Yr B ~ Epiphany ~ John 1:1-18
It seems appropriate that on the first Sunday of the new year we have a text that starts with “In the beginning…” And I’m going to preach it in a style that’s been around since “the beginning” – I’m going to go verse by verse like a bible study and amplify the text and we’ll see what we can see. Eighteen verses, should only need a couple or three minutes per verse, you do the math! (Ok, I may skip through a couple of them!)
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
First off, “in the beginning” are the same words that launch the first book of the Hebrew Scriptures – Genesis. So right of the start we see that the author of John’s gospel is painting on the same cosmological canvass that Genesis 1 painted on.
Next we have this word Word (capital W). Word is a weird word! There is no word for Word. In Greek it’s Logos which usually gets translated as ‘word’ but in reality it’s untranslatable.
In our modern literary culture we typically think of words as collections of letters that form a unit that denotes something. But biblical cultures weren’t literary, they were oral, so they don’t conceptualize words like we do. So Word doesn’t mean word!
The Ancient Greeks used the word logos to refers to one’s persuasive reasoning or logic. In this text we’re talking about Divine Logic or Divine Reasoning or Divine Wisdom.
Also, for poetic reasons the editors switched up the order of the words to make it prettier in English. In Greek the verse doesn’t end “and the Word was God” it ends “And God was the Word.” It’s subtle, but it makes a difference for me.
Here’s the first verse amplified:
In the beginning was the logos, the Divine Reasoning, and the logos was with God, and God was the logos!
I was originally taught that Jesus was the logos – and that may be theologically appropriate, but that’s not what this verse says.
Now we need to talk about pronouns. I usually don’t get bent out of shape about this but here I have to. Jesus is certainly a male, but God is beyond gender.
I understand feminist theology that seeks to call God ‘she’ from time to time to correct our misunderstanding IF we think God is ‘he’. That’s a valid correction.
God is Spirit. God is neither he nor she. God is God.
In Greek the pronoun for he and she and it and they is all the same word. You have to infer the meaning from the rest of the sentence to apply the right English gendered pronoun.
So in verses 2-3 when it says: He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. – the He and Him are editorial choices, not scriptural ones. Considering the surrounding verses I think the better choice would be this, not he, through this section. It sounds odd to our Western ears, but it’s truer to the text.
Also, the words “came into being” in verse 3 suggest a certain magical snap-your-fingers-and-it-appears idea. The Greek word for ‘came into being’ is ginomai which also means to be born or to emerge – so it’s more organic feeling than just blinking into existence.
It’s more an image of things emerging or being born from God’s Word.
Listen to these verses with the gender neutralized and our translation suggestions:
In the beginning was the logos, the Divine Reasoning, and the logos was with God, and God was the logos! This was in the beginning with God. All things emerged through this, and without this not one thing was born. What has emerged in this was life, and the life was the light of all people.
The this is the logos, the word of God. The text is telling us that everything that came into being did so through the Divine Reasoning of God.
For those of you well-versed in theology who might be thinking I’m trying to take away something from Jesus here, I’m not.
I’m just trying to help us avoid the pointless arguments about “if Jesus is the Word how was Jesus with God from the beginning? How did he breathe? Was he a baby or a man?” etc.
It’s a pointless, unnecessary argument if you think deeply about these verses. It wasn’t Jesus per se at the beginning, it was God’s Divine Reasoning or Wisdom – which came to be personified and incarnated in Jesus. The really mind blowing question is ‘Is it incarnated in you too?’
Now I need to track back to Genesis for a minute:
1 In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth,
2 the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God (or breath, or Spirit) swept over the face of the waters.
3 Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.
What was the first thing God did? Created. But how did God create? Genesis 1:3 Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light.
Genesis says the first thing God did was to speak.
And what is it that we speak? Words!
In the beginning was the Word – spoken!
In the beginning God communicated Godself to the universe.
In the beginning was the speaking, and the speaking was with God, and God was the speaking.
Having God’s Word is fine. Knowing God’s Word is good. But until we “speak” God’s Word it has no power or life.
And what was the first thing God spoke? Light!
Now back to John. Picking it up at verse 4:
What has emerged in (God’s speaking) was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
So John’s gospel is really just retelling Genesis 1, but in Greek concepts instead of Hebrew ones, and we’re reading it in English trying to not get lost in the translation.
Both John and Genesis are emphatically telling us that God speaks light into our darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it. That is good news indeed!
Ok, that’s the first 5 verses, just 13 more to go! (I hope you packed a lunch!)
Actually, I’m not quite done with verse 5 yet! “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”
The Message translation says it this way: The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness; the darkness couldn’t put it out.
I really like that phrase: Life-Light – with both words joined and capitalized. Not just light that shines warmth on you, helps you see, and lights your path, but light that inspires new life – Life-Light.
Then it all shifts. In verses 6-9 we get introduced to John the Baptizer.
There once was a man, his name John, sent by God to point out the way to the Life-Light. He came to show everyone where to look, who to believe in.
John was not himself the Light; he was there to show the way to the Light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the universe.
One of my great joys in life is knowing that I stand in a long and distinguished line of people called by God “to point out the way to the Life-Light – to show everyone where to look.” That is the heart of how I see my ministry.
On to verse 10! Remember, the “he” is still “this” or the “Life-Light” so instead of “he was in the world” it should be:
The Life-Light was in the world, and the world came into being through it; yet the world did not know it.
And the word world is significant too. They had a perfectly good word for world as in earth (gaia) but they didn’t use it here. They used the word kosmos – which is our word for cosmos or universe. The scope is much bigger than just planet earth. So now verse 10 could read:
The Life-Light was in the universe, and the universe came into being through it; yet the universe did not know it.
Now to verses 11-12
I’m going to revert back to the ‘he’ language here for convenience, but I’m still talking about the Logos, the Life-Light, the Divine Wisdom – probably referring to Jesus, but not explicitly so yet.
11 He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God.
In Genesis 28:16 Jacob says, “Surely God is in this place, and I did not know it.” This is why we say “Help me notice!” all the time. God’s Life-Light is here, everywhere, for all of us all the time, yet the people, generally speaking, do not accept it or receive it or notice.
But those who do – hopefully all of us here – become children of God – born of God’s Spirit.
13 These are the God-begotten, not blood-begotten, not flesh-begotten, not sex-begotten.
We are God-begotten! Born of the Spirit! Because we notice!
And then we get the big verse!
John 1:14 – And the Logos 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.
Here we fully get Jesus. And the Word – the Logos, God’s Divine Wisdom, the Life-Light – became – that’s ginomai again, which is born, or emerged
– so, verse 14, And God’s Life-Light emerged enfleshed…….and tabernacled among us.
It’s not just that God’s Life-Light lived with us, the Greek says it tabernacled with us. Another weird word! It’s a reference to the tent or tabernacle in the Exodus story where God’s Presence dwelt among the people as they journeyed. It’s a powerful image of God’s Presence – in Jesus, among us.
“And the Word became flesh and lived among us.”
“And God’s Life-Light emerged enfleshed and tabernacled among us.”
Jesus embodies, or enfleshes, or incarnates God’s fullness, fulfillment, and completion.
Verse 16 – From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.
God’s Presence, through Jesus, brings fullness to us, overflowing super-abundance.
And to The Message for the last two verses:
17 We got the basics from Moses, and then this exuberant giving and receiving,
This endless knowing and understanding – all this came through Jesus, the Messiah.
18 No one has ever seen God, not so much as a glimpse. This one-of-a-kind God-Expression (Jesus), who exists at the very heart of the Father, has made God plain as day.
Did you catch that last bit? No one has seen even a glimpse of God, yet Jesus has made God plain as day. It’s a paradox. God is everywhere.
You can’t see God, but if you’re open and aware as you encounter Jesus in his life and his teaching and his Way, you will be fully in God’s Presence, and you will surely see.
So there’s 18 verses of heavy duty bible study for you, and we just scratched the surface. The bible is a glorious thing – but you really have to wrestle with it to really get it. It takes a deep reading to reveal deep meaning!
And so our new calendar year begins, with God’s Presence enfleshed and God’s Life-Light being spoken in myriad ways.
And it provokes one of the core questions for people of Faith:
How will God’s Life-Light speak through your life?