I Christmas

December 30, 2018

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. AMEN.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  We have heard this phrase from St. John’s Gospel many times, but does it have meaning to us?  Do we understand this concept of “the Word”?  It loses much of its meaning in translation and in cultural context.  Let me talk about this for a moment.

Let me begin with a few examples that have nothing to do with scripture, but everything to do with what I am talking about.  On one of my visits to Germany, I gave one of my German brothers a choice of several things that we could do one afternoon.  He said to me “Es ist mir wurst.”  Translated literally, it means, “It is to me sausage.”  But what it really meant was, “It doesn’t matter to me.”

We have plenty of phrases and words like this in our common usage that I fear will die out in this generation.  For instance, “Six of one, a half dozen of the other.”   Very similar to “Es ist mir wurst” – it is the same to me, it doesn’t matter.   I think that most young people do not use phrases like this anymore.  But we understand what they mean.

These are very silly examples, but they get to my point.  All cultures have words and phrases which when taken literally do not make sense, but within the context of their culture, are understood by those who speak and hear them.

This can be said for the familiar phrase which I quoted from the beginning of our Gospel lesson today – “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  Taken literally, this does not make sense to us.  How can we say such things about a word, or in this case, the word?

But to those for whom St. John wrote his Gospel, this concept was understood.  St. John wrote for Hellenistic Jews – that is Jewish people who lived in a Greek culture.  In Greek Culture, philosophy was understood and used in everyday life.  We do not live in a culture in which philosophy is used readily or understood.

The Greek word that St. John uses is “Logos”, which was understood by Greeks and Jews who lived in the Greek culture as the cosmic Mediator between God and the world, who is the personification of God's Truth and Wisdom.

St. John expands on this concept when he writes:

“(The Logos) was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.   In him was life, and the life was the light of men.   The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

But then, St. John takes it further into a place that is new for those who are hearing this for the first time.  They understood this concept of “the Logos”, “the Word”.  They understood that the Word was the mediator between God and the world.  They understood that the Word was a part of the creation of all that is.  All of these things were not new to them.

But then St. John writes, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.”

This is different.  This is new.  This is something that has to be wrestled with to be understood, because St. John is talking about the incarnation of God.  He is using this Greek philosophical term and then is saying that God became human and lived among us.

This is not a cute little baby in the manger.  This is not angels or shepherd, or anything that we see over at our crèche.  This is a different way of explaining the truth of who Jesus is.  St. John is using a phrase, a term that is understood by his listeners to explain something that is beyond what they understood.

This is St. John using a term which is contemporary for his culture and his time to tell of the beginning of the plan for the salvation of the world.  This is what he means when he writes:

          “The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world.  He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not.   He came to his own home, and his own people received him not.   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 nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”

During this Christmas season may we receive anew the word, the Logos of God so that we might more fully live as God’s children in the world.  AMEN.