Scots Church Adelaide
Swimming with John

Christmas 2
Gospel: John 1:(1-9), 10-18

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

14 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. 15(John testified to him and cried out, ‘This was he of whom I said, “He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.” ’) 16From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.

The beginning of John’s Gospel is clearly different from the style of the text which follows. It is, as Bill Loader says in his commentary, an overture. It summarises what is going to occur; it presages the gospel. Like any good overture it sets the scene emotionally. It is more than mere intellectual content, but full of that as well.

(An example of “overture” which I have been playing with this morning is the opening crawl of the original Star Wars movie. [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wRHFcQgNFQ8] The scene is set for the whole movie in a few simple words. The overture music will echo on through the entire movie. )

After a brief summary of the Wisdom tradition which echoes throughout John, Bill says

The gospel writer has composed the overture to the gospel using the theme songs of wisdom. The effect is to assert and celebrate that Jesus is that word and wisdom of whom they sang. This is a stupendous claim. It amounts to saying: in Jesus we find life’s meaning, God’s word, the true Torah. In him life makes sense. He is everything that people hoped for in looking to the Scriptures, especially the Torah. He is God, as Wisdom is God and God’s, yet is so without losing his distinctive identity (1:1; 1:18). For he is with God and in all things subordinate to God. That is why he is able to make God known (1;18).

Later Bill says

John is a gospel of radical simplifications.

This got my attention! As much as I enjoy theological puzzles, and stories within stories, I also want simple! I want reality that is ‘in my face.’ I don’t want a belief system on which I need to do revision study, before I can restate the gospel even to myself! I’m happy for as much subtlety and as many layers of meaning that a theology can provide. But if there is not also an ability to explain in a few words or deeds, then I suspect the complexity is a smokescreen, or sophistry. It leaves me deeply unsatisfied.

In the past, some of my aversion to John relates to this. Unlike the plain words of Mark, for example, John was dense and impenetrable. Apart from the irritation, and perhaps even the affront to my pride because I didn’t ‘get it,’ there seemed to be an issue of justice. What kind of God, would bind a person’s salvation to a hidden truth, which they may or may not discover. Not one I wished to worship.

John is simple. Layer upon layer of profundity is there, if we want it. But basically, it is an invitation to enter the water, and swim. It is not about an elite faith, which must be gained by hard study and deep understanding. It is about a faith which believes by acting… by entering the water. A child can do it.

The basis of that faith are all there in the overture. In the beginning was the Word… and the Word was God… and the Word became flesh and lived among us… This is the God of Genesis- In the beginning…

The radical bit, the returning to the root, is in verse 12.

But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God…

Here is the wisdom of God which has been calling to us through the ages. We are able to respond. All the promise of the ages, of being God’s people, are there.

I’m not sure how I will preach on this. It’s the poetry and praise, more than something to teach. It’s in the league of the statement

There is the music of Johann Sebastian Bach.
Therefore there must be a God.
You either see this one or you don't.

John, and his overture, strike me as being like a fine painting. My daughter, the artist, can describe all the techniques; the angles and colours, and proportions; the echoes of old masters, but her joy in the painting is something that is not captured by that description. There is something more, some experience, that makes the painting something for her which I cannot have or understand.

In the same way, she is appalled that today, a heat wave day, I have ridden my bike into work as usual. She is speechless that I will ride not the whole 28 kilometres home, but 35, because that is the better ride. I can talk about the quiet pleasure of the linear park, and its isolation in the middle of the city and suburbs. I can describe the satisfaction of carefully and successfully managing the long hill climb out of the city on a stinking hot day. This will make no more sense than the ridiculous pleasure gained from the few short and dangerous minutes careering down Target Hill Road at the end. She cannot know, because she doesn’t do it.

And always, painting or riding, there is something which accompanies the ongoing discipline. There is the promise of further discoveries and joys to experience.

So perhaps I can encourage people to think of some activity that renews and recreates them. And remind them that their supreme chocolate cake, or sublime quilts, and that ability to build anything, come not merely from following instructions, but from doing and living.

At this epiphany, or showing of Jesus, John is inviting us to live and do Jesus.

Andrew Prior
Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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