I love reading! It’s probably my most favourite thing to do in the world. I can’t recall a time when I didn’t have at least one book on the go and more often than not I have a couple that I alternate to say nothing of the huge pile beside my bed waiting their turn!
Despite the advent of all things technical ( of which I am generally a big fan) I have not yet succumbed to a kindle because I love holding a book and turning the pages. One of the small pleasures that I am looking forward to when it is safe to do so is to go to bookshops – the best sort of shop in my opinion and especially second hand book shops and charity shops that have a selection of paperbacks to thumb through. I have a pretty eclectic taste in reading material – as my mum used to say, I’ll read the back of the cornflake packet if that’s all that is available!
When I’m choosing a book, there are three things that draw me to it – the title, the cover and the first few lines. And it is perhaps the latter, the first paragraph or so that is the deal breaker. If that first paragraph hooks me in then that’s it, a mental do not disturb sign goes up and I’m lost in the plot!
Maybe that’s why John is my favourite Gospel. Those first few verses never fail to thrill me
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”.
To my mind it’s one of the best lines written in the whole of the Bible – it sets the scene for the rest of John’s Gospel and it draws you in to read more.
And it’s very different from the beginning of other Gospels. At the beginning of the gospel of Mark, we see Jesus being baptised by John the Baptist; the gospel of Matthew begins with Jesus’ birth; while the gospel of Luke takes us back to the birth of John the Baptist as the witness who prepares the way for Jesus.
All of these Gospels talk about Jesus’ human story – his ancestry and the story of how his ministry started, but in comparison the Gospel of John goes way beyond that because it doesn’t take us back to the beginning of Jesus’ human story. Far more radically it takes us back to the beginning of Jesus’ God story.
The beginning of John’s gospel or what is also called the ‘prologue’ starts with the words “In the beginning” which reminds us of the first line of Genesis and the story of creation.
The beginning of the gospel of John paints a picture of the God story that is stretched back beyond even the dawn of time itself. The other Gospels focus on Jesus’ human story and Jesus’ ancestry but for John this is not enough as Jesus was already there at the beginning as part of our creation.
The first line of Johns Gospel is very intriguing, but it is also very confusing!What does John mean by the ‘Word’? The ‘word’ in Greek is Logos, which means logic, reason or idea and was used in ancient times to describe logical rationality which was used to create the universe.
There is also the fact that the Jewish belief is that God’s word is alive and active from the creation, when God only had to say – ‘let there be’ ( for example light) for things to come into being.
So again John is linking Jesus’ ancestry firmly with the God story at the beginning of creation and reminding his listeners of the link between Jesus and the God of creation. So really when John refers to the ‘Word’ he is referring to Jesus.
Therefore if you replace ‘the Word’ with ‘Jesus’ – it really highlights the significance of this first line. “In the beginning was Jesus, and Jesus was with God, and Jesus was God.”
It not only highlights the fact that Jesus was there at the beginning of time with God, and also the amazing fact that Jesus was God then but also that Jesus is part of God now. Although the Holy Spirit isn’t mentioned at the beginning of John’s Gospel so we don’t hear about the Trinity, there is a strong sense that Jesus is entwined with God but yet is somehow distinct from God too.
Now this could all get very confusing again but John unpicks this by the way in which he goes on to describe Jesus : Jesus – ‘the Word’ became flesh and dwelt among us. And that is what makes Jesus so special – because he is fully God and he is also fully human. Jesus has a full God story and also a full human story. I think sometimes we talk about Jesus being fully human and fully divine and brush over it quite quickly, probably because we don’t really understand the enormity of what that means…..Jesus is unique – there is no-one else like him…. there are not enough words in the world that can adequately describe just how special Jesus is….
Within the four Gospels, there are these amazing stories about what Jesus did. Jesus healed people, blind people, people suffering with leprosy and other terrible diseases. Jesus was able to calm a storm just by rebuking it, Jesus fed five thousand people from just five loaves and two fishes, he turned water into wine, he even raised people from the dead…..
