John 1:1-18 CEB (Italic added for emphasis)
In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. The Word was with God in the beginning. Everything came into being through the Word, and without the Word nothing came into being. What came into being through the Word was life, and the life was the light for all people. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness doesn’t extinguish the light. A man named John was sent from God. He came as a witness to testify concerning the light, so that through him everyone would believe in the light. The true light that shines on all people was coming into the world. The light was in the world, and the world came into being though the light, but the world didn’t recognize the light. The light came to his own people, and his own people didn’t welcome him. But those who did welcome him, those who believed in his name, he authorized to become God’s children, born not of blood nor from human desire or passion, but born from God. The Word become flesh and made his home among us. We have seen his glory, glory like that of a father’s own son, full of grace and truth. John testified about him, crying out, “This is the one of whom I said, ‘he who comes after me is greater than me because he existed before me.’” From his fullness we have all received grace upon grace; as the Law was given through Moses, so grace and truth came into being though Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God [but Jesus] has made God known.
The text we have before us today is the beginning of John’s account of the life of Jesus. And as we’ve noted before, John is a different kind of animal when it comes to telling the story. Eugene Peterson in the introduction to John’s Gospel in The Message Study Bible creatively describes how John differs from the other three gospel accounts. “Matthew, Mark, and Luke write like kayakers on a swiftly flowing river with occasional patches of white water,” he writes. “There’s never any doubt that they’re going where the course of the river takes them. But John is more like a canoe on a quiet lake, drifting unhurriedly, paddling leisurely to take in the sights along the shoreline, noticing rock formations, observing a blue heron fish in the rushes, pausing and drifting to sketch cloud patterns reflected in the glassy water. “[i]
So, let’s climb into our canoe and begin drifting upon the smoothly flowing rhythms of John’s prose. How? Well, let’s begin at the beginning. In Genesis, the first book of the Bible, God is presented as speaking the world into existence. You remember the first creation myth. God speaks a word and it happens: heaven and earth, oceans and streams, trees and grass, birds and fish, animals and human beings, everything seen and unseen, are called into being by God’s spoken word. Now, in a deliberate parallel to the open words of Genesis, John presents God as speaking salvation into existence. This time, however, God’s Word takes on human form and enters history in the person of Jesus. [ii] “The Word became flesh and made his home among us.” (1:14).
And this is where the focus of this gospel begins to take shape. The Incarnate One, Jesus, also speaks a word and it happens: forgiveness and healing, illumination, mercy and grace, joy and love, liberation, freedom and resurrection. You see, for John, Jesus is God and God is especially present in Jesus. And this presence, while mysterious in nature, has been from the beginning and will always be.
So, the bottom line here is that John views the incarnation of Jesus as more than just a single moment in time. John is concerned with what happened before and what will come after. In our text for today he writes, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the word was God. The Word was with God in the beginning.” (1:1-2) But, as I said, he was also concerned about what would happen in the future. In chapter 14 he writes, “I won’t leave you as orphans. I will come to you. Soon the world will no longer see me, but you will see me. Because I live, you will live too.” (14:18-19) He goes on in that chapter to say, “I have spoken these things while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom God will send in my name, will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I told you.” (14:25-26).[iii]
But what does all this mean for us? Well, as I was preparing this message, and with this emphasis of incarnation in the back of my mind, I was struck by the use of the word “being.” John writes, “Everything came into being through the Word, and without the Word nothing came into being.” (1:3) Okay. Why’s this important? Well, the Greek verb that’s used here has a wide range of meanings, but the essence is that of “coming into existence.” But that’s not the most interesting part. This verb also expresses an on-going action. In other word, “to continue to be.”
So, that’s the nerdy way of saying that the Word not only spoke salvation into history, but the Word as Advocate, as Holy Spirit, continues to speak salvation into our lives still today. And this all makes perfect sense when we consider verse 4. John writes, “What came into being was life, and the life was the light for all people.” (1:3b-4) “The life” that John speaks of here encompasses the past, present, and future. Like creation itself, salvation is on-going, ever-evolving, continually in the process of being and becoming more.
However, we’ve often been led to believe that salvation is some sort of a “one-and-done” deal. I choose Christ, or accept him, or take him into my heart, whatever verbiage that particular congregation uses, and that seems to be it, with the possible exception of “bringing others to Christ.” Now, please don’t misunderstand me here, I’m not casting shade on anyone else’s beliefs. There are many paths up the mountain. I firmly believe that. But what I am offering is another way of viewing salvation. Salvation as an on-going process.
Now, in order to wrap our minds around this concept of salvation maybe we should return to Peterson’s image of the kayak vs. the canoe, but with a twist. I would offer that salvation is like that canoe on the quiet lake. Drifting, paddling once in a while, taking in all the sounds, smells, and feelings along the way. You see, in this way of thinking, this theology, the incarnate presence of God is around and though and within the entire journey. In other words, God isn’t something that’s down the river only to be encountered at the end of a single day of kayaking. But instead, I contend that God is in the bird songs; God is in the warm sunshine that we feel on our face and the cool water dripping from our fingers; God is in the feeling of sheer joy that the day imbues. A bit of God, my friends, is within each of us and within each and every living thing. And as we journey through this life, as we paddle leisurely around our lakes, we would do well to slow down and enjoy each of these sacred moments.
John understood this. John understood that life was eternal, that life was on-going, and John understood that Jesus represented life itself. You see, for John, Jesus’ life was the light for all people. “The light,” he says, “that shines in the darkness.” And what this tells me, as we continue to face the challenges of our times, is that within our on-going, ever-in-process, lives of faith and salvation, there is hope. Hope because there is a light shining in the darkness. And that light, the very light of Christ, is within each of us. All we have to do is let it shine!
How? Though kind words of compassion and inclusion. We can let our Christ-light shine through generous actions, by promoting justice, and by propagating peace. In all of our relationships, near and far, with people and within creation herself, we can and must bring life by being a light for grace and truth. That, in the end, is the essence of being and the very foundation of salvation.
“From his fullness we have all […all have] received grace upon grace; as the Law was given through Moses, so grace and truth came into being though Jesus Christ.”
Grace and Truth. Life and Light. Being itself.
Amen & Amen.
[i] Eugene Peterson. The Message Study Bible. (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2012) pg. 1635
[ii] Ibid Peterson pg. 1634
[iii] Common English Study Bible (CEB) Introduction to John Joel Green, Gen Ed. (copyright 2013) pg. 167-168