27 Dec 2020
Saint Margaret’s Anglican Episcopal Church
In the beginning, was the Word.
Two of the four canonical Gospels begin at or with the beginning; they begin in other words more or less with the very word beginning. The Gospel of Mark, the shortest of the Gospels and probably the first to be written down, simply announces, “the beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Mark then of course goes on to tell the story of Jesus, as do for that matter all four of the Gospels, each with its own understanding of the message of Christ.
John is the other Gospel account which begins at the beginning, or with the word beginning, as we see in our text today; although John really begins at the beginning -- the beginning of everything that ever was. Whereas Mark in a sense looks forward or ahead to the unfolding story of the life of Christ -- the beginning of the Good News -- we could probably say with some justification that John looks back in time and begins with eternity.
He sees everything that is or ever was or ever will be as part of the unfolding narrative of the Gospel, part of the story of our Lord. As one scholar suggests, the Gospel of John should almost be read backwards, ending at the beginning. Christ, in other words is, in John’s interpretation, the creative force, or Word as he calls it, through which all that is has come to be.
Now, the only other book of the Bible, as far as I can recall, which actually begins with the word beginning is of course Genesis, the first book of the Bible, which opens with the majestic assertion that, “in the beginning, God created…” Indeed, before creation there was no beginning to begin with, for creation itself marks the beginning of time and, ultimately, of salvation history. There can be little doubt that the Evangelist John, then, is harking back to these initial words of Genesis. But he does so with a very special purpose in mind.
With the words, “In the beginning, was the Word…” John’s is saying essentially the same thing as the author of Genesis; that God created. But John is implying that the Christ, announced by the Baptist, and born into this world, is not only a man -- a human person fixed in time and place like the rest of us -- but the singular creative force of the world and universe through whom the Father has brought everything into being. Some contemporary theologians, perhaps influenced by the Gospel of John, even speak of a Cosmic Christ who gives to this universe we inhabit its full and ultimate meaning; who is its alpha and omega.
In the beginning, was the Word.
Recall to mind the myriad times in Hebrew Scriptures in which we are told, “the Word of the Lord -- or the Word of God -- came…” Came to someone; be it Abram or one of the prophets or ancient kings. The expression occurs some one hundred times in the Old Testament alone. And, in ancient Hebrew thinking, this Word of the Lord eventually became very nearly synonymous with God himself, not only speaking to his people, but bringing about, through his word, his will for them as well.
In Greek too, the original language of the Gospels by the way, and especially in Greek philosophy, the word Word, or Logos, has a far greater range of meanings than our simple English word, Word. From it for instance comes our English word logic, a way of thinking or reasoning according to standards of truth and validity. This Greek logos implies much more than words lying bereft of life on the pages of a dictionary. This logos, or Word, is the very source of life.
And, the use of the word logos in John’s Gospel is related to this sense of the word, Word. In Christ, the world is created in truth. Or logic, if you will. And in him, the world and everything in it makes sense. That is after all the ultimate logic of the Gospel. Christ is the template, to use an infelicitous word from the world of software, of all existence and life. Christ is God at work, creating and crafting all that is. In fact, as the Evangelist John would have it, it is only through Christ that anything has come into existence in the first place.
Words are still the only known way to make sense of anything. Without our human words, we could not explain ourselves…to ourselves. We could not say – much less mean – I love you. We could not tell the doctor where it hurts. We could not ask forgiveness. Or offer it. We could not pray. We could not order an e-book – more words – online. We could not read the book -- or the Scriptures -- and understand them.
And, without Christ -- without the logos -- we could not do any of the things that make us who we are as human beings and the people of the Word. Christ is the Word, the divine and ultimate purpose, that makes it possible for us to make sense of all our words and our world. He is the assurance of God’s care and love for us and intimate involvement in our lives and in the meaning of our lives. And, as abstract as all this may be, and it is, it is nevertheless important. Indeed, it is essential, as John might tell us, to understanding who we are in Christ.
We may be tempted to think creation is over; that it took place some thirteen billion years ago, give or take a month or two. Or maybe even before that. But everyday wisdom -- and for that matter astrophysics as well -- tells us that every ending marks a new beginning. Each new word we utter or write invites another and another until new meanings emerge. The end of each old year too ushers in a New Year filled with promise and hope -- something we all yearn for this December.
The end of each war, plague, and pandemic brings with it the opportunity for renewal and growth and change. The creation is as much with us today as it was in Genesis or the Gospel Prologue of John. Each day of death is also a day of birth and rebirth in Christ. The cries of a new-born -- and pre-verbal -- infant tell us this is so, particularly this season of Nativity and Christmastide.
The meaning, or logic, of Christmas and of the Incarnation is simply this: That we are loved. Christ is the incarnate logic or truth of a Father’s love for his people and for each of us. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, as John tells us. In his living among us, we come to live in and with him and the Father. Does this make sense…?
The Rev. Dr. Frank Hegedűs