The Word Made Flesh

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 1:1-14]

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Fra Filippo Lippi, Madonna and Child, c. 1440, tempera on panel, Samuel H. Kress Collection.

Three of the gospel writers begin their narratives with stories of Jesus’ life: his birth or his ministry. The writer of John, however, begins with an affirmation of the eternal nature of God and the ancient hymn affirming that God is eternal, outside of time and space. God, and the Word that is with God and is God, existed before creation and continue to exist. The relationship between God and the Word is eternal, from before the beginning to the creation of the world and afterwards.

Everything came into being through God, who is the source of all light and life. This light, which is eternal, shines even in the darkness. Even darkness cannot overcome this light from God.

After reminding us of the eternal nature of God, and the Word, the writer John brings us to a specific time and place to describe the life and teachings of Jesus: Palestine at the time of John the Baptist, with no birth narrative or story of Jesus’ childhood. The gospel of Mark introduces John the Baptist as calling people to repentance and baptizing them with water, but the writer of John introduces him as one who came to witness to the light. This witness is an important vocation in this Gospel, because it is through witness that the world comes to know the presence of God in the world. The writer of John later describes John the Baptist’s witness in answering the Pharisees’ questions and baptizing.

As the writer of John has emphasized the importance of witness in spreading God’s word, we are drawn to the question of how to bear witness in our contemporary society. Calling people to repentance goes against the grain of most Presbyterians and would doubtless cause some to question our grip on reality. However, in this season of Advent it may be worthwhile to explore how we can best witness to the reality of the Messiah, not for the sake of converting people, but to demonstrate to others that Christ lives among us.

After describing the role of John, the writer of John closes this prologue with a return to the meaning of the Incarnation. The eternal Word enters our earthly dimension, becoming human. The story of Jesus, then, is the story of the Word made flesh.

The significance of the Incarnation is that we are to discover God’s presence and God’s glory in Jesus himself. And thus the rest of John’s gospel presents the life and teaching of Jesus, the Word made flesh which dwelt among us.

Listen:

“Divinium Mysterium”
Performed by the Choir at Christ Church Episcopal in New Haven, CT

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