In the Beginning…the Word
Much has been written about the beginning of John’s gospel—the prologue. It’s a stirring passage. I have the good fortune to read it every Christmas Eve in our service of lessons and carols. Traditionally, it is the final reading in this service, and as pastor I have the privilege of sharing it with our congregation.
This is John’s version of the birth story. He doesn’t go into detail as do Matthew and Luke. He doesn’t ignore it completely as does Mark. Instead, as John does with other passages in his gospel, he reveals the concept behind the details. Matthew tells the birth story from Joseph’s perspective; Luke from Mary’s point of view. John tells it from the perspective of the results, the effects on those who experienced the man Jesus Christ.
In John’s words we hear the echo of Proverbs 8, the beautiful description of wisdom and wisdom’s part in creation.
“Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills I was brought forth, before he had made the earth with its fields, or the first of the dust of the world.” (Proverbs 8:25)
“He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.” (John 1:2-3)
Christians look at John’s prologue and at Proverbs 8 and say, “Well, of course the writer of Proverbs was talking about Jesus Christ!” That our Jewish brothers and sisters read it differently demonstrates how open the Bible is for interpretation. It doesn’t necessarily mean one of us is right and the other wrong. It just means we see this passage from different points of view.
John wants us to see Jesus as Paul describes him in his letter to the Philippians: “…who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” (Philippians 2:6-7)
John wants us to see the eternal Jesus, who existed before creation—before the beginning of time, the Jesus Christ who is coequal with God the Father. It is this Jesus, the Word of God, who John describes so beautifully and poetically in these verses. “In the beginning was the Word, and the word was with God and the word was God.” (italics mine)
John sees the Creator in Jesus Christ. “All things were made through him…” When God spoke, the Word was there. “Let there be light,” God said. John says, “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.”
Matthew speaks briefly about the birth: “Now after Jesus was born…” Luke says, “And [Mary] gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger…” John gives us the reason for the birth: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…”
Matthew and Luke give us a baby, the infant Jesus, wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a feeding trough. We know this little babe will grow to be the Savior of the world, but right now, at the beginning, Jesus is a tiny, helpless child.
John gives us a fait accompli. The Word of God was made human flesh and dwelt among us. The One who helped create this world and all that is in it walked with humans, talked with humans, taught humans, healed humans, and died for humans.
And we beheld his glory.