John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it. 6 There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. 9 The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (NIV)
This is how John (the ‘Beloved,’ not ‘the Baptist’) treated Jesus’ entrance to human history. “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. And we beheld His glory, as of the only begotten of The Father; full of grace and truth.”
As I’ve considered the Nativity narratives once again, it’s obvious each of the writers has a different “take” on how the Incarnation took place. That is understandable, of course, because a different person from an entirely different perspective wrote each account. And, it also appears, each was written for a potentially widely different audience.
John, it seems, is addressing a primarily Greek audience. The Greeks were, as you might correctly conclude, a bit more inclined toward metaphysics and philosophy. That became, in fact, along with their art (you’ve seen the awe-inspiring sculptures and architecture,), some of the lasting contributions of that great, ancient, sophisticated, spiritually sterile society.
In their thoughtful pursuits, they focused upon the concept or idea which they called The Word. The Logos, as John says in his intro. Now, if John had been writing and thinking most of his readers were going to be Jewish, he’d probably have used the word “Messiah” instead of “Logos.” The Hebrew prophets had introduced the concept of a great Leader and had repeatedly foretold the arrival on the one who would deliver His people. Devout Jews expectantly awaited that “Promised One.” Unfortunately, when Messiah finally did arrive, His own people didn’t recognize him. They had a different notion of what he’d be like and the idea of a baby in a manger just didn’t fit their preconceptions. The Greeks, however, had a different expression which they used to express some similar ideas and hopes and aspirations. In their intellectual endeavours, they viewed “The Word” as the highest and noblest of all their ideas. It was the absolute epitome of beauty, and virtue. The “Logos” was the highest and noblest concept in their thinking. The sine qua non. * They wrestled valiantly with the Idea. Tried to understand it. Aspired to live up to the Ideal and, forever, even the best of them fell miserably short of that goal. In a word, The WORD was the symbol of perfection. Absolute, unobtainable purity and perfection.
However, the best minds and spirits among the ancient Greeks devoted huge amounts of time and emotional, intellectual and spiritual energy to such a pursuit and in spite of many admirable accomplishments never reached that objective. They had lots of gods, but none of them were able to keep Grecian culture from crumbling and lying in broken ruins. . . much like most of their fallen ancient majestic ruins which to this very hour have never failed to spark imagination and appreciation for their ingenuity and artistry.
It seems to me that what John is attempting to do here is simply: make the Truth known to the readers by using a concept with which they were familiar, perhaps make it a bit easier to understand what he was trying to get across. That makes immense sense to me. Why try to explain anything to anyone, using words and ideas with which they have absolutely no familiarity? Is it the responsibility of the hearer, for instance, to learn the language with which you’re familiar in order for you to tell him what you think he should know? If that’s the case, wonder why missionaries would ever have wanted the Bible translated into any foreign language? Much less Chinese or Arabic? For that matter, why would God have ever encouraged anyone to translate the Hebrew Old Testament, or the koine Greek or Aramaic New Testament into King James English? What would be the point of organizations like Tyndale publishers going to the expense and trouble of translating Scripture into the language of primitive people like the Auca Indians? Much less the popular, widely and more easily read translations like Peterson’s recent version or The Living Bible or the NIV?
The world’s most brilliant scholars wouldn’t have to be called in to figure that out. The obvious reason John used ‘their word,’ was to introduce them to The Word!
The whole idea is to help you understand. And that’s done very often by taking you from the things with which you’re familiar and going from there to a better understanding of the message. The progression of learning seems always to be from the familiar to the unfamiliar. From the simple to the profound. A good teacher has a way of meeting us where we are and taking us where we need to be. This appears to me to be exactly what John is attempting to do. And quite successfully, it would appear!
