1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome[a] it.
6 There was a man sent from God whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.
9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
A few years ago, a wealthy European family decided to have their newborn baby baptised in their grand mansion. As the guests arrived, they took off their expensive coats and laid them on the bed in the master bedroom before joining the family for pre-service drinks. Then, when the priest arrived, they gathered for the service.
The proud parents sent the nanny to the nursery to bring the baby down, but, to her horror, she couldn’t find him. So, they went on a mad search through the house, but the baby was nowhere to be found.
Finally, the mother remembered she’d had the baby with her in the bedroom when the first guests had arrived. So, they ran to the bedroom and there they found the child buried under a pile of expensive coats and furs. The child that the whole event was all about had been forgotten and almost smothered by the trappings.
It’s a sad parable of what Christmas has largely become in our society, and many of us, seeing all the frenetic partying and consumerism, find ourselves saying: but where’s the baby? This year it’s been difficult even to find Christmas cards that mention him!
But it was like that on that very first Christmas too. Speaking of Christ’s coming into the world the Apostle John wrote: ‘He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.’
But then he goes on to say: ‘Yet to all who do receive him, to those who believe in his name, he gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent…but born of God.’
And in this passage, we have revealed to us the greatest and most wondrous spiritual truth, compared to which all worldly festivities fade into insignificance; for in that child we see the very heart and essence of God from whom all things came into being.
Albert Einstein, probably the greatest mind of the 20th century spoke of this when he said: ‘Everyone who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the Universe…a spirit vastly superior to that of man, and one in the face of which we with our modest powers must feel humble.’
And yet to Einstein, and indeed to most thinkers throughout the ages who have reflected on this, that spirit – the divine intelligence behind the Universe – is essentially unknowable. Theologians speak of God as Ineffable, which means unable to be expressed in words.
But here in the opening words of John’s gospel, speaking of how Christ came into this world, John tells us that the very essence of that divine intelligence – the ineffable God - was revealed to us in the most helpless yet most appealing of all creatures, a new-born baby.
The concept of a divine intelligence behind the Universe has been around for a long time. Greek philosophers right back as far as Heraclitus in the 6th century BC had been intrigued by it, and used the Greek word logos, which in English means word, to describe it. To them, the logos – the Word was the great mind behind the Universe.
Jewish thinkers also took up this concept of the Word of God. To them it meant the creative power of God – that God spoke the universe into being – as in the opening verses of Genesis: ‘Ánd God said, let there be light, and there was light’…
Then, about 60 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, the writer of the Gospel of John – traditionally believed to be the Apostle John - took this concept up and gave it an even deeper meaning that ever since has been central to Christian belief: ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.’
Throughout the first chapter John keeps referring to Jesus as the Word, and how the Word came amongst us, and how most people failed to see it, but those who did became ‘thechildren of God’.
He goes on to say: ‘The only Son, who is truly God and is closest to the Father, has shown us what God is like.’
What John was saying is that the very essence of the heart and being of God came amongst us in Jesus – the Word of God. In him, we see what God truly is and feels about us. In other words, the unknowable God, the great mind behind all that is, has become knowable in Jesus.
It took the Christian Church four centuries to come up with the definition that has, since that time, been the fundamental statement of Christian belief about Jesus; that he is ‘perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man.’
From this developed the doctrine of the Trinity – that defines God as three persons, or expressions: The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit; one God who exists eternally in three persons. The three persons are distinct, yet are of one ‘substance, essence or nature’.
The problem for most people is that they don’t really understand this – it is phrased in the language of 4th Century Greek philosophy. But then, how can we ever really understand the whole being of God. If our minds could grasp it all then we would be greater than God
But the debate and arguments continue to this day. How can that which is almighty, all powerful, all knowing, and eternal be compressed into human form with all its limitations? If Jesus was God, then who was running the Universe while he was lying in the manger?
But John was not saying that Jesus was the totality of God’s being, but that the Word – Jesus – was the perfect expression of God’s character and essence, and in him we see the essential nature of God.
Let me try to illustrate this by telling you about something that happened when I was twelve. I won a scholarship to a very old school, Queen Mary’s Grammar School in the Midlands of England. The first two years were spent at the Junior School which was housed in a Victorian mansion called Moss Close. The masters (they weren’t called teachers) were god like figures to us, but none more so than the master in charge, Mr. Hawkins, whom we called Porky.
He was a small, rotund, quietly spoken but fearsome character who wore a black academic gown and whose commands were instantly obeyed; and if they weren’t he was also the one master who was allowed to administer corporal punishment of anything up to six strokes across the offender’s backside by one of his collection of canes that hung on his curtain rail. To us, Porky Hawkins was God.
Then, in my second term, a new boy arrived whose name also was Hawkins. To our surprise we learned that he was Porky’s son. We didn’t know how to relate to him; whether to ignore him, suck up to him, or persecute him. One thing we all felt was a degree of pity for him, having Porky for a father. However, he turned out to be a very likeable lad and was soon well accepted by us all.
I remember one day we gathered around him and asked him the question that was on all our minds, what do you call Porky when you’re at home? I think we assumed he would call him sir, like we all did. But young Hawkins just said, ‘I call him Dad’.
It seemed inconceivable to our young minds that anyone could refer to that inscrutable, awe-inspiring figure as Dad. But, little by little, we started to understand that this awesome being was actually a decent and kindly person who had a son to whom he was a dad, just like our own fathers. The point is, we were only able to learn this by getting to know his son. The son revealed the true nature of the father. And that is what the Apostle John said of Jesus; ‘the only Son, who is truly God and is closest to the Father, has shown us what God is like.’
I don’t know what comes into your heart and mind when you think of God: a mystery that can’t be known perhaps - something or someone out there somewhere; a fearsome and angry judge, perhaps, who looks on you with disapproval; or maybe you have the traditional Deist idea of a God who wound the Universe up like a gigantic clock then left it to run down, oblivious to such microscopic elements as us.
What I do know is that the heart of Christian belief is that the eternal, unknowable force behind the Universe has expressed himself in the person of Jesus – the Word who was with God and is God. The finest and loveliest life that ever was has shown us what God is like.
‘In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind…he became flesh and made his dwelling among us…No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son… has made him known.’
And because of that, no matter what life may bring, we need never walk in darkness again.