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. (John testified to him and cried out, ‘This was he of whom I said, “He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.”’) From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.
The start of John’s Gospel is deeply moving, poetic and associated with services at Christmas where it is the traditional Gospel for the first Christmas Day service; it’s also used as the last reading at Carol services. Instead of a birth narrative the writers of John’s Gospel used this extraordinary powerful piece of poetic theology.
As Christians we often stop reading, or listening, at the line “and the Word became flesh and lived among us…” but for Jewish people, and Jewish converts to the Christian faith the climax of the passage is a few verses later “No one has ever seen God. It is God, the only Son, is who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.” The compilers of the Gospel would have known that Moses was held to have seen God’s face and lived; Elijah also saw God in the still small quiet. Yet they wanted to gloss over these people and point to Jesus as the image of the Father who makes him known in the world by living with us.
John’s Gospel can be uncomfortable reading for those of us who wish to be sensitive to Jewish people. It was written just as Christians and Jews separated and the theological arguments between them were intense. Later anti-Semites have used passages in John to justify their murderous rage which was clearly not the intention of the original compilers.
Being aware of the uses to which the Gospel has been put is necessary but shouldn’t make us shy away from its beauty. The idea that God made his home with us, tabernacled with us, is powerful; it needs to be proclaimed in our lives and churches. God didn’t just sit up on his cloud like the Greek gods of old, watching the world from afar (like that song by Bette Midler) but, instead, rolled up his sleeves and got stuck in with the messy business of human life. Jesus shares our pain and sorrow, our joy and happiness and weeps, with us, when his message is misused to condemn or support persecution and pogrom. Whenever we’re tempted to think that God doesn’t understand remember, in Jesus, he made his home with us.
O Christ our Light, you tabernacle with us, shining in the dark places of our world. Give us the strength to be lights which reflect your light and the love to love all that, through you, has come to be. Amen.
The Rev’d Andy Braunston is a minister in the Southside Cluster of the Synod of Scotland serving churches in Shawlands, Barrhead and Stewarton. He co-ordinates the Daily Devotions project.
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