspective comes only after the fact, in resurrection retrospective.
 
With the Fourth Gospel as our guide, Christmas becomes the pre-eminent time of meditation on the cosmic import of God's work in Christ. In the great conflict between light and darkness, we begin to see a light that no amount of evil could overwhelm, and in that faith we increasingly "have life in his name" (Jn. 20:31).
 
Within the unpredictable changes and uncertainties of life ("yet the world did not know him," "and his own people did not accept him"), we begin to see what is constant and reliable for us: "what has come into being in him was life" (1:3-4), and "to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God" (1:12). We begin to affirm what most confidently we can count upon, and that is: He was born for us and all our neighbors across the globe.

In his fascinating book, The Solace of Fierce Landscapes (pp. 167-68), which explores "desert and mountain spirituality,"  Belden Lane takes the reader out into desert silence where he imagines an unexpected "exchange" taking place. "You find yourself alone in a vast and empty terrain, standing before a naked wall of red-hued rock rising hundreds of feet above the canyon floor. The stone never moves as you sit there facing it, but after a while it poses a question. How did the stone face of the canyon cliff change on the day of your divorce, the day your father or mother died, the day you came to admit your dependency on alcohol or drugs?=
 
"Surely, it would seem, the whole world must have fallen apart when your world collapsed! But the realization dawns (if you stay there long enough, without running) that the stone cliff never changed at all. It remained entirely unmoved. Something continued constant and unbroken throughout the utter depth of your pain. Something stayed there, in all of its majesty for you present, waiting, and still. The landscape's silent immensity and the God to whom it points is able to absorb all the grief one can give it."
 
Something like that is what the majestic Prologue to the Fourth Gospel sets before us. Something "constant and unbroken," indeed Someone forever "stays there, in all of [His] majesty for you present, waiting, and still." "And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory of a father's only son, full of grace and truth."
 
The Solace of Fierce Landscapes,  by Belden Lane was published by Oxford University Press, 1998.



John G. Gibbs, PhD, a retired theologian, attends Trinity Episcopal Church, Park Rapids, MN.   He originally wrote this reflection in 1998.  He and we welcome your comments. Please address your comments or additional reflections to John Gibbs or any MEESC member, or mail them to:

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