Another thought that has been floating around in my mind is that the word… words… are the means by which we communicate. We speak and we write and we use words. Even more basic than that are the letters we use to form the words we use. There’s a place where Jesus says, “I am the Alpha and the Omega (the ‘A’ and the ‘Z’ to us modern Westerners. And, by implication I believe, everything in between.). Thus, as basic as it can be, Jesus likens Himself to our alphabet. The very foundation upon which we form our words! We keep adding new words to our dictionary, and the “alphabet” continues to be adequate for every demand a changing culture creates.
And that is so simple! AS SIMPLE AS A,B,C’s! Haven’t I been saying all along? That’s the way God works! He intends to be understood. His love is so basic, and so encompassing, that He stoops to the lowest level possible so everyone can know. You don’t have to be genius or endowed with all kinds of intellectual, social or other special credentials or accomplishments to believe the simple, profound, beautiful, life-changing Truth.
As a very unaccomplished amateur ‘thinker,’ I remember once (in high school as I recall) saying I thought it was not possible to think without words (or similar symbols.). That stirred up a little “stink” among us adolescent pseudo-intellectuals. It was worse than the time ‘us guys’ were coolin’ out at the city park watching girls and watching the merry-go-round. I’d just begun Algebra and was about to understand the axiom: “D=RT.” “If that’s the case,” in newly acquired Freshman wisdom, I declared authoritatively that: “the horses on the outside of the carousel are going faster than the swan seats and ducks on the inside track.” The buzz in the hall before classes the next morning made me very sympathetic with Galileo Gallilei.
It sure seems difficult for me to think, and even more difficult to express my thoughts without putting them into words. I know there’s ‘non-verbal’ communication, and there are probably fallacies in my logic here, so you notice I’m not being too dogmatic. The point I can make, though, without fear of being successfully contradicted, is that words are the main means by which we communicate. That is true, whether they are spoken or signed or written down or conveyed with symbols. Or, as we say sometimes, “Unspoken.”
So I began to think: this is the ultimate means God has chosen by which to communicate. One of the New Testament writers agreed with me (you know it should be the other way around!): “God, who at sundry (varying) times and in divers (different) manners has spoken to us by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son.” **
Let’s think about this a bit: Scripture says God has spoken in the past, trying to communicate with His creation. There were spoken words. Even “The Heavens declare the word of God and the firmament shows His handiwork.” *** Written words. But now, John seems to be saying, God is communicating with His world in as powerful and personal way as it could ever be possible! He speaks to us through HIS SON! When He really wanted to get across to us the way we could and should live, He didn’t just tell us. He showed us. He spoke clearly in the most powerful way He could. Through the LIVING WORD, His Son. When He wanted to tell us and show us how much He loved us and how far He was willing to go to bring about reconciliation, He spoke through HIS SON. HIS ONLY BEGOTTEN SON.
You may need to listen carefully to hear it. He doesn’t shout. He doesn’t compete and raise His voice above all the confusion and raucos chaos that so often accompanies our sometimes polluted and diluted and distorted commercial observation of His Son’s visit to our planet.
But, if you listen carefully, you can hear the Word. You may need to get quiet, turn off your tee vee, ipod, gameboy, or other new electronic attention diverters. Sometimes He whispers. But if you listen, you can hear The Living Word of the Living Lord.
If you are serious about understanding the REAL meaning of Christmas, then you must be serious about that effort!
A personal note: I probably won’t post again until after Christmas. But my effort to come to grips with the Truth of this event has rewarded me richly. My efforts are now my gift to you. Along with that “gift,” I send you Christian love and this assurance of my prayers for you, your loved ones, and a world that seems madly intent on self-destruction. The Angels ‘got it right’ that night. Pray God there may be “peace on earth, and good will toward men.” As I write this, I’m almost within walking distance of Marine Camp LeJeune. Especially do I request your prayerful thoughts and gratitude for those who are willing to sacrifice so much for us.
* A dictionary definition of that Latin phrase sine qua non means “that which is absolutely necessary.” Nothing else its equal in value and certainly nothing is more important.
** Hebrews 1:1