Commentary on John 1:1-14
Whereas the Christmas Eve account was simple narrative, this text can only be viewed as poetic or imaginative.
Though there is a story here, it must be teased out from the creative language of the Evangelist. The task of the preacher is not so much that of interpreting in precise language as it is in awakening the imagination and granting permission for hearers to open themselves to the possibilities that the text provides.
“Swinging for the fences” is often the temptation on high holy days when attendance is, perhaps, beyond the normal. Proclaimers have self-expectations that we in one stupendous sermon might make all things plain and provide fodder to generate the return of the masses. If that is your dream, it may be time to let that one go. A home run is not required: a single will suffice!
With that in mind, my suggestion would be to focus only on two verses, the first and the first half of 14. The first verse abstractly sets the “word” into the context of the Johannine author’s community. The verse concretizes that context in a still poetic way.
Verse 1: The word
- was with God
- was God
One cannot understate the significance of the logos concept throughout this text. However, one should not overestimate one’s ability to give clarity to its meaning. Suffice it to say that scholars continue to debate the source and meaning of the word logos and why and how the Evangelist used it in the Prologue to the Gospel.
For the purpose of this essay, it seems appropriate to state that the concept was present in multiple contexts of the time period. It fits the style and purposes of the Gospel author to use words and concepts in new ways to evoke fresh understandings. For preaching’s sake, this might be a good model for us on Christmas Day. Suggesting evocative images for how logos might be understood today can be quite a gift on Christmas.
The first verse is instructive in defining the logos in terms of being (existed), in terms of relationship (with God), and in terms of identity (was God). How might we tease forth a poetically insightful, imaginatively evocative logos parallel for our contexts? This is not Luke’s baby wrapped tightly and placed in a crib. Might it be a swirling sonata that is timeless and universal so much so that it existed before it was set to music or played by an orchestra? What images come to mind that might work for your congregations?
Logos was a concept on which the Evangelist could build creatively for that ancient community. From where can you pull to be poetic for your congregation?
Verse 14: The word
- became flesh
- dwelt among us
Every word here is truly significant because each one gives concrete definition to the abstraction of the first verse. The logos is not described here as existing (eimi): something has happened, taken place in the sense that this is now a real event (ginomai). Furthermore, when this event took place, it resulted in a fleshly logos. It seems abstract but it is not meant to be. The timeless universal strain of a sonata is now on a piece of paper. You can hold it in your hands and look at it. The word has become flesh and sinew.
What existed with God and was God is now pitching a tent as a fleshly logos. It is here for a time. This is not some ephemeral passing presence or spiritual apparition. The logos has taken up residence with us. What was formerly with God is now with us: this flesh-word has relational relevance not just to God but also to us.
The first half of verse 14 has now come full circle in concretizing verse one. The being has expanded to an event of becoming; the relationship has expanded to include us. And this one’s identity is clear to us: “we have seen.”
The word translated as “we beheld” or “we have seen” can be used in a literal sense as “we have looked at with our eyes.” It may also connote a deeper sense of perception or understanding that is quite separate from literally seeing. This secondary meaning is what is prominent if we are to identify fully the identity of the one who has taken up fleshly residence with us. There is a glory about this one that is beyond mere visual identification. We can know who this one is.
The gift of Christmas is not some neatly wrapped package under the tree. Neither is it some neatly worded sermon that explains the Gospel gift of God through Christ Jesus. It may this year be a carefully crafted, imaginative, evocative message that sparks the minds and hearts of worshippers to encounter the Word in community all over again for the first time.