There are of course miracles within the Old Testament, like Moses dividing the Red Sea, which is pretty impressive but none of them were on the scale and the sheer number that Jesus performed.
The author of John’s Gospel calls these miracles ‘signs’ because he believed that these miracles were signs to who Jesus really was. These signs were pointers to Jesus’ true identity. Jesus was able to do all of these miracles because he is fully God. And he was also able to do them because of where he was – living as a fully human being, surrounded by other people, and in that way the prophecies of the Old Testament were realised, if only those who witnessed these signs had the faith to understand that.
Then within the Bible we also have stories about Jesus’ humanity. Jesus suffering on the cross, Jesus weeping at the death of his friend Lazarus, Jesus being hungry and thirsty, Jesus being so tired that he was able to continue sleeping even during a storm, Jesus getting angry in the temple. Jesus was able to have the same feelings as us because Jesus is also fully human.
The human story of Jesus bears all the same things that we have had to deal with in our own human stories at some point: the messiness of human life, the pain, the shame and the suffering. But also the human story of Jesus deals with the same everyday ordinary things that we do everyday too. I’m not sure Jesus did the washing and the ironing, but he did have a very ordinary job as a carpenter, we know his parents were quite poor, he had siblings, and he had a pretty ordinary life until his ministry started in his early thirties. And even after his ministry began, Jesus chose to be with ordinary people, to be part of their lives, the good bits, the bad bits, the mundane bits. Jesus chose to immerse himself in the lives of those around him, not because he had to , because he wanted to – and that’s still the same. Jesus chooses to immerse himself in our lives – if of course we invite him to do so.
The thing that always amazes me, is that God wanted his only Son to dwell among us – God wanted His son to have the same ordinary lives that the rest of us have. God wanted him to be a part of the human race and have relationships and ups and downs like the rest of us. Jesus came to earth as a baby, as fragile as the rest of us through his human story but also bringing with him the hope of a nation through his God story.
It is a hope which still shines as brightly now in the middle of a winter that is perhaps more difficult than any of us have ever experienced before as it did over 2000 years ago.
It is a hope that we share because of God’s incredible generosity in giving us HIs son, Jesus Christ the light of the world.
It is a light that is so bright that it is capable of washing away all of our pain, and shame and suffering because it is a light that is full of God’s grace and love. It is a light so bright that darkness cannot overcome it.
As more and more people receive the vaccination for Covid, I hear the phrase “light at the end of the tunnel” being repeated ever more frequently. And it’s true – it really does feel that we are beginning to turn a corner and that we will emerge from this pandemic season, which has at times felt very dark indeed. Coupled with that we are seeing more light in creation, it gets lighter earlier in the morning, it stays light longer in the evening. We are seeing signs of new growth all around us. All of these things bring hope. The whole concept of light radiates hope.
As Christians we are incredibly blessed because not only do we have the hope of the light that we see all around us in creation we have the hope that faith in Jesus, the Light of the world brings.
Being Christians doesn’t mean we don’t experience times of darkness. We are no more or no less likely to have to face the challenges of life than anyone else. Being a Christian doesn’t give us an automatic “get out of jail free” card when the going gets tough. But what it does give us is renewed hope in the world, again and again, no matter how difficult life becomes we have that hope, the hope that the Light of the World brings, that is freely available to whoever wishes to receive that light.
We have received that light and therefore it is incumbent on us to importantly pass that light on so that gradually, little by little, the light gets bigger and brighter until it suffuses the whole world.
When I’m immersed in a good book I often don’t really want it to end. I want to stay with the characters and share their lives. I sometimes want to go straight back to the beginning and start again from those very first lines that hooked me in the first instance. But of course those books I enjoy so much are fiction, they don’t actually exist however much I wish they did.
John’s Gospel isn’t fiction. Neither indeed is any other part of the Bible. The narrative of scripture is the truth and unlike other books, the promise it contains never ends.
Jesus continues to immerse himself in our lives. He was there in the beginning and because of the sacrifice he made for all of us there is no end. Instead there is the promise of eternal life and there is no book ever written contains anything more wonderful than that!