In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
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. (John testified concerning him. He cried out, saying, “This is the one I spoke about when I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’”) Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known. (NIV)
Grace to you and peace from God our creator, from Jesus the Christ, our redeemer and friend and from the Holy Spirit, our sustainer and guide.
Eighteen years ago on New Years Eve I performed a wedding for an officer from the ship I was assigned to. During the course of the preparations I became quite fond of them both and have stayed in touch over the years. Each year, for their anniversary, the wife writes a testament to their marriage and their life and the wonder of it all. In this year’s message, one line in particular stood out to me. She said that every love song is ultimately a song about God. I think she is onto something. Love is a divine and holy state as well as an emotion that warms our hearts. And in every love song, if we just change out the one to whom the song is being sung from the person we delight in to God, it pretty much always works. If it doesn’t work, let’s just say it isn’t much of a love song.
As I pondered that, I realized I would need to add to that. Every scripture that tells us something unique about God probably has a love song somewhere that contains the same themes.
So as I was thinking about this passage and what I might say about it, having read her post the day before, a little jolt went through my brain and created this little sidebar in my mind… What would be the love song associated with our passage today? It came to me in a moment. “Time in a Bottle” by Jim Croce. The singer declares the eternal nature of his love for the beloved by wanting to save part of the present time for the time beyond the end of time so they could spend more time together. There is a sense that time is a trap but that true love is beyond time.
John’s gospel, in contrast to Matthew’s and Luke’s in particular, is not set in time. It shows us that God the Christ, even as displayed through Jesus, is actually beyond time. Matthew anchors the story of Jesus in a particular time: “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod” (Matthew 2:1, NIV) and Luke does a similar thing: “In those days…” begins the story of the birth of Jesus and goes on by saying this “took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.” (Luke 2:1-2, NIV) Both are planted firmly in the middle of human history. John’s gospel, on the other hand, sets the Christ beyond time: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” (John 1:1-3, NIV) “In the beginning” sounds like a time, but as used in this passage, it is before time started. Before the creation of the world there was no time; no night or day, moon or sun to mark off the days, months, seasons and years. There was no need for time before the world was created. God doesn’t need it. God is always in the present; God, the great I Am.
Matthew and Luke make God the Christ approachable in Jesus born of Mary; a baby one could hold and cuddle, who grew up to be a man one could relate to and who would be good with people, get to know them, soothe them. John, on the other hand, balances that out with the reminder that God the Christ is far beyond us—outside of time, outside of our experience, outside of our acceptance even; “the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.” (John 1:10-11, NIV) God the Christ is a stranger here in so many ways.
The gospel of John is outside of time in the best sort of way though. We cannot grasp God the Christ because we cannot experience anything outside of time. We are firmly placed in time and location. That is part of our human condition. It is our earthly limitation. And yet, the light of Christ illumines our world so we can see clearly that God is in it and we encounter Divine Presence and Power on a regular basis. And yet, John’s gospel is here lest we get too cozy, feeling like Jesus is our brother, BFF or biggest fan. That’s alright, of course, because Jesus actually IS those things to us. Matthew and Luke give us that, but John is here to remind us that isn’t the whole picture.
If John 1 were set to a score, it would begin with this big thunderclap of sound that swells majestically and soars with the whole orchestra and then moves quickly into a sweet piccolo solo as it talks about John being a witness to the light. If John 1 were a love song, it would say there is not enough time in all of eternity to do love justice or to finish enjoying its wonders. That’s God for sure.
So what is our response to this God who is beyond us? “Come and see” is the call to discipleship in John. When John the Baptizer sees Jesus for the first time, he cries out “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29 & 36, NIV) It is visual. If we look, we will see God in our midst, we will be drawn to God and follow. And then when John’s disciples asked Jesus where he was staying he said “Come and you will see.” (John 1:39, NIV) These disciples were not just asking where he laid his head at night. It is a much bigger question. It is about where his mind and spirit live as well. It is about what he is thinking, what he is feeling, what he knows. “Come with me and see.” Jesus says. So it is our task to be with Jesus and keep our eyes open.
We are the church. We have come and seen. What we saw brings us back again and again and we continue to come and see.
So that is the invitation for us to issue to our community, “Come with us and see Jesus through us.” How we take care of each other reflects Jesus in our midst. When we take care of the vulnerable in our community Jesus is showing in us. When we feed the poor and the hungry, Jesus is shining through us. When we care for the ill, relieve the pains of life for the lowly, comfort the fearful and stand with the lonely, the light of Christ is shining in the darkness. We are the body of Christ. The light of Christ shines through us, and it shines through you, each one of you. Ponder that for a bit. The light of Christ shines through you, individually and all of us together, for all the world to see. Sometimes the light of Christ is dimmed in us when we give in to worry or get distracted by concerns in this world, but have faith, it is ours by God’s grace. By God’s grace it will never go out.
During these few moments of silence, I invite you to pray for the light of Christ to shine brightly through us for all to see.
(silence for reflection)
Holy God, come into our hearts and increase our faith. Inspire us in serving your people and being the church for the good of the world so that your light shines brightly through us. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Blessings to you,
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.