1. Before the world began one Word was there; grounded in God he was, rooted in care; by him all things were made; in him was love displayed; through him God spoke and said ‘I AM FOR YOU.’
2. Life found in him its source; death found its end; light found in him its course, darkness its friend, for neither death nor doubt nor darkness can put out the glow of God, the shout: ‘I AM FOR YOU.’
3. The Word was in the world which from him came; unrecognized he was, unknown by name; one with all humankind, with the unloved aligned, convincing sight and mind: ‘I AM FOR YOU.’
4. All who received the Word by God were blessed; sisters and brothers they of earth’s fond guest. So did the Word of Grace proclaim in time and space and with a human face ‘I AM FOR YOU.’
John Bell (b.1949) and Graham Maule (b.1958) ‘Before the world began’ was included ‘Wild Goose Songs’ volume 1. A collection of hymns dedicated to the Iona Community on its fiftieth anniversary in 1987. The hymn can also been found in a couple of hymnbooks in common use in URC Churches namely ‘Rejoice and Sing’ (180) and ‘Church Hymnary’, 4th Edition (317). The author’s note in ‘Wild Goose Songs’ says: ‘The Prologue to St John’s Gospel, of which this song is a paraphrase, celebrates that the world is not an accident. It’s creation was and is rooted in the will and Word of God.
St 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.
It isn’t hard to find parallels between the first five verses of John’s Gospel and first four verses of Genesis, both are about creation and start with the words ‘In the beginning’ speaking of God’s activity in the world. In John’s Gospel the Word is with God and in Genesis the Spirit of God hovers over the waters. John refers to the light shining in the darkness and in Genesis God speaks and there is light. The first two verses of the hymn cover those same four verse in John’s Gospel.
The third verse of the hymn refers to the Word in the world, but at the same time unrecognised, and unknown by name for the hymn isn’t only about creation. The theme of creation links with the theme of incarnation, a link there in the prologue of John’s Gospel. The Word, unknown by name is also one with us and to use the words of the hymn is aligned with the unloved.
John writes that those who received the Word and believed in his name are given the power to become children of God. In the fourth verse of the hymn we sing about those who receive the Word being blessed and becoming sisters and brother of ‘the earth’s fond guest’.
John’s Gospel (1:14) refers to the Word becoming flesh and living among us, we see the Word’s glory, like a father’s only son, ‘full of grace and truth’. The final three lines of the last verse of the hymn refers to the Word of grace, proclaimed in time and space, who has a human face.
In the final line of each verse is printed in upper-case ‘I AM FOR YOU’ which at least suggests that this is central to the hymn in the authors’ minds. ‘I am’ of course being key words in John’s Gospel not only used by Jesus as self-identification but also linked with the divine ‘I AM’.
The Word is present with God from the beginning creating this universe and all that is in it, but the Word also discloses God’s love, is present with us and shows solidarity with us.
We are in the closing days of the Christmas season. Christmas is about God coming among us in Jesus Christ who is the living Word, we hear him saying ‘I am for you’.
Loving God, you speak to us through your living Word, one with you, through whom we may become your children, sisters and brothers of each other, one with you.
We thank you that Christ comes among us, and is for us and for the whole of creation. We thank you that you are active among us through your Word and your Holy Spirit. Amen.
The Rev’d Dr, David Whiting Minister, Sunderland and Boldon URC Partnership