“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
The opening of John’s Gospel is one of the most beautiful passages you will find in the scriptures. John turns a phrase in his concise little poem that strikes a chord deep within us. Somehow it says what we know to be true, that God comes, and God’s coming to us is like something we have vaguely heard before and intuitively understand. – God is “the Word.”
It all begins with the Word. That is the genius of John’s introduction. With this image of an arriving Word, John moves us to connect with experience.
He could have, like Mark, said that this is the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, laid the arrival of God out like a story.
He could have, like Luke, given us a brief introduction to tell us why he writes his Gospel, explain who this is for and why it’s been written.
He could have begun his Gospel like Matthew, with back story of important people and events.
But John is after something else.
John wants us to hear God as God speaks to us though Jesus, and to do that, John introduces Jesus as “The Word” — the pre-existent word. — in Greek, the “Logos”.
Who is Jesus? He’s the “Word” that becomes flesh, becomes alive. Doing what a word will do.
What does a word do?
Well that’s the real genius here, because a word will do what it will do to you. It will strikes you.
The right “word” just reaches right out and grabs you by the collar and won’t let us go.
The right word, when it is spoken to us, reaches deep into our consciousness and grabs us viscerally.
It may be a word that disturbs.
It may be a word that brings comfort.
It may be a word that challenges, but when you’ve heard it, that “Word” like a dog with a bone, just won’t let you go.
We know how this works, but a couple of illustrations will help to make it clearer.
If you are married or in a relationship, there was that moment when changed everything. A question was asked, or you asked it of the beloved.
“Do you love me?”
And once asked, that question, that “word” was pregnant with possibility, but also fraught with spirit crushing failure to disappoint.
It’s just a word…. “love”…. But so much hangs upon it. How this question is answered will set the course, define direction, determine the outcome of the rest of one’s life.
From the moment that word “love” is uttered to the other, a direction is set, and all the words that followed would take on new meaning.
You felt differently having said it.
You felt differently having it said to you.
And after it was spoken, every “I love you” that followed would be heard now in a myriad of different ways.
Sometimes defiantly, willing love to come into the hurt of the present moment.
Sometimes with passion, and will all the physical response that was sure to follow, a prelude to actions and intimacy.
And, sometimes with a sense of what will come to be said out of habit, a well-worn word that fits now like a comfortable shoe.
But, it all begins with a word uttered, that then takes on a life of its own and changes your life.
Or, If you are a parent, you will remember that moment when you found out what your child was to be.
Maybe it was at an ultrasound, when the blurry image proudly announced to the technician what it appeared the sex would be, and he or she said, “it looks like a girl” or “you’re having a boy.”
Maybe for you it was at the moment of birth, when the doctor or nurse spoke the words amidst the furious crying of both child and parents.
But, a word was spoken, “it’s a…..” and from that moment on that the word was spoken, a who new series of events was determined.
Now you knew which name to use.
Now you knew what outfits to purchase, or to ask for.
Now you knew how to decorate the room, what color for the walls, and what kind of toys aisle to stroll together in anticipation.
Now you could begin to dream of what the years would bring, the activities you would take part in, going fishing or dance recitals, prom dresses or the tuxedoes, … oh there will be lots of twists and turns and changes no doubt along the way for gender roles are ever changing in culture, but with a single word a direction was set and a path now chosen for you all.
Such is the power of the Word.
The right word spoken reaches out and grabs hold of you.
It becomes a living thing, something you can’t ignore.
So it is when John wants to describe for us how God will enter this world, this phrase “the Word.” fits.
How do you hear “the Word?”
How do you hear and see Jesus?
When you think of the Word of God entering your life, do you imagine a word that is soft, half whispered? Is it like overhearing someone call your name, making you look in that direction? Is it like a gentle “I love you?” Is that how you picture Jesus?
Or does hearing about “the Word” strike you like thunder and lightening, fire and brimstone and power?
Is “the Word” about Jesus, something that shatters the foundations of your world.
Is that “Word” something that conjures up images from Genesis, of God’s raw creative power shaping continents and gouging out rivers and scooping out seas?
What do you think of when you hear Jesus described as “The Word?”
Do you think of him as something which moves your heart to joy? Something that surprises you and makes you laugh out loud at the unexpectedness?
Or does the Word move you to tears? Does it speak to you of comfort and hope in the midst of your despair?
Does “the Word” of Jesus come near sound to you like healing? Or does Jesus’ close presence remind you of your own sinfulness, your own inadequacies? Of your desire to hide or go unnoticed but make you aware that you simply cannot?
What picture of Jesus comes to mind when you think of him as a “Word” spoken into the context of your life?
Do you picture the Jesus who lovingly moves among the cripples and the sick, pronouncing forgiveness and healing?
Or, do you picture a Jesus who speaks to bewildered followers in parables and riddles that you can’t quite comprehend?
Or, when you hear of Jesus as “the Word,” do you picture a Jesus who fashions a whip out of a piece of cord and who begins to drive people and to purge this world of its offenses?
How do you hear “the Word?” How does Jesus strike you? As friend? As comforter? As judge? As healer?
“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 wants us to understand that Jesus is going to strike us in the way that we need him to.
A Word that becomes flesh to dwell among us is a living thing.
John begins his telling of the story of Jesus this way because he wants us to see that this Word called Jesus is still alive.
God has his own spirit, his own will, and how you hear him and see him is how he is showing God’s own self to you.
Jesus, this “Word of God,” has a way of speaking that captures your attention as if someone were calling out your very name, and when God strikes you as only a word can do, it is time to pay attention and to listen.
It all begins with the “Word,” however that word strikes you.
This is how God calls to you, and whether you hear it as a gentle voice or a loud accusation, as a judge or a healer, know this. Behind “the Word” is Jesus, who is really all of these things, that he might be there to speak the right Word to you at this moment.
I don’t know how the Word will come to you today.
That’s one of the amazing things about preaching.
Sometimes when I think all I’ve said is just so much drivel, God somehow manages to shape the words to reach someone.
Sometimes when I think I have carefully crafted the words so that all anyone can possibly hear is pure gospel, someone will tell me that the sermon made them angry,
And sometimes when I try to craft words that will move people to passion and activity, I can tell by all the blank faces that the time for such action was not yet in God’s plans.
I don’t know how the Word will come to you today, how it will hit you.
I don’t know if you will see Jesus as a comforter or friend, or as a judge and accuser of your life choices and decisions, or just as a polite irrelevance in this world.
But I do know this.
The Word has become flesh and is alive. That is what Christmas promises. And if you think that Jesus doesn’t have anything to say to you, watch out, because that’s when he is most likely just about to call you by name.
That’s when God is most likely to grab you, because that is what God came to do.
May the Word become flesh within you this day, filling you with life and light.
May the Word made flesh in Jesus, however he may speak to you, speak clearly this day, grabbing your attention.
God may come forcefully upon you, demanding as an infant’s screams, or tenderly as a child’s hand. But my prayer is that today that Word will come upon you, and that you may indeed receive from him grace upon grace, according to God’s will and mercy.