When I was a high school senior, I was fortunate to be able to take several college-level courses. I had to go over to Bowdoin College for one of them, but the rest were offered in my high school by the teachers on staff. In addition to AP German and English, I was eligible for Calculus and Physics, so (not knowing any better) I signed up for both of them.
It nearly killed me—I haven’t taken a math course since. I started making ridiculous mistakes—like multiplying 3 by 2 and getting 5…leading me to answers so painfully wrong it was embarrassing. So the teacher, Mr. Fisher, would sit down in front of me, start at the beginning, and walk me through it, step by step, so that I could prove that I really DID know basic arithmetic! And usually by the end of this sit-down, he’d be able to change my grade to at least a B, and I passed the course. (This was the same class where our teacher would gather our attention by putting up a game of hangman on the board…I redeemed myself to some degree the day he put a word up and without a single letter I guessed the word correctly—my classmates were astonished and one was a little peeved, because he hadn’t finished the last homework problem and was counting on that five minutes complete it!)
And I was taking Physics at the same time, mind you. But somehow, Physics made sense in a way that Calculus didn’t. My friend John was in most of my classes that semester, and after one particularly painful day in math class, he looked at me and asked, “Why do you have such a hard time in Calculus when you’re doing the exact same stuff in Physics and you have no problem at all?!” Somehow, I hadn’t noticed that our Physics homework was just the practical application of the theory we had been covering in Calculus. I had allowed myself to get so caught up in the theory that I couldn’t see the connection to practice when it was staring me in the face. It was one of the first times I was aware that I don’t “connect” well with pure theory, that I need an application or at least a metaphor to make it “real.”
The Gospel of John begins with a poetic meditation on “The Word,” which I read this morning. This telling of the Incarnation is a far cry from the story of the manger, shepherds, angels, wise men…There is no way to make sweet little figures to represent the concepts in this passage. Wouldn’t it be interesting to see how we decorated, if this were the only story we could work from? It’s hard to trim the tree with a concept.
The word which we translate “Word” here is the Greek word Logos. In my research I discovered that the writer of the Gospel of John was a genius. Both Jews and Greeks had a concept of how Logos was part of the Divine Being. The first book of the Hebrew Bible begins with the same words, “In the beginning,” and tells a story of how God created all that is by speaking. God said, “let there be light” and there was light…For Hebrews, logos was “the speaking”—the means by which God created and continues to create. For Greeks, the logos was something very rational. It is a way of speaking about the will of the Divine, it is (to quote Robert Brumbaugh) “the divine reason that acts as the ordering principle of the universe.”
The divine reason that acts as the ordering principle of the universe.
The point is, for both Greeks and Jews at the time, logos was a concept, but not something you could really hold on to. It was a nice idea. And this is the brilliance of the gospel writer. He takes this concept that most people recognized but couldn’t really get their heads around, and uses it to explain the incarnation. That Logos, that word/divine will/ordering principle, became FLESH. This would have blown the minds of the people hearing it. It would have been, for them, like that moment when my own friend John opened my eyes about the real-ness of the concepts we were studying. It’s not just a nice idea; it is the foundation for everything that is.
The Word became flesh and dwelt among us…Once we get our heads—and our hearts—around this, we can easier understand all the other metaphors. We can understand how GOD INCARNATE is a light in the darkness. We can get our heads out of the way, and “receive the light,” and become children of God. And as children of God, we take into ourselves the light that cannot be quenched by any kind of darkness—not cancer, not war, not death, not hate. We can carry that Christ-light into the bleakest places, and light them up with his love. We testify to the light, we carry it into the places where it is most needed, we share it with others.
The darkness fights hard to keep the light away, tries desperately to keep control. But you and I know that the darkness is fighting a losing battle. Ultimately, the light of Christ will fill this world. And slowly, slowly, all of creation is being filled with the light that cannot be quenched. Remember that, in the days when the news seems bleak and you wonder what you can do. Remember that you already carry within you the light that has the power to change the world.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it…and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s own son, full of grace and truth…[and] from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.
Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and glorify GOD. (Matthew 5:16)