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AND THE WORD WAS MADE FLESH AND DWELT AMONGST US (JN 1:14)
The author of John’s Gospel states (6:66) that many of the disciples found what he said in his bread of life discourse unacceptable and walked no more with him. Peter speaking for the Twelve then declares that only Jesus had the words of eternal life. It seemed in that conflict that Jesus was too human for those walking away. They wanted a Divine Presence without corruptible humanity mediating it. After the resurrection Thomas said that he could not accept a resurrected Messiah unless he could actually check out the bodily details as a detective or pathologist would (Jn 20:25). No ethereal beliefs for him. Martha would not believe that her dead brother could be raised from the dead- on the last day yes, but not now. She knew Jesus could have prevented her brother’s death; he could not bring him back to life once dead (Jn:11:24). The Pharisees (Jn 9:27ff.) would not accept the healing on the Sabbath of a man born blind; this all too human deportment of Jesus had them think he was a cheat or just demonically possessed. All of this is background to our Christmas Day.
The Prologue (Jn 1:1-14)
John wrote the prologue as a careful description of what some would love to hear and what some would never accept. Some would be glad to hear about John the Baptist; he would bring realism to the picture. Nobody ever suspected the Baptist of not being human, nor of being more than human. Historically he really was down on the Jordan River, and he really did have disciples, and Jesus really did associate with him there. And the Baptist did not join Jesus, even though he recognised his outstanding importance. It really is true that Jesus belonged to his own Jewish people in Galilee and Jerusalem, those who mostly rejected him. Some of them even colluded with the Romans to kill him. The Pilate encounter detailed later is clear on that (Jn 18:28). But John’s Gospel then goes back a step before and behind the historical Jesus. In the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God, and through him all things came to be that came to be. That eternal Word became the historical Jesus. Before Abraham was I am (Jn 8:58).
In a sense the Prologue tells the whole Christian story. And it does it in 18 verses. This account is given by people who were with Jesus-he dwelt among us-and we saw his glory (1:14). But only Jesus saw God in the way nobody else could see God (1:18). He was God and with Him from the beginning as his only Son. That is the account that John’s introduction narrates- and the Gospel goes on in the next 21chapters to give account after account of the discourses and miracles of Jesus. John the Evangelist, of course, knew that many would not accept the account. But he told it- saying that it was but a bare outline. All the books in the world would not have been equal to the task of saying who Jesus was and is (Jn 20:30-31). So the whole Gospel presents a credible extraordinary person who said all these things and did all these things. Why is it that people did not then accept him, nor accept that we are telling the truth, asks John? That is the burden of John’s Gospel, and our reading today (Jn 1:1-14) is a summary of the preaching of the Jesus reality, of its acceptance and its rejection.
The Way it Worked Out
Christians are willing to be called intellectual pygmies rather than deny that what was presented from the beginning as Christian doctrine is true. They can be thrown out of the synagogue, or thrown out of the academy, or removed from society, or burned at the stake, or take on the emperor- but they will not deny their belief, if they are true believers. It is all about love, and love is the ultimate reality in life, defining God and man. That is the Christian faith; it is different from every other faith. And this difference makes all the difference. That is why the church has to be missionary. It must preach the Gospel to everyone. It makes a claim in God’s name to speak the truth in love (Eph 4:15); this truth is an absolute (Jn14:6). It cannot die the death of a thousand qualifications to suit any intellectual or religious or political agenda. The Word was made flesh is a statement about basic humanity true for all, everywhere and always.
Every Christian believer should try to express this truth better, by their lives first of all, by their integrity, by their commitment to goodness in the world, by using their academic and professional genius to purpose. It is not just a question of talking, though it is certainly that. One must think and talk about it better. But there is a question of doing also. Jesus spoke and Jesus acted. The Church speaks and the Church acts. We belong to God and we belong to each other. And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us; God so loved the world that he sent his only Son to save it (Jn 3:16). This is not ideology. It is the Revelation of God in Christ about God and about humanity, what it is to be divine and human and its entailments. It involves every aspect of life in the daily world as we know it.
At our truest and best we say to one another: I love you. And to all hopefully: ‘you are lovable and you are loved’. This is the Revelation of God in Christ, what it is to be divine and to be human, and the purpose of human existence- on this Christmas Day.
May it be happy time for us all. Amen.
Rev Richard J. Taylor
Spiritual Advisor, MaterCare,
Boarbank Hall, Cumbria, UK