Gospel for Second Sunday of the Year (3 January 2016)
Gospel notes by Michael Whelan SM
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.
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 1:1-5 & 9-14 – NRSV)
This text is eleven of the eighteen verses of what is known as the Prologue of John’s Gospel. None of the other Gospels – the Synoptic Gospels as they are generally called because they share a more or less common way of “seeing all together” the life and teaching of Jesus – has a Prologue or anything like it.
In John’s Prologue we are introduced to all the significant themes and words that will be dealt with in the Gospel itself. For example we find the following themes mentioned in the Prologue and again dealt with in the later text: the pre-existence of the Logos or Son (1:1-2 & in 17:5); in him was life (1:4 & 5:26); life is light (1:4 & 8:12); light rejected by darkness (1:5 & 3:19); yet not quenched by it (1:5 & 12:35); light coming into the world (1:9 & 3:19 and 12:46); Christ not received by his own (1:11 & 4:44); being born of God and not of flesh (1:13 & 3:6 and 8:41-42); seeing his glory (1:14 & 12:41); the one and only son (1:14, 18 & 3:16); truth in Jesus Christ (1:17 & 14:6); no one has seen God except the one who comes from God (1:18 & 6:46).
One scholar writes concerning specific words in the Prologue that will become significant in the text: “.... many of the central, thematic words of this Gospel are first introduced in these verses: life, light (1:4), witness (1:7), true (in the sense of ‘genuine’ or ‘ultimate’, 1:9), world (1:10), glory, truth (1:14). But supremely, the Prologue summarizes how the ‘Word’ which was with God in the very beginning came into the sphere of time, history, tangibility—in other words, how the Son of God was sent into the world to become the Jesus of history, so that the glory and grace of God might be uniquely and perfectly disclosed. The rest of the book is nothing other than an expansion of this theme.” (D A Carson, The Gospel According to John, W.B. Eerdmans, 1991, 110-111.)
The close connections between the Prologue and the rest of the Gospel make it clear that the Prologue was written by the same person who wrote the Gospel.
Scientists hypothesize that “in the beginning” there was the “big bang” – whatever that might in fact mean. As believers we do not have to argue for or against that hypothesis. Nor do we have to argue for or against the hypothesis that the cosmos is about 14.5 billion years old.
Our faith does not contradict science but helps throw light on it: “In the beginning was the Word ....” Whenever and however it all began, the Word was there! We can think of the “big bang” as the explosive expression of God in material form – eternity bursting forth in time, the immaterial in the material, the invisible in the visible. “All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.”
And the most explosive act of all, the most profound utterance of the Word, comes in the whimper of a baby: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”
Two great cosmic realities come together here – the finite historical man, Jesus of Nazareth, enfleshes the Eternal Word. This man Jesus is the Cosmic Christ. Through Him, with Him and in Him the cosmos is expressing the liberating love of the Eternal Creator exploding in space and time.
This twofold reality of Jesus the Cosmic Christ, echoes in our own human experience – our mundane, daily experience. We know firsthand the ambiguity of an existence that is in and of time but not bound by time. We are haunted by the “more than”. Never satisfied, always restless.
Soren Kierkegaard, the nineteenth century Danish theologian-philosopher-psychologist and – like Socrates – general gadfly to many who thought they had all the answers, described this experience of ambiguity well. One commentator sums up Kierkegaard’s thinking: “Who thinks of hitching Pegasus and an old nag to one carriage for a ride? And yet this is what it is to exist (existere) for one compounded of finitude and infinitude.” (J. W. Elrod, Being and Existence in Kierkegaard's Pseudonymous Works, Princeton University Press, 1975, 53f.)
There is something of Pegasus in us all. There is also something of the old nag. We are torn. The temptation is to unhitch the two. Yet when we listen and hear the Word beyond all time, the Word in the “big bang”, enfleshed in Jesus of Nazareth, spoken in the Scriptures and in every moment of our days, we know in our bones that “this is what it is to exist”. “Our hearts are restless until they rest in thee.” (St Augustine, from the opening lines of The Confessions.)