Week of Sunday January 4 - Christmas 2
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.
We cannot help but think in the categories of popular science. We are drenched in the idea, stained by the hubris, that we can understand what is true and how things work. It does not matter that even a few moments reflection remind us how naïve this idea is, and remind us how small a portion of our experience can be understood using the scientific method. Neither does it matter that the spectacular science that lands the Rosetta spacecraft on an asteroid at the end of a ten year mission says nothing about who I am, how I feel, or what is ultimate. Nor that we do not even understand our own consciousness, let alone how it comes to be, or from where we come; because I was born into the explosion of post war optimism and technological prowess, I will always "feel" that I can analyse John Chapter One. I will constantly seek to understand it; that is, to master it, rather than experience it. How else could it be read?
I find I have two choices. I can follow one of two ultimately unverifiable instincts about the nature of what is.
I can intuit that the world is simply matter without anything resembling what we mean by the word god. God is merely the descriptor of an historical naivety and error. If there is to be any purpose in this world it must come from us. We make the meaning. We create the purpose.
Or I can intuit that "at the back of everything" there is some purpose, some principle, some-thing… which means the word God is not a fundamental misunderstanding of the reality in which I find myself.
It is impossible to "prove" either of these choices. How can we fully comprehend the reality and totality which embraces us when we can never stand outside or apart from it? All our philosophy and theology, and all our science, is a rationalising and clarifying of our basic instinct about the nature of reality. Hopefully we grow beyond mere dogmatism and explore the reality in which we find ourselves, rather than construct an edifice which only defends us against that reality and protects us from the sheer terror of the insignificance, the intangibility, and impermanence of our selves.
It may not even be possible to make this choice ourselves! It may feel thrust upon us. I made the second choice. I very consciously chose to commit myself to this understanding− to trust it− when I was 22 years old. Yet I always knew it. It is the reality which shapes my earliest memories. I now know my trembling adult decision was to follow a reality and instinct I could not escape.
But I want to explain John. I want to say, "'The Word' means…" I want to understand it. I have to write a First Impressions, and deliver a sermon. That is the nature of my conditioning. How can I can stand under it, rather than, paradoxically stand over it, and control it and explain it? How can I understand, but not explain? − these are questions which for most of my life would never have occurred to me. To know meant to list out the mechanisms, to see cause and effect, to master.
But in reality all of my knowing is compromised and limited. And if there is "something at the back of everything" I can describe it with only the barest analogies; indeed, John Chapter One can express only the barest of analogies!
“Between Creator and creature no similitude can be expressed without implying a greater dissimilitude.” (Denzinger/Schönmetzer 806)
This remark, sometimes casually referred to as the “maior dissimilitudo” is much more important than it seems. It is one of the great bulwarks against idolatry in the western ecclesiastical tradition. It means for instance that when we take the word “god”, a perfectly common pagan word (like “Theos”, derived from “Zeus”) and part of the world of violence which characterizes the cult of divinities, what we mean when we apply that word to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is much more unlike a “god” than it is like it. Or if you like, the word “god” is a deeply misleading starting place for us with which to begin to talk about God, but the one we have which is least inadequate.
… via negativa: God is like this, but God is not this.
And so in the beginning, back way before anything we can imagine or know− but we are talking about more than time here, beyond time…
there was Word, some expressing speaking generating… word− but not much like speaking, much more than speaking…
and the Word was with God, indeed the Word was God, it was the very nature of whatever is at the back of everything that it creates and expresses− although this surely barely expresses whatever is at the back of everything… and there is more than things…
All things came into being through him; when we say at the back of everything we mean everything− although we really have no idea what everything is, or even might be...
and this Word is him, or maybe her, for whatever Word is, it is beyond gender. But it is like us, her, personal, not just a thing, yet our "her-ness" is not Her…
And there was life, motion, movement, sentience, mind, persons… but so much more than this, for what I know as life is only darkness!
But this life will bring light into my darkness. Darkness has already done its worst in the murder of Jesus, but has not overcome the light. Something about him, something about his way persists, and it does not seek revenge.
This life that became flesh, our life− it could have been me! (But it could never have been me) This life was full of grace and truth… Somewhere in its giving is an echo, a shadow, of ultimacy… a reflection of what is at the back of it all: Truth. And it calls me to be the same... from is fullness we have received, grace upon grace.
This life− this him− was so close to the father's heart− so in touch with what is at the back of it all that it too is somehow God.
And by glimpse, and nuance, and love, and living, it makes God known.
And nothing is explained at all. Nothing is proved. Yet if I stand under endless blue sky and simply in the noisy silence of summer heat, I see and I hear. In the beginning was the Word… and the Word was with God… and the Word was God...
Follow this Jesus because he will lead you to that glorious silence.
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. Please note that references to Wikipedia and other websites are intended to provide extra information for folk who don't have easy access to commentaries or a library. Wikipedia is never more than an introductory tool, and certainly not the last word in matters biblical!