I totally get it, prologues are hard. I mean, I love the poetry of the beginning of John’s Gospel. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” It is beautiful and it rolls off the tongue expressing something profound and mysterious, but….
But after a little while of listening to John, my eyes begin to glaze over a bit at the twists and turns of the language.
It sounds pretty, but what does it really mean?
I have the same difficulty reading through the prologues or introductions of books, often written in glowing prose as a tribute to the author or by the author.
I know that the prologue sets up what is to follow.
I know that what is found there is often a really good summary of where the author is going to be taking us.
But I get impatient.
I just want to get INTO the book! Let it catch me on its own merits and power!
Very few people read a prologue and find themselves riveted by what the prologue has to say, they want to hear the story itself. We often view it as “optional” material.
But an argument could be made that you will not understand John’s Gospel if you lightly skip over the prologue, because here is the meat of it all, and it comes just as our eyes are starting to droop and glaze….
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.
John is saying that God was right here, and we did not recognize it! We didn’t know God, even when we saw God in our midst.
God came to us, and we did not accept God, nor did we welcome, invite, listen to or acknowledge the very God before us.
So, if you can’t tell who God is by sight, what are you to look for? How then to recognize God when God comes?
For John, it has to do with power, but not the kind of power we are accustomed to in this world.
We think of power as that which excludes.
The power to reject.
The power to enforce.
The power to do something, to have something, to obtain something, to get by force or by any means necessary.
If you can walk into a store and pull out a card and buy anything you want, that’s power… or so we think, by the standards of this world.
If you can prevent something from happening, get your own way on a policy, block legislation, stop actions by means of the court. Man, that is power! We see that wielded on a daily basis anymore.
If you can be arrested for offenses and not serve a day in jail, but be out on parole, bail, have your sentenced lessened because of who you are, or the color of your skin, or your connections, man that is power!
By the measures of this world power is a finite commodity, and if I have it, it is because I have successfully denied it to you, and so I will keep my power at any cost and by any means necessary.
This is the world into which “The Word” enters.
This is the world that God comes into to make God’s presence known, and because the only thing we can “see” as children of this world is such “power” wielded in the sense that I have just described, we do not see God. Even when God is in our midst, nor do we accept God, because God simply isn’t behaving in the way we think God should behave as the “all powerful” one.
No, instead God comes as a baby, born in a manger. “The Word becomes flesh, and dwells among us.”
And what is it that a baby does?
Well, none of the things we expect of one who “gives power!”
Babies don’t even have the power to control their own bowels, but they do have a peculiar kind of power.
They have the power of relationship.
They have the power to make our hearts melt, and our arms want to hold, and make our usual erudite utterances become all “sing-songy, baby wabie -e”
“Who’s the precious one! Who’s the little snookies? Who looks just like his daddy!”
This is the power of a baby, the power of Christmas, the power of the one who comes to take on flesh and dwell among us.
And, John says, to those who receive the Word made flesh and who believe in his name, God gives —POWER.
But it is this kind of power, not power such as the world recognizes or gives.
The Word made flesh give the power to connect and to love.
The power to hold and to be received.
The power to see potential, or likeness, or something that transcends the way we think of power in this world.
The power to become Children of God.
Oh, and it doesn’t happen the way that power as we think of it in this world asserts that it should, would normally happen.
You are born into it.. but not by blood! It’s not about some birthright conferred, some special standing you have based on who you were descended from, or who you were connected to like a lineage.
This birth as a child of God is not a matter of the “will of the flesh”. It’s not something you earn on your own or scrape and scrap to get the way you do power in this world, clawing over others to attain.
It’s not about the “will of man” – as if someone here declares you can have it, or decides you can have it, as if it is some favor to be conferred on to you, a title bestowed upon you because you are privileged in some way, different from everyone else.
No, becoming “Children of God” is strictly a matter of power freely given by God. It is what God decides to do, and what you are left to recognize that you have!
God claims you, and what is left out of the picture entirely is any sense of this working the way power usually works in this world.
Which is, of course, again, why we miss it, why we can’t see it.
If you want to see who the Word becomes flesh, see and behold the gift of becoming a Child of God, then you look to Jesus!
If you want to claim this power freely given to be “Children of God,” then you model your own actions on the actions of Jesus, where you will see how this power is exercised.
John will then lift up seven “signs” of this power to become Children of God, in the actions of Jesus. It is not that we “mirror” or “do what Jesus does” so much (none of us are turning water into wine or walking on water!)
No, instead look at what the signs that point to Jesus as the Word made Flesh’s concerns are in this world.
Look at where the power is made known, and what it is made known through, and how it claims people.
Water into wine, the first of the signs, is all about providing hope where it looks like all gladness has all run out. The Children of God recognize that when it looks like the party is over, God can move to provide and turn around! Vessels can be repurposed, and the best can be saved for last! Expectations can be upended!
Who to heal? Not one’s friends only, but the servant of the Centurion. Children of God are called to love outside the lines of friend and foe. There is power in loving the enemy and praying for the persecutor instead of repeating the cycles of this world’s power, where the powerful exert their will and suffering continues for all. There is power in moving and acting to help and to heal whether it is appreciated or even expected at all!
Who to help? Those neglected and powerless, the paralytic at Bethsaida who cannot make it on his own power to the healing waters. The Children of God have the power to see with compassion those who are left out of dealings of this world, and find ways to bring them what is needed, desired, and hoped for.
The fourth sign is the feeding of the 5000. The Children of God have the power to imagine a world where the hungry are fed and where those who have no means are provided with what is needed for life.
Walking on the water is the fifth sign. The Children of God have the power to imagine a God who commands both wind and wave, for whom nothing is impossible, and in whose presence one can only stand in wonder and awe!
The sixth sign of John’s Gospel is the healing of the man who was blind from birth. The Children of God have the power to look at things differently. The question is not “who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind?” as the disciples at first assume. There is no power to be found in affixing blame!
No, the power comes in those who can see the Grace of God for what it is, an upending of assumptions and an end of things having to be as they always have been?
The power to become Children of God is one of radical inclusion. You can be one too! Even the blind, the skeptic, the Pharisee, the parent, and the lost one who was minding their own business begging before the power came their way and changed everything!
The seventh sign is the raising of Lazarus from the dead, where the Children of God behold that the dead can live again, and that even in the face of such a sign, the powers of this world will continue to oppose and want to put the light to death, and plunge into darkness again.
But those who believe, who are given the power to become the Children of God, they will know that death is not the final word. Though darkness tries, it cannot in the end overcome the light that has come into this world!
All of this is set up in the prologue, in the promised power to become Children of God. You won’t look at Jesus in the same way once you know what kind of power you are being given!
You won’t look at this world in the same way, once you begin to see how differently God’s power is used and freely given.
This is the kind of power that Jesus, the “Word made Flesh” comes to give!
The power to connect and to love.
The power to hold and to be received.
The power to see potential.
The power to become Children of God, and so Child of God, you are